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Photo Critique

Lesson 34 from: Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

John Keatley

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Lesson Info

34. Photo Critique


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Creative Photography Path


Importance of Personal Work


Concepts and Inspiration


Choosing Your Environment


Research and Mood Boards


Finding Your Style


Establishing a Team


Jobs on Set


Production Hurdles


Working with an Art Director


Pooling Resources






Set Design and Props: Interview with John Lavin






Technical vs. Flexible Lighting


Creating Environment


Gear Essentials vs. DIY Solutions


Lighting for Your Subject


Lighting for Your Environment




Directing Your Subject


Tips for Directing Talent


Pre-Lighting and Test Shoots


Shoot: Stylized Portrait - Close Up Part 1


Shoot: Stylized Portrait - Close Up Part 2


Shoot: Stylized Portrait - Close Up Part 3


Set Tour and Lighting Set Up


Shoot: Building Environment & Lighting Adjustments


Shoot: Building Environment Part 1


Shoot: Building Environment Part 2


Photo Critique


Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Set Tour


Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Part 1


Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Part 2


Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Part 3


Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Part 4


Shoot: Scuba in the Hull Part 1


Shoot: Scuba in the Hull Part 2


Shoot: Scuba in the Hull Part 3


Image Selection: Stylized Portrait


Image Selection: Building Environment


Image Selection: Row Boat in Fog


Image Selection: Scuba in the Hull


Next Steps: Create New Work


Next Steps: Share Your Work


Next Steps: Marketing and Branding Consistency


Final Image Reveal - Concept and Casting


Final Image Reveal - Retouching: Communication and Direction


Final Image Reveal - Final Q&A


Lesson Info

Photo Critique

So we're gonna go through and do a little critique. I'm gonna do, I'll be honest and do my best to kinda talk about what I'm seeing and feeling or not seeing and not feeling. It's always a little hard in this case, especially if the person's not in the room with me, but we'll do our best. Context is obviously super, super important. Some of you I know here in the audience have work here, so I'm excited to kinda hear from you a little bit about some of the meaning and your thoughts behind the work as well. And also keep in mind this is one man's opinion, so, a lot of this is relative. To start us off we have Trevor, who's here in the studio today. Yeah, so this was a photo of like a local band that, this is a band that asked me to shoot for them. So, they're like a electronic band and so, like a lot of their photos that have been taken before this were really minimal and kinda mellow and chill and so I thought it'd be fun to do something that was a reaction to that. So, I said, oh, my...

grandma's greenhouse, that'll be fun, so that's where these came from. Awesome. Well, I like it. I think it's cool and that's super helpful to get that sense of where it's coming from. When I first started out, people always asked context, and I'd get so mad and I think in hindsight it was because I didn't have context, I just didn't wanna have to deal with it. But, it does change what you think of an image when you see it, like is this a couple or is this a band or is this just friends? But, I like it. I feel like you have a clear perspective. And again, as with all these, I'd love to see more, in this case, I have seen some of your work, but this gets me excited and it makes me wanna see more and kind of see, again, like how this is a part of your voice and what else you have to say. But I think, I like the variety. I like that your experimenting and playing around with perspective and I also like the color palette. I feel like there's a clear kind of thought process, in terms of color that you're introducing and things like that. I like it. I don't know if you, and we didn't set it up before and I dint know if anyone has any specific questions. I'm happy to talk about that as well, if anyone has any questions about it, too, but I think it's great to see... I always prefer to see images in a series. Doesn't mean you have to shoot a series, it could be totally unrelated, but the more I can see, the more it kind of builds up an idea for me, of where people are coming from. Again, even if they're not specifically related, it helps kinda get a better sense of that person's voice. So, thank you for sharing, I appreciate it. This is someone from our online audience. I find this image to be really interesting. I wish there was more. I don't know if this is something that was set up or if it's more documentary. I'm guessing it's probably like a reenactor or something, but I like the mood and the wardrobe. The one thing that jumps out to me about this image is the object in the background. This kind of big movement here and then this, I don't know if it's a jacket or cloth or something. It feels a little distracting to me. And again, with some context there could be a perfectly great reason for it and it would maybe change things for me, but I feel like it's, it kinda feels like I'm seeing more than I need to see. It kind takes me out of, because I guess, what could be really cool is to see this and think, maybe it's like a historical photo or something like that. But when I see it, I instantly think, oh, this is a reenactor because I feel like I'm seeing the modern or the junk around the edges that kind of takes you out of that moment. That's how I like to see images. Again, obviously, it's different for everyone. But I think the production value, in terms of wardrobe, is really nice. I just think being more direct in terms of what you want in your frame, like everything in the frame should have a purpose. If it's distracting or if it's not adding to the overall story then I'll pull it out. And hopefully, some of that came through in the last shoot that we did, like just kind of making sure we think through every object and adding something in or taking it out or raising it up, like it all should have meaning and help guiding you into a certain idea. But thank you for sharing this. Next, we have Arthur who is in studio. And do you wanna just give us a little bit of story or context please. Yeah, sure. This initially came about as, I was trying to develop like an outdoor adventure lifestyle series based around this off-road vehicle and I don't know it just wasn't working and then one night, I just jumped outta bed, I was like, oh, it should be zombies, of course. And just started storyboarding and wrote like this whole storyline and about some ski-bums in the wilderness, who after the zombie apocalypse, are just kinda fending for their lives. They're not experienced outdoorsmen or anything, they're just kinda makin' their way. And a, gotta bunch of friends together, had maybe $100 to spend on things, and just kinda made it happen. Wow. Yeah. So that's an example of really high production value for not a lot of money. Very resourceful, very creative. That's awesome that you were able to pull that off. I did see a little bit more of this series, I think, before this week, so I had a little bit of understanding about it before this. I will say I do like seeing these five images. I feel like it feels actually stronger to me than I think...I don't know how many you had online, but I think there's more. Is that correct? - Mmhmm, yeah I think there's like four of these action scenes and then maybe ten of these character portraits. Okay, cool. So, for me, I feel like it feels a lot stronger with fewer, and I'm not saying it has to be five, it could be more, but it feels like you've maybe pulled some of the best images from the series rather than like watering it down with... and again, it goes back to you can shoot whatever you want and we should. Like I just shot a whole buncha stinkers in there and I'm gonna get one out of 500 or whatever. So, I mean it's great to shoot as much as we can but then we should be really selective on what we show and so I feel like this really does change the whole feel of it for me. It feels like even more high end. So I think the production value's great. The only thing that kinda jumps out at me is the guy smiling at the bottom. Again, depending on your voice, you can justify anything, right, like Quentin Tarantino can be totally gratuitous and over the top, but it works cause like he's built that world and that understanding. And I'm not saying you can't have people smiling in like a zombie kinda thing, but I think, at least in this context, of the five images, that one, it kinda takes me out of the world a little bit. That's my opinion. But I really do like the approach. I like the idea. I think it's very ambitious and I think you did a great job with it. Thanks. Yeah. Yes, Kenna? John, can you talk a little bit about, I know you've mentioned these comments before about the emotional impact versus technical, lighting and such. What jumps, of those two things is going through your mind with regard to this series? In terms of emotional impact, sorry? Yeah, in terms of just that like, when you're looking, when you're critiquing this, looking at the emotional impact versus the technical aspects of it, are there any more things to either of those that you're looking at? Well, yeah I mean, for me, the picture of the girl on the bottom left, that's my favorite image. And it speaks to me because it seems there's a confidence to it. She's not forcing me anywhere. She's not trying to scare me and she's also not trying to force a specific emotion. I have this little theory that if you see a picture of somebody smiling, it's a very relatable expression, like, oh I know exactly what they're thinking and I know what they're feeling cause I know what it feels like to smile. They're happy. And you just move past it. But I think with photography, and this is kind of what I strive for, in, not all my work, but some of my work is, I try to leave it open where I'm still interjecting my voice but I'm giving the viewer room to kind of create their own narrative. I also love, I'm a bit of an instigator, too, and so, some of the themes in my work, like I mentioned, especially with my directing is, you go down this path and you think it's going one way and all of a sudden like, whoa, where did that come from, something happens. I like kind of shocking people a little bit. And so, I feel like when someone looks at a picture, like let's say that one, for example, there's a quietness and a confidence about it and there's also I think, human nature kinda kicks in and you feel a need to understand it or define it. You need to know what is this about? What is this girl thinking or whatever, and I find that people will wrestle a little bit more with an image and oftentimes if I'm in a situation where people are viewing my work or something. In my gallery show the other month, it was kind of fun to just hang back and hear people talking about the work on the wall and I heard all kinds of stories about what they saw or felt or thought was going on and they're all correct, they're all, that's the point. Like there's not, I'm not gonna be like, actually that's not what was thinking, that was what I was thinking. But then the whole point is for you to have a thought and idea and feeling on that as well. So, I find that seeing that image it makes me kinda wanna create my own story about it, it makes me wanna know more about it. And again, for me, confidence is just a big thing. I wanna see that confidence. It draws me in, whereas, again, down here a kind of experience that same thing, like he's smiling and so I feel like he's trying a little too hard or he's telling me what to feel. And there's some part of me that's like don't tell me what to feel, I'll feel what I... Like you know I don't like being told what to do, which also just part of my personality. And I think kind of a little bit in the top too, at the top right, you know, I really like that image. It's still a little subtle, but it kinda feels like again, he's telling me everything about his character visually as hard as he can and I like the ability to come in and interpret of little of that for myself. I don't know if that totally answers the question but that's very much for me an emotional kind of response - [Kenna] Right. And way that I like to look at images. Thank you. Yeah. Is there any, did I see a hand, any questions? All right, thank you , Arthur. Appreciate it. Cool, so this is from our online audience. I like this image. I like the mystery of it. I think technically it's done very well. One thing that I think could be done differently is, we talked with John Lavin yesterday about props and kind of framing and production and stuff like that, and here everything is like perfectly in the frame. And, obviously the building goes off and stuff but it's so large, it's such a big part of the environment. It just kind of hints at me a little bit, like, I'm thinking more about the fact that I see this photo shoot happening, then this is like an actual thing or a moment. So I feel like I'm picking at straws here but it would be interesting to see someway of kinda feathering in at least one of those ends, like kinda adding, extending the reality somehow. But, obviously, technically, the lighting's really nice. He's motivated the light, which is awesome to see. Sorry, he or she, I'm not sure who shot this. But the light is motivated, it's a really, it's the color of the light is doing what it's supposed to. And I like the subtle action and kind of the intrigue of the what's going on. All right, this is from James Billodeaux, sorry, hopefully I'm saying that right. Well, first of all, I love the wood paneling. I gotta say I'm a fan of the fake wood paneling. I'm shocked that we don't have any in any of the four sheets we're doing. I have to think, I don't think we do have any, but I like the wood paneling. I don't know, there's something about this. I'm not totally drawn in, I mean think it's an interesting concept. I don't know if it's the color, the treatment of it or something, but it feels a little raw for me, personally. I feel like I'd like to see a little more mood or a little more stylized treatment added into it. It seems like a lotta work went into it but I feel like it's just not quite finished and I'm struggling to kinda give like specific reasons for why that is. It also could just be that it feels a little busy for me. I tend to be more on the simple side and I feel like maybe there's just a little too much going on. What about the light? Is that something that concerns you or... I mean I think they did a pretty good job of motivating the light. You have a light. It's clear they're watching TV, the light's coming from the TV. I think one thing that maybe throws it off a little bit is the light, at least on our screen. So hopefully I'm being fair here but the light is not, there's no color difference from it. All of the light sources, for the most part, the candles are a little warmer, but most of the lights versus in the room seem to be about the same color temperature and I think that's again, another example of whether you're even aware of it or not. In my case, your brain kinda knows what certain things should look like and it just kinda cues you. And that may actually be what I was responding to now that I think about it. It's a really warm TV image and I feel like it's kinda throwing me off a bit somehow. One man's opinion. Thank you for sending it, though. Putting yourself out there. This is from Jim who is in studio. I apologize for the different treatments. I realized that 20 people were looking at it, now I realize a few million might see it. (crowd laughs) But, it's a work in progress. But a friend of mine had gotten that small couch for a deal on Amazon and she thought, oh this is gonna be rad, I got a $99 couch coming and it turned out to be a kid's couch. (crowd laughs) And she's a comedy, comedienne writer, funny girl, just really funny person in general, so I was like, well, let's go to the studio and play with it. So, we just kinda rounded up some props and things and had fun. Cool, so that's, she's a comedian, that's her couch. Well she's a writer, but Oh a writer, okay. She's so humorous, humor writer. Well I love the couch concept. I think like you could do some really fun stuff with that. I feel like the production needs a bit more, like it feels a bit sparse to me. And I think going back to, again, kinda what we talked about of like keeping everything in frame. Now, depending on, again, your goal, maybe you needed, maybe this was a fitting a layout or something like that or whatever. We know there's all kinds of things like that. We tried to get a stuffed marlin for the wall - Oh, okay. Or some sort of fish, but it fell short there. But you know, I don't have any answers. But I feel like I would actually like to see more about the couch somehow. I think also the dress is throwing me a little bit. Fair or not, I think sometimes, I'm not saying that's happening in this case, but I think sometimes women, beautiful women in a picture get put into a dress and it's like, but why? Why is she in this dress? What is the dress have to say about her or her environment? And I feel like in here, you know I would've been more interested to see like I don't know, like a flannel shirt or jeans or something or just you know like, especially with the wood grain wall in the background. Like I think it just doesn't feel totally tied in for me. But I really do like the concept and I don't know if it's an option, but I'd love to see you go back and spend more time, like, however long it takes, like maybe four times as much time as went into production here and like see more from that cause I think it could be really cool. We did have the studio for the day but I had two concepts going, so this was like - Yeah. they were both sort of rushed, but yeah this was I think... I appreciate it. Does that sound interesting at all to you? I mean would you wanna revisit that or... Totally. Yeah. - Yeah. Cool, I would love to see, follow up with me, I'd love to see what you do with it. Cool. If it works out. Thank you for sharing. Thanks. I appreciate it. All right. Maria in studio. Well, the two on the right from me was a concept that I went last year to Bali and I'm sorry, you're talking about the ones on the left. Yes and that one's, gods... The Bali people do adore a lot the gods so I wanted to, I tried to, I'm sorry, I tried to explain in the first picture that a doorman from the Bali people to this girl and a bowl and the other photograph is in a museum and also in Bali and I wanted to telling story that the concept was East meets West, so that's why I'm, there are European people with Indonesian people. And were these, I'm assuming this is like produced, right? This is not, you set all this up it looks like. No. No? No. Yeah I mean wow, that's incredible. I mean that's pretty... So I'm just outta personal curiosity, the image on the top left with the woman, and she's surrounded by the guys, is that like a ceremony or something that was taking place and that you... - Sorry? Is that like a, was that something you put together or was that a ceremony that was actually taking place? Yes it was. It's a ceremony from Bali. - Wow. And the concept was workshop that I've done with Rowena Parkinson and last year in Bali, and the both of them. And on the right, the Rococo picture will tell from the time from Rococo time and I wanted to place a bit different the seriously. So, the right ones, I titled An Apple A Day would keep the doctor away. Also on the Rococo time and in the middle, the tea time, like she's looking very, having tea time don't destruct me and I'm very special. Well I think it's incredible. I'm really, I'm fascinated by all these images and especially even more so after hearing you talk about em. I think, if you're able to document something like that on the left in Bali and then tie it in so well to your produced work, I mean that's really hard to do. I'm shocked that that's the case, I thought it was all produced and lit, so I mean, it's really, really amazing. Beautiful work. - Wow, thank you. Yeah, it makes me wanna... - Photoshopped. makes me wanna see more of your work. It's really stunning yeah. - Thank you. Thanks for sharing. Thank you. All right. Chocolate Company by Marco Verna from our online audience. Technically, I think it's lit really well. It's a very clean, beautiful image. I feel like that's technically, I feel like emotionally I'm not connecting with it so much. And again, I guess it feels like he's showing us the chocolate and I feel like I'm not really feeling like, and it sounds silly to it, but like what's the essence of chocolate? What is another way to show something about chocolate rather than showing it? Not to tie it back to me. I'm trying to think, I photographed a chocolatier years ago and I'm always very averse to showing things. I just feel like I could look at a package to see the chocolate. I like to know more, I like to feel something about maybe what it's like to work with chocolate or maybe something like that so I photographed a portrait of a guy working in a chocolate factory and we just smeared chocolate all over his face and you had him kinda looking like he got caught eating it. So, I'm not saying that has to be the approach but for me, technically it's a great photo. I wouldn't change anything. And I think there's great, there's certainly a need for this in certain applications. But if I'm just judging it purely on an image and how I respond to it, I feel like it leaves me wanting to know a little but more I think. I'm curious if you would then give advice to this photographer in terms of how would you, in that scenario, sort of illicit that emotion that you maybe aren't feeling right now? Yeah, I mean that's... Advice for that. That's a very good question. I think, well first of all, I'd probably spend several days thinking about it and doing research and going through my idea book and seeing if anything strikes me. I, again, this is my personal approach. So, depends on who this photographer is and what their voice is, so you have to kinda find that approach for you. I like to, I focus more on, I like to tell kinda stories through faces. In the same way, that kinda we saw this morning, and this is one way to do it, there's obviously many ways to do it, but we showed in this last shoot that we just did, we showed someone kinda working on this dock kinda situation, where there's this like boat behind her and you gotta sense of where she was but then the first shoot that we did today, there was no environment, it was just a portrait. And so you were left with head and shoulders and expression to convey who this person is somehow. Not that you necessarily, if you're just trying to create an interesting portrait, and context doesn't matter, then you don't even have to do that. But that was the challenge for us. Did the tattoos tell us anything? Does the beanie tell us anything? Does the dirt or the scar? How do we kinda create that story visually without hitting someone over the head with it or handing it to them? Same thing like, if I was gonna photograph a chocolatier for me, I'm more interested in kind of the idea of a kid getting caught eating candy or something that happens with chocolate as opposed to just literally seeing the chocolate. I think about Lucille Ball's skit, she's so famous, where she just, she wasn't supposed to let any chocolate get by without getting packaged and so she started eating it all. So, maybe it's kind of, if you have kind of a more quirky sense of humor or something. Maybe it's getting this guy to stuff his mouth with chocolate or you know maybe you can convince him to pour chocolate on his head or smear it on his face or something. I don't know, I mean, I'd have to think more about it, but I feel like kind of those ideas I find more interesting and they draw people in because it shows you had a different way of showing something that we've all seen many, many times. I'll give you another example. I guess there was a couple years ago, my agent gave all of the photographers on the roster an assignment and it was for a Valentine's Day Promo. The assignment was red. And so, naturally, like a lot of the images, and there's no right or wrong way to do it, obviously, again, everyone I think approached it in their own way. But for me, I thought a lot about different ideas and how do we, and you know, and the first thought is like you make an all read image or something. But, eventually where my mind started going is like, well what does red represent? Like, what is red? What are some ideas that are based on red? And so, where I ended up going with it was, I thought about, and I think some people have said it's not even actually true, but, you know, bulls get mad at the color red or they will charge at the color red and I don't know if it's true or not, but I like that idea. I thought it was kinda fun. And so then, I was kind of making fun of American tourists and kind of our, Americans tend to be, in my experience, traveling abroad, Americans tend to be very self-centered and inconsiderate and just a little brash and so, I like the idea of this guy in a red shirt just walking out into a pasture in front of a bull and like not even taking any consideration into the fact that this is dangerous and he shouldn't be doing it. Just like, I'm gonna get a picture. So, I took a picture of a bold man in a red shirt staring down a bull with smoke coming out of its nose. So, that's kind of how I like to think about things is you can take an idea but just literally showing it is not enough. And especially goes back again to the fact that people who push a button on a camera are of no value anymore. Anyone can take a picture of something, but how do you take a picture about something? How do you take a picture that actually elevates the idea of what that thing is or who that person is?

Class Materials

Bonus Materials

Keatley Keynote Presentation
Casting for Nautical Shoot Video

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

What an amazing show. I'm so happy that I could be a part of it. It was so great to see John at work and in his element. I learned so much from watching his process from beginning to ending. So many questions have been answered. I feel more confident, to get myself out there and create and make work that comes out from my imagination. I will definitely be keeping a journal/notebook with me at all times. I would also like to suggest that we have another course for John Cornicello, home studio. I'm curious to see what John is working on in his studio.

Doppio Studio

It's amazing to watch and understand how this great creative professional work. There's a lot to learn about with his production process. For me, that lives in Brazil, is a major opportunity to enjoy this class.

Vitamin Dee

Wow! There's just so much great information in this class. If you've ever wondered what it takes to produce an environmental portrait, this is the class for you! John did a superb job of taking us step-by-step through his process. From model casting to set building, lighting setups to culling; it's all here. He even wraps up the class with next steps and how to put it all together. He gives the knowledge so you can take it to a place you can create your own magic!

Student Work