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Lesson 14 from: Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

John Keatley

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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


So wardrobe, once you have your casting nailed down, that's usually one of the first things that we'll do, 'cause casting really dictates a lot of the production, but once you have that nailed down, you'll get your sizes from the talent, and when I say talent I just mean models, or whoever it is that's gonna be in the images, and your wardrobe style is going to bring a lot of stuff, but it's really hard to start shopping if they don't have sizes, they at least need to know what are the sizes so they can start pulling things that will work for them. It doesn't matter how cool this jumper is, if it's three sizes too small, it's not happening. So they've gotta have that before they can start. When you present to your wardrobe stylist, again going back to what we talked about, what are some things that you guys would think that would be helpful to give to a wardrobe stylist, how would you guys approach that? I was gonna say, probably the color schemes that you're looking for, you wanna t...

alk about maybe the genre, the era that you're going for, the mood, things like that. Exactly, the more you can communicate, and the more you can paint the picture so to speak, of what we're going for here, the better your wardrobe stylist is gonna be able to, or whoever it is that you're working with, or even if it's you, have a plan. Even if you're doing it yourself, come up with these things as if you are working with someone else, get in the habit of doing that, because maybe someday you will work with someone else. You don't want to set a bad habit of "oh I know", and then all of a sudden you work with a wardrobe stylist and you start assuming that they know too. And you've gotta build the habits now that you want to carry on with you when the situation does change. But also, even for yourself, just knowing, okay, I specifically know that we need blue, so this red is out, or maybe you say, color doesn't matter because it's something we can change in post. You'll actually see that in here, we had to start making decisions, we had a color scheme that we're going for, some of the pieces didn't match that color scheme, but we have to prioritize, what's most important. The most important thing is style and fit, and color is secondary, color would be nice for our purposes of filming it and stuff, it might look a little wonky with all these colors, but I know, in post, we can change those colors so that we can get to the end result we need to. For example, the picture of the couple with the brown dogs that I showed earlier today, they're in an all-brown room, if you see the original, it's all mostly brown, but there's many different shades of brown going on. I could have spent three or four extra days making sure everything was brown in camera, but you have to balance, what's the value of that? Is it worth the time and effort and cost to get it all perfect, or would it actually be more cost effective to tweak it in post, maybe it's $ to do it in camera, maybe it's $300 to do it in post, so that's a decision I can make now, I have my numbers. But yes, present style, fit, all that kind of inspiration to your stylist. Once you have wardrobe, you can do fitting. You could do that the day of, and many times we do, we have racks and racks of clothes, and people will come in on the shoot, and we try to streamline it so they can try different things on, and I'll try to look or have someone taking pictures, and then we make our decision of what they're going to wear in the shoot. Ideally, and what we did for this was we had a fitting yesterday, so everybody came through, and then we tried all the wardrobe on, and we spent three or four hours on it, and the reason for that is, we're not going to have time tomorrow when we're shooting to be sitting here deliberating about wardrobe, that way when they come in, 'cause time is precious, they just walk in in the wardrobe we've already decided on 'cause we've seen all of our options, and it saves you a lot of time that you can be doing taking pictures on the day of. Now, that obviously costs more money, so again it just depends on the situation, if you're doing a personal project and you're maybe working with friends, or people who are doing trade, they all might be willing to come in an extra time and do a fitting, and that's great, I would always encourage that, 'cause maybe you get there and do a fitting and you realize okay, this is not what I thought, we have the rest of today thankfully before we shoot tomorrow, I think we need to pull some more stuff, so the more you can do it in advance, I'm always going to push for that, but it doesn't always work out that way. Probably to be honest, 75% of the time we're doing day-of things in our projects, it's not something we get to do all the time. And maybe that's a goal, maybe I can eventually get to the point where we do get to have that in the budget, but as with everything it's a process. Wardrobe, another important part other than just selling your idea to your audience, is wardrobe can also really motivate your subject, the person you're photographing. Wardrope and props and art department which we'll talk about in a minute, that is a great way to help someone put themselves into a situation where they can start to believe and feel and see on themselves who they're supposed to be. I can't tell you how many times, and we've all done this, and it's not necessarily a bad thing, but so many photographers, especially when they're starting out, I see images in people's portfolios where it's this really dark Sherlock Holmes looking environment, and there's just a pretty woman in a pretty dress, and she's just standing there smiling, and it's like, what is that, I don't know what I'm even looking at, like this doesn't make sense, I'm not saying you couldn't take an environmental picture with a pretty woman in a pretty dress, but you gotta have a reason for it. I think sometimes we think oh, that's pretty, or the lighting's nice, we get excited about lighting, but you've gotta have wardrobe that fits a vision in a story that's gotta be specific, it can't just be something interesting, it has to be for a purpose, which goes back again to taking control of what it is that you're trying to say. Here's a snapshot from a recent ad campaign that I just shot. This is probably only half of the clothes that you see here, but this was just for four or six people, but this is way more than we need, we didn't use all this, but we actually did need all this in terms of making sure we had something that was gonna work. And so this is what I'm talking about, this was day-of, we didn't have a fitting in advance for this shoot, but our stylist brought all this in, and another thing worth mentioning is, I know it looks expensive, you return what you don't use. If someone wears something, there's a lot of unwritten rules in styling, but if someone wears something or uses it in a shoot you don't return that, you buy that. Nordstrom is not like a rental house, it cost them money to have you take stuff and return it, but assuming that you are gonna buy stuff, and you're being honest about what's been worn and all that kind of stuff, some of this stuff could be rented, some of this stuff could be from department stores, some of it's from Goodwill, and I think a lot of times that you do buy it 'cause there's no returns, but that's what a stylist's job is, and this is why when you see this, this is why I'm not styling, I don't even understand how any one person has time to buy all this in like two days, but they're really good at it, and they aren't just buying random stuff off the racks, it's all with purpose, and it's all around these ideas we were communicating beforehand. It's also things like you see on the table, hats and glasses and scarves and watches, all those little things that help build that character, and make it feel real, that's the difference between great production value and bad production value, it's selling the idea. How much do you have that person bring in terms of that sort of extra, just in case this, just in case that, and I know you've talked about how you go into a shoot and you know things might change, by this point are you at the point where you're pretty confident that they don't need to bring all kinds of extra? The subject themselves, or? I'm sorry, the stylist for the shoot. I always want extra. No matter how well we've communicated, I want as much as possible. Because, as well as you communicate and show pictures, it's still ideas, and it's also what's in season and what's available and all that kind of stuff, so the more you work with someone, like the stylist that I work with, they know, okay John really likes monochromatic, he likes solids, John's not a real big fan of patterns and stuff like that, it doesn't mean they don't still bring some stuff, but they start erring towards what they know that you want or what you're looking for, but honestly I think for this one, each person, we probably had 30 tops, and there was only three that I was interested in seeing, and ultimately we picked one, so it's not that the stylist did anything wrong, it's just that it takes I think that many to find the right thing. And another thought that I'll say is, something that is easy to do, and I think I did a lot when I started out was, it's easy to ask your model, maybe you're photographing someone or a model, you connected with online or a friend or something, it's easy to ask them to just bring stuff, that never works. It doesn't matter what you tell them you want, and they go oh my gosh, yeah, I have that, I'll bring a lot of stuff, I cannot tell you how many times the model showed up, and we talked about five specific things, or bringing a ton of stuff, and they show up and it's like, I only had these two things, I'm sorry, hopefully that's okay, and it's like two white T-shirts, and it's like, that's not what we talked about. But that's on me, I was asking someone else to do a job, that's not their job, they're not a wardrobe stylist they're a model. It sounds easy, and it sounds very convenient to not have to find it yourself, and it sure would be nice in a perfect world if models could show up and have the perfect wardrobe, but just don't even go there, you need to take the time, if it's not a wardrobe stylist, you need to go find what you want to make sure that you show up and have the tools you need, otherwise again you're just leaving it up to chance, and chance never comes through. This isn't a super important question, but just more curiosity, if there's any type of garment that you always just say it absolutely cannot be this regardless of shoot, if you do a closeup headshot for an attorney, very humdrum boring thing, and they wear some sort of striped shirt, you get the moray pattern, it's just a total pain in the butt, and is there something that you just hate, and you're like, never? No, not really, I mean it depends, I was gonna say studded jeans, but I mean, maybe there's a shot where they're going for that look, and I want it for some particular reason, but I don't have any that I can think of at least that's like an absolute no. In a general sense, it's easier for me to think of the things I do like, but in general I personally do tend to avoid patterns, I'm not gonna tell you guys to avoid patterns, 'cause you could do amazing work with a pattern, that's just a personal choice, it's not better to shoot solids than patterns. But that's what makes me happy, so that is why that is my rule.

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