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Tips for Directing Talent

Lesson 25 from: Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

John Keatley

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Lesson Info

25. Tips for Directing Talent


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

Tips for Directing Talent

Here's a few tips, and some of this we've covered, but I'll just kinda give you the rundown and the overview again, provide context as best as possible. Again, it all the same is gear, have a reason for it. There may be a situation where you don't wanna provide content; maybe you want your subject to look and feel as awkward as possible, maybe it's a project on vulnerability. So maybe you get someone to show up and you don't tell them anything and you don't talk to them and you just say "sit". So, that's fine, too, it just depends on what you're going for. Just have a reason for doing whatever it is that you do. But in general, assuming you don't wanna go for something like that, provide people with context. Give them motivation, tell them you're stories, your thinking and things like that. Get your subject to buy into the idea; be excited. I always, this is the same for directing and working with talent as it is for marketing yourself, and selling yourself to potential clients. You've...

gotta have confidence, and you've gotta get people excited about the idea of working with you. One analogy that I find helpful is, imagine if you're buying a car and you go to a car lot and there's a brand new car that just came out, and you go up to the sales guy, and you're like, "Hey, tell me about this, I saw an ad "for it, it looks pretty cool". And the sales guy is like, "Whad'ya wanna know? I mean, "it just came out, I don't know a whole lot about it 'cause "it just came out, I mean, you know, we sold a couple, 'come back in a year and I guess I can tell you "a little bit more about it." Or, I don't wanna, and I'm not telling, don't lie to anyone, but if you show up and you say, "Hey, tell me "about this car." And the salesman's like, "Oh, man, isn't it cool?" "I'm super excited about this, so far we have, we've "only had it a couple months, but people have been really "excited, I don't know if you saw the issue, the article "in 'Car and Driver' but it got really great safety ratings, "they ran this thing into a wall ten times and it didn't "even dent, so it's, like, super-safe." And you know, on and on and on, he's not lying or anything, he's not stating anything that's not true, but he's just showing you genuine enthusiasm about the possibility of driving this car. I'm gonna wanna get in and be like, "Oh, cool, "let me experience that!" So you have to do the same thing for your subject, especially if you're trying to get them to wear a polar bear costume or something, and they don't wanna do it. Like, you just, you've gotta show a level of enthusiasm and confidence in what you're doing, and it will kinda go throughout the rest of your crew, and your subject as well. Once you are set up, explore. We talk about being direct and all this kinda stuff, but once you have the camera in front of you, don't be afraid to take chances, explore, try things even in they're outside of what you would normally do. Push yourself, otherwise you're gonna, as we saw yesterday with that example, you're gonna fall into this mold of just doing the same thing over and over and over again. And that's different when we talk about specializing, like when I say you wanna be great at one thing, it doesn't mean you can't have variety, it doesn't mean that you can't still explore within that realm. And then, be in tune with your emotions and feelings. This goes back to, again, who you are and what you want to create. If something feels wrong, if the balance is off of your subject's shoulders, or if you just don't like the light or something, be aware of that. And, for me, that's very much an emotional, feeling kind of experience. It's really hard to explain it, but I'm someone who's very much affected by my surroundings and all that kind of stuff, so when I'm taking a picture, it's like an emotional experience more than anything else. But I think, in general, that's something we can all practice, like, be aware of how everything's making you feel and if you don't like something, change it. And that goes for your gear, too, like when I'm shooting on a seamless, if the top of the seamless is not perfectly level, it just throws me off, it makes me feel like I'm gonna fall over or something. It's silly, and sometimes crew is like, "It doesn't matter, it's not even in frame." But I see it and I feel it, and it does affect me, so I make sure that those kinds of things that are important to me are done the way that I need them to be done. And that goes back to, I think, trusting your instincts too. You know, the more you do anything the better you get at it, and the more experiences and failures and mistakes you'll have to draw on. Then you can start to, kinda, pre-visualize, and you say, "We've done that before, I know what that light's gonna "look like, I know if I ask this question, it's maybe not "gonna result in the result that I want." You know, so it's trusting your instincts and your gut, and knowing where to go in certain situations. Going back to exploring; lose your inhibitions. When you're working with someone, I'm getting better at this, but, I'm not someone who's super-comfortable, I'm getting there, especially with public speaking and stuff but, historically, I'm not someone who's super-comfortable with, like, doing anything unusual that's gonna draw attention in front of others, and so, I would get really embarrassed if I asked someone to do something silly, or do a pose that seemed weird for some reason. But I think that the benefit of exploring and just losing yourself and not letting yourself worry about if someone is embarrassed or anything like that, the benefit of that is, sometimes it leads somewhere else, and, my wife and I were in LA a few weeks ago, and we went to an art gallery and it had this really beautiful photography exhibit up called 'Contact', and there was all these amazing black and white photos, and most of them were, they were from Beatles era, and they had all these large pictures, and then next to each picture was a contact sheet, which is, basically, every single frame on the roll of film from that shoot. And it was fascinating to see just how different the picture that ended up being selected was from the rest of the images. And it really made me start, and I don't know the answer, and I've been reflecting on some of my own work in this way now. But it made me wonder, was all this a process that was required to get to here? For example, like, the famous portrait of Jim Morrison, you know, of the Doors, where he's got his arms like this and he's just looking at the camera with this intensity. The whole contact sheet is kinda goofy, actually, he's like smiling and laughing, and it was like, it was kind of a mind-trip to see that, 'cause I've always thought of this as such a serious, kind of thoughtful picture, and it is, certainly, but it was such a departure from the rest of the images, and so it made me wonder, like, was this just an outtake or an accident, a happy accident, because of the fact that they were so playful throughout this. And I saw that repeated over and over again, and, as I look at some of my contact sheets I realize, like, it's very much the same thing, looking for one, you know, and that's not a bad thing either, but sometimes I think you lose those beautiful accidents, because some of my favorite images are, in fact, not at all what I had planned, it happens when someone sneezes, or they go, "Just a second, you know, "I need to, I have something in my eye, or whatever." And it's like, whoa, you know, I never would have thought of that, but that picture in that moment, there's something about it, you know. So, don't be afraid to ask someone to do a goofy face or do the chicken dance, like, it might seem embarrassing, or I always, for me, my biggest thing is like, "Oh, what if "they think I'm a goof?" You know, "What if they think I'm just a dork?" You know, or something like, I am a dork, so, I mean, it's like, what's the difference if they, you know, if I do that or not. So, lose your inhibitions, and that really is a learned skill, I'm not expecting anyone's gonna go home and just start doing it. And it may seem real forced at first, but, and I'm also not saying go nuts, but, hopefully you know what I mean, like, step outside your comfort zone, don't be afraid to explore the space. And then, finally, going back to, kind of, having your own picture-taking, give-I like to give constant feedback. When I watch videos of myself, I think I do it more than I realize sometimes, but, I am constantly, just like, you know, "That's great, that's great, that's perfect, oh "that looks really good, that's perfect, I like that a lot." And then just, even, "Just move your head a little "to the left, little to the left..." You know, like, just even that kinda stuff, it doesn't have to be anything fancy, but giving people that feedback, it does a couple things: A, it kinda distracts them and it keeps them busy, and it keeps them from thinking about how vulnerable they may feel. Also, it gives them confidence in the fact that it seems like you know what you want, half the time I don't, but I'm just keeping them moving until I see what I want, and that's also part of what it means to explore. But then also, aside from giving them confidence in you, it gives them confidence in themselves, because it feels like, oh, this looks good, he likes it, you know, I must be doing something good, and then you can kind of, like, ease into that a little bit. So, give feedback in your own way, and again, it doesn't have to be like, da-da-da-da-da, like that, that's just how I do it, but that's the final thought. Well, another thing I will tell you too, is, especially as we start filming the photo shoots here, a good friend of mine, Peter Hurley, who many of you may know, he's been on CreativeLive as well, if you ever watch him shoot, he's just a character, he's got so much energy, and he's like yellin' and screamin' and saying, you know, inappropriate things, and just like, but he's hilarious, and it's like a party hanging out with Peter. And it's so easy, especially for me, to watch someone like that, and be like, "Oh, my gosh, I should do that!" Or like, "Oh, that's, it works so well!" The thing is, that's Peter being himself. He's not, you know, if you go out with him and go to dinner or something, it's the same thing, you know, I mean, he's not like const-, but it's, he's really, it's an extension of him on set. And so, that's something that's really important to keep in mind, if you watch anyone create, is, don't try to do what they do, but try to understand how they're being themselves and then figure that out for you.

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