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Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

Lesson 18 of 52

Technical vs. Flexible Lighting


Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

Lesson 18 of 52

Technical vs. Flexible Lighting


Lesson Info

Technical vs. Flexible Lighting

We've hinted at this a little bit, but technical versus flexible lighting. This is just how I like to think about it. There's obviously many different ways that you can approach lighting, and everyone has their own theory, but this is kind of in reference to how I've experienced lighting throughout my career. Technical lighting, when I talk about technical lighting, it just, to me at least, means being very precise. It's using often times like smaller light sources, that are like pinpoint. You know, lights, a lot of times when you use technical lighting, you have to use more of them, many lights. And that's something that I did, as I mentioned, early on. And I don't have any regrets, I learned a ton about lighting. Like, it's very tedious, if someone slightly moves, it changes the light, and you've got to be aware of that. But as I said, I got to a point where it was actually holding me back. It was like keeping me from exploring emotion, because I had to go in with a certain idea, and...

a person couldn't move, and if a better idea comes up, I either have to reset all the lights, or just ignore it, and I was missing out on a lot there. So again, there's nothing wrong with technical lighting. You know, I would never tell Gregory Crewdson, "Your lighting's way too technical, man." You know, like his work is so technical, but it's beautiful, and the reason it works is because he has a vision, and he knows why he wants to use that lighting. For me at the time, I was learning, but then I had learned a little bit, and I didn't know. I didn't know what I wanted to do, so that's why I needed to shift. This is an example, this is an example of some of my early portraits, when I first started shooting some local and natural editorial stuff. And this is, again, another example of a mood board, where I talk about like, "What can you "learn from mood boards?" And I kinda skewed this a little bit, again, to make a point. For me, as I look at these, and hopefully as you can see, like this is a lot of the type of work I was doing. I didn't even realize until I revisited it for this class, to make this board, I was like, "Wow, man." Nichelle said like, "You really "like people looking to the left. "What's up with that?" Again, it was the person was the vessel for the light. I was so fixated on the light, I just had a person sit there, and I put the light on them, and I was so fixated, I was missing out on variety, I was missing out on exploring, and understanding what other emotions I might be drawn to, and things like that. And so, that's when I decided that, "Okay, I need to find light that I still like, "light that still feels exciting to me, "but I need to find a light that's gonna "allow for some movement." And this was really, really hard. It took a long time, and it felt like, "Oh my gosh, what am I doing?" You know, I was making a living, and at the time, you know, people thought of me for my lighting, and certain people liked it, but I knew like for longevity, like I've got to make a change. And so, it was really hard to kinda relearn lighting, and start using larger sources. But, basically what I did was I went from many small sources to fewer lights with larger sources, because they spread, and they're more forgiving, and it allows people to do like a whole bunch of different movements. And, the lighting will look different on them, but it's not distracting, whereas some of this light got really distracting if there was any of the slightest movement. So again, as I mentioned, flexible lighting. What do I mean by that? It's larger light sources, it's light that wraps, it's light that is not so pinpoint, and it allows you to explore. I think, you know, creating art is about being surprised by mistakes, and things that come up that we don't plan on, as we've kind of talked about in many different scenarios, and I think embracing those mistakes and those surprises is gonna make your work even better. Again, it's balancing that with what we're talking about, control. But for me, flexible lighting allows me to capitalize on those mistakes and surprises, whereas before, if something came up, I'm like, "Oh, that's really cool, "but we can't do it." Now, it's like, "Hey, man, "let's do it, and it will totally work. "I'm not gonna miss the shot in the moment "because I wasn't prepared." My technical, you know, lighting was holding me back. So now, again, again, I wanna reiterate, I don't want you to think like technical lighting's bad, and I still will do stuff like that, but it's for a specific purpose. Like for my uniform series for example, I don't know if I'd even consider that super technical, but I locked in this one lighting thing, because I knew this whole series was meant to be people posed the same way. I had planned that out, that was something I was comfortable with, I'm not looking for exploration in this case. I mean, there was a certain amount of exploration, but it was subtle. It was like within here, you know? So in that case, then I'll go there, but in situations where you're more open, and your exploring, and there's things to be discovered, maybe don't lock yourself in so tightly. Here's an example of another project that I did, where this was just a personal project I did actually for another video tutorial a few years ago. But, this was, we just used a big seven foot softbox, like you've seen in the last few pictures behind me. And basically, she could twirl around in a 360, and it doesn't matter, like the light's gonna look the same no matter what direction her face is. There's not like some hard light source that's, you know, gonna dictate her movement. And so, whereas before, like I never would've considered someone putting their head down, or even covering, because the hand's gonna create hard shadows on their face, and it's gonna look crazy, and stuff like that. So, this is an example of kind of, you know, some of the range that you can begin to explore as opposed to that grid of just people looking the same way over, and over, and over again. So, as you think about, "Okay, like what kind of lights do I wanna use," I put together a few questions that you can ask yourself, that help you kinda better get at what's gonna, what's gonna fit the job. Again, not letting gear dictate your approach. So, things to ask yourself, "Do I need to handhold the camera?" Again, if you do need to handhold the camera, you probably, you have to be careful about, "Do I need to freeze the action with the strobe?" Hand holding the camera on a dark day might be really tough if it's dark outside, and you're shooting, you know, window light or something like that. "Can I ask my model to hold still "for an extended period of time?" In the image of the guy drinking coffee, no. Now, if I wanted him to hold very still, and pretend to be stately, maybe I could pull that off, maybe I would've gone that direction without using strobe, but I knew I needed someone like reacting kinda violently to something, and so that's gonna require freezing action, which means, for me at least, strobe. "Can I shoot at a high ISO?" Depending on your camera, and depending on the job, you know, if it's not being used for a big billboard, if it's a smaller thing, and you have a great camera that shoots really clean on high ISO, maybe that means that you can shoot handheld with natural light, and not worry about bringing in strobe and that sort of thing. Another big one, especially if you're doing a series, let's say you get hired to shoot, you know, employees of a company, and they want you to start at 9 o'clock, and you're gonna shoot till five, "Is consistency important?" if they say, "No, they can all look different, that would be awesome," maybe you could use natural light. If they need to all be the same, probably that window light's gonna change every 15 minutes throughout the course of the day as the sun moves, so maybe natural light in that case is not the best scenario. And you could go on, and on, and on, and figure out, but those are the kind of questions that you wanna think about. Don't just grab that thing that you're so comfortable with each time you have a job just because that's what you do. Try to think about, "What do I want this to look like, "what is the goal," and then, "What options do I have at my disposal?"

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

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.


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!