Skip to main content


Lesson 23 from: Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

John Keatley

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

23. Q&A


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


All right, so we have reached the Q and A section. I definitely wanna see if you all have questions about this concept of lighting the environment itself in addition to, obviously, the subject matter, 'cause I think that's a topic that isn't always covered in lighting classes here on Creative Live. I'm curious, John, if there are particular props when you're looking at a scene as well that you're going to be focusing on and how, do you kind of in your mind scan through all the different props on there and think about each one and how it's being effective? Yeah, I mean, in terms of light, or just in terms of how it fits in the frame? Yeah, in terms of lighting, all the different sort of props and things. Yeah, I mean I think again, in this particular case, we're not putting light on each prop. We're not getting real technical there. That's certainly something you could do, and if I knew exactly this is the frame I want, and I'm happy with that one frame, and I don't wanna explor...

e, then maybe I would do that. Maybe you could kind of make it real moody and create a different feel for it. But I wanted to get two or three different images from this whole series, and so that wasn't really an approach that I wanted to take. But basically, how we did it is we put the walls in there, set up the desk and table. At first, we had them very square in the room and shot some frames and it didn't feel right. So we moved everything off-axis a little bit, and then we brought the table out a little bit. And it was just kind of moving stuff around until it felt right, until it felt balanced. And you know, John talked about moving things off of frame, like I think if you center everything in frame exactly, and you see all the edges, that looks really weird, but it's finding, making sure the picture frame gets cut off a little bit on one side and making sure the desk is cut off a little bit, and all that kind of stuff. It's spreading your environment out so that even though this is a very tiny little set, it's not a full room. We're making it have the same feeling of being a small room. I don't know if that answers-- Thank you. The question. But yeah. Yeah. But the other thing too, I guess going back to lighting, is depending on these props and stuff. You do have to be careful like example, on this shot here on the left. You've got that really heavy shadow behind the file cabinet which I don't like either. Aside from the fact that I don't like that the rest of the wall is so flat. So it's kind of, it's being aware of all the little consequences or fall off of each light and I don't want anything to kinda pull me out of that, of that environment. If I had this whole thing in here and there was a really heavy shadow all of a sudden, it's gonna make me start thinking about lighting and I don't want that personally. So it's being consistent throughout your scene and making sure that one light doesn't, one object doesn't have a really hard shadow on it, the other one's a soft wrap. If you can justify that by the lights and motivate them in that way, that might work. But in general, especially for a shot like here where you're not seeing any real light sources, it's gonna be hard to explain why this shadow's so hard and this shadow's so soft. So I'm curious on the portrait that you did of the man riding the bear. Mhmm. How you combatted all those different lighting situations from the studio's lighting setup to match your environmental shot that you did. So the breakdown for that is there was the environment which I shot the environment first. And I went out and I found my background that I liked and I shot that. And then I ran around and I photographed other stumps and trees to fill in and I shot them from the same exact angle in terms of where the light was hitting because if I'm taking an environmental shot I can have one tree with the light coming from here and then another tree with the light coming from there. So we've gotta be consistent throughout all that. So now I know I've got this shot of the trees and the light's coming. I don't remember exactly, but the light's coming from let's say right here. So now I know when I photograph a bear, I need a bear, and the light has to hit the bear this way also. So I went to the preserve and I just kinda ran around and tried to get, we had someone working with us but you try to, if the sun's over here, like I try to, I have to shoot the bear at this direction. The bear's gotta match. And so you have to plan it out when you go and how many different angles can you approach them from and when is the sun gonna be out and all that kind of stuff. And then once you have that shot, then what we did was we shot the man in the studio. And so we got a giant, it's actually like a chemical barrel, you could get wine barrels but we got a chemical barrel and mounted it up and then we got an old bear skin rug that we put over it. So that would kind of help integrate him into the bear. And then he just sat on the barrel and again I measured the height of my camera when I shot the landscape and then we photographed him from the same height and then we put our key light on him in the same place that the sun was from the bear and the landscape and then you just kind of fill around and try to mimic. And also I photographed a person at the landscape too so I have a sense of what the light looks on them. And then you put them all together and if you've taken the time and been careful enough to make sure that light's consistent throughout you should have an image that will feel natural other than the fact that a man's riding a bear. Wondering what, and not just even this image in particular but in general, thinking about the environment and the subject. Do you have a lot of, in general, people holding props like the baseball bat here or do you utilize props to connect them with that environment in the back and how should people think about that. Yeah, I mean I think it just depends on, again, what I'm trying to do. I'm not opposed to it and it's fun and it's enjoyable for me. Sometimes you can get a little showy. Sometimes the idea is there but it just feels like a little forced. And so for me it's all about feeling it out. I'll take all kinds of props to shoot. And sometimes I don't end up using any of them. I'll use them as a test and then decide. For the uniform series I did, we had painted guns and binoculars and canteens, and all kinds of, and I have all kinds of shots of people holding guns and stuff but going through it, it just felt like too much. It felt really forced. And there's, excuse me, there's a couple guys who were smoking and lighting cigarettes and stuff like that and I liked those. But the binoculars felt very showy, kinda campy. The guns felt like the gun was overpowering the emotion of the human subject. And so, I'll try stuff all the time. But I mean, again, you can shoot whatever you want but it's what you show that dictates the path that you'll go down and what people think of you for. So yeah, I mean, I have no aversion to props as long as it makes sense. And we were talking, John and I were talking yesterday, trying to re-figure out one of the sets that we're gonna shoot. We were relying on some props and then wardrobe change and it's like but what is the person doing though? And we didn't have any answers for that. And then we were able to find out a new scenario and a new character, a new wardrobe, that would allow them to not have props. And I'm actually, I'm excited about that. They're just gonna be standing there kind of awkwardly. That's the intention. So there'll be no props. But there'll be a couple of other portraits where right now, the idea is to have them holding props. One girl will be holding a radio. Now, it'll be fun. We'll see when we get in there. I may totally change my mind and it may not feel right. But we're gonna try it and see how it happens, how it feels. Final question, you mentioned that you make your work to expand your advertising portfolio or show work to get jobs. Is this something that you still do to attract new clients? Yeah, absolutely. I mean, personal work or self-produced work is something that you should never stop doing. I think you have to constantly be doing that. And so, it's always, it can be a struggle finding the time and the money and when to do it but I'm, ideally I'd like to say that I can try to do three usually a year. Again, it depends on the scale and size. Some people can do a personal shoot every week. The nature of the type of work that I do, it takes more planning, more time. So I have to keep it to a fewer. But we always have to be doing personal work. Again, personal work is practice and it's creating your voice and if you stop doing that, it's kind of the beginning of the end I think. And it can be talked about a long time, I can go on more, but you've gotta always do personal work and you've gotta always be strategic. If there's something outside of personal ideas that you wanna be doing in advertising and you're not doing it now. You've gotta self-produce that and make that happen and show people what you wanna do.

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