Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment


Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment


Lesson Info

Pre-Lighting and Test Shoots

So this is actually set number two. We're not gonna start with this one. But we have basically, here we have what's meant to look like a ship wall. This is not the right wall either but we started with this one. And then we have wood flooring, we've got, you know, just some props, and they're just basically thrown in there. And we just wanna see what we have, like, what does this look like. Sometimes there might be a set that was built in a very specific way and that's how it's meant to be. With this, it's definitely an exploration. We have some pieces and we want to try to see how we can make them fit together. I want you to kind of see as much of that, and you'll see a little bit more of it today, but if we did all this in a class, you wouldn't see any shooting. So, we'd be just messing with stuff the whole time. But what we learned here was, the wood-grained floor felt like it needs to go the other way, maybe for no particular reason other than it just feels like it should be going ...

parallel with the wall, it felt a little weird, going against the grain that way. We also realized that, at least at first, it seemed like this is an eight-foot wall, I kind of wish it was 12, it's like, oh shoot, I think this is gonna be a little too short. So we were really messing with angle quite a bit and trying to figure out where the angle was gonna be. It felt like the person was either too far away from camera or way too close. And then again, as we started kind of like roughing in, we moved boxes and crates around and things like that a lot. We liked the idea of the radio, but at times, the radio felt too big. You can also see down here, we have a little chair. But the chair was feeling like it wasn't, it felt a little weird, maybe out of place, like it's maybe to dainty or something like that. Here, and up until this point, we're not thinking about light at all, we just threw some light up there and we're just, more or less, looking at the set. Then we kind of started thinking a little bit about, kind of, how is the set gonna look with light? Because again, as we saw yesterday, light can completely change the space. It's not just what's on-camera, it's also how the light's gonna affect that. So we started roughing in some lights. This, to me, felt like he was way too close. I wanted to see more environment, I wanted it to feel like he was more a part of the environment. Then we started pumping in some fog and haze. This isn't from my perspective but this just kind of shows you, like, how the room transformed a little bit and added a lot of atmosphere. So then you can see, there's a little bit of haze in this shot. This was when it was starting to feel like, oh, this might actually work. Up until this point, for like two hours, I was really thinking, like, I've made a huge mistake, this is not, this is not gonna work. But this is when we started feeling like, okay, we might be able to do something here. And then we added in a light just off-camera here, because we wanted to kinda add some depth and add a little bit of flare. So to do that, we needed a light. We also needed haze or atmosphere for that light to interact with. We also started feeling like, and you can see now, we've moved the real wall in so, before, we had just a plain and simple wall. But we moved the actual wall in, to try to get a better sense, and you can see, John's got these welds here and this hatch that's been welded on. And even still, I liked what was happening, but it felt like it needed a little something. So we tested putting a light on the wall. So this little black tape was to give ourselves a marker. We moved it around a bunch of times, like where do we want to put this, this light in there. And we don't have a, you'll see the light. We actually did fix a light fixture to the wall, once we got it set. So, preparing for limited shoot time, you've gotta do this kind of stuff. In this case, particular, I think we have an hour and a half maybe for the first shoot and maybe an hour and a half for the next shoot, which sounds like a lot of time, but when you're working with this many moving parts, it's not a lot of time at all. You always want to prepare and practice and run through as much as possible. Again, you don't always have that opportunity, but whenever you can, you want to do that. When you're, again, it depends on who you're photographing. If you're photographing a celebrity and it's like a commercial shoot or something, you definitely want to have them walk in and be ready to shoot. Sometimes, if you hire a model, you may need them there to sit in while you're practicing. And that's fine too, because that's something that's been, you know, arranged in advance. But you've definitely got to think through how you're gonna use your time, when the times comes. If you have 10 minutes and you need two different setups, I would encourage you to have two different setups ready to go when the person gets there, so you can have them sit here, walk over and sit here. If you do one, and then you have to move all the lights and stuff, they're probably gonna have to leave by the time you get ready for the next one anyway. So you've really gotta prepare and think through and have everything lined up and ready to go.

Class Description

Connect to your photos
Don’t capture another picture that says nothing of your own style. Grow your confidence in creating or styling a portrait that pops and, more importantly, resonates. Recognize that you’re tired of feeling disconnected to your photography.

Tap into your artistic vision
Establishing your creative voice and finding the inspiration and support to stay with it are essential skills for a career in photography. Commit to mastering the technical elements so you can save time in production, focus on creating images with emotion, and start making the pictures that express your creative vision and ultimately resemble what you want to get paid to take.

Learn from the authority: John Keatley
John’s photos have filled the pages of Rolling Stone, Wired, and the New York Times Magazine. He’s covered celebrities from Anthony Hopkins to Macklemore, and even had the rare opportunity to photograph Annie Leibovitz. He’s also passionate about education and supporting artists to find their personal style.

In this one-of-a-kind class, John breaks down how to conceptualize, produce, style, light and fine tune your ideas. He leads you through the creation of an environmental portrait series, showing you how to make a vision come to life with any budget.

What you get out of this exclusive shoot:

  • Find inspiration and execute your vision
  • Research and create desired environments for set design or location scouting
  • Cast for portrait and direct subjects on set
  • Build a team of support around your project
  • Lighting and styles to make the background and subject work together
  • Creative ways to build your vision, regardless of budgetary limitations

What our students are saying:
“The amount of information John gives is mind blowing. To see the process from beginning to end, the road map to creativity...you cannot help but to be on the right road to success. He gives you steps to take and shows you how it's done.”
- Lorenzo Hill

Commit to your creativity
Are you ready to push the boundaries and find your unique voice? Get the hands-on tools to flex your creativity, collaborate for results, and carry out your vision.


1Class Introduction
2Creative Photography Path
3Importance of Personal Work
4Concepts and Inspiration
5Choosing Your Environment
6Research and Mood Boards
7Finding Your Style
8Establishing a Team
9Jobs on Set
10Production Hurdles
11Working with an Art Director
12Pooling Resources
15Set Design and Props: Interview with John Lavin
18Technical vs. Flexible Lighting
19Creating Environment
20Gear Essentials vs. DIY Solutions
21Lighting for Your Subject
22Lighting for Your Environment
24Directing Your Subject
25Tips for Directing Talent
26Pre-Lighting and Test Shoots
27Shoot: Stylized Portrait - Close Up Part 1
28Shoot: Stylized Portrait - Close Up Part 2
29Shoot: Stylized Portrait - Close Up Part 3
30Set Tour and Lighting Set Up
31Shoot: Building Environment & Lighting Adjustments
32Shoot: Building Environment Part 1
33Shoot: Building Environment Part 2
34Photo Critique
35Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Set Tour
36Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Part 1
37Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Part 2
38Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Part 3
39Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Part 4
40Shoot: Scuba in the Hull Part 1
41Shoot: Scuba in the Hull Part 2
42Shoot: Scuba in the Hull Part 3
43Image Selection: Stylized Portrait
44Image Selection: Building Environment
45Image Selection: Row Boat in Fog
46Image Selection: Scuba in the Hull
47Next Steps: Create New Work
48Next Steps: Share Your Work
49Next Steps: Marketing and Branding Consistency
50Final Image Reveal - Concept and Casting
51Final Image Reveal - Retouching: Communication and Direction
52Final Image Reveal - Final Q&A