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Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

Lesson 11 of 52

Working with an Art Director


Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

Lesson 11 of 52

Working with an Art Director


Lesson Info

Working with an Art Director

So let's talk a little bit specifically about working with an art director. This is maybe on of the more lofty kind of roles to work with, I will say. So again, it's good to have this information. You may not be able to use it right now but as I said earlier, the sooner you can think about this and prepare yourselves down the road if and when the time comes, you'll be better equipped. So an art director basically, as I mentioned earlier, they're someone that brings creative vision that kind of creates the world in the environment that you want to make an image of. So this is a sketch and a mock up of one of the sets that we'll be creating in one of the shoots in this course. I came up with this idea and kind of had these general terms of what I thought I wanted this to look like and I presented some images to John, our art director, about where I was thinking with it. He did this sketch and it's kind of like "Is this what you're thinking? "Or what do you think about that?" And maybe or...

iginally I was thinking they were coming towards me but then I hadn't thought about them looking sideways. That could actually work. Maybe we'll try both. And then I can say, "Well the wardrobe is not exactly "What I envisioned. "That's a little too literal for me. "I want to create more of a cross-genre type sailing outfit, "But I love the seagull on the bow. "That's kind of a cool touch." I was like, "I really want to add grass in there "To kind of give it some depth." And so he was like, "You mean behind?" And I was like, "No, I wanted this." So then he puts in this mock up to show this is what we're talking about. We're not obviously going to be able to shoot in water. If there was a budget we could build a pool in here but we're not doing that. We're going to use seamless and we're going to fill the seamless with fog and haze to mask the areas that we don't want to see, going back to controlling your environment, controlling what's important to you. I want it to feel like she's in water so what are we going to do to solve that problem even though we don't have that water? We're going to use grass to further cement that idea that we're outside. And then we're going to get a boat and then set it in there. So this is, again going back to communicating ideas, making sure you're on the same page, the more you can write out and draw out, the less there is that you're leaving to chance. You'll get to see and hear from John too so we'll get into more details. Are there any other questions on art director, what an art director does? Have you worked with an art director? And a lot of times, it doesn't mean... You can have a vision but I cannot paint. If I want a wall that looks like an aged, old ship wall, I could find a million references of exactly what it looks like but there's no way I'm making that look good. I need someone who's a talented artist who can create that, so that's what an art director does. They're someone who can actually work with you on ideas and then make those ideas a reality and then source them as well. John actually made a seagull for this shoot out of foam. He carved it and painted it and it looks like a real seagull. You'll see that pretty soon. This is a little tiny cardboard model, probably six inches tall, of another one of the sets that we're going to do. Again, he built it and then shot it to scale so it's like, "Yeah, that's what we're talking about." But then the first one he did, we talked about a lot, and we're like, "Okay, we're on the same page." And then he built the model and the back wall was a little too narrow. I thought that it was going to squeeze in too much on the subjects. So I was like, "Oh I'm glad you did that "'Cause I actually want the back wall "To be a little wider." He's like, "Oh I thought you wanted it four feet." I was like, "Well, if that's four feet, it needs to be six." So then that's the benefit of creating and doing as much of this pre-production as possible. That's a better scale shot of the... And it doesn't have to be anything fancy. You could build out of toothpicks or whatever it is, but you just want to diagram and scale and communicate in production as best you can to make sure you're going to show up with the right things that they have. And then he even went as far as putting in a little person to scale. This is what a person would look like in there. It's like, "Okay, that's perfect." Or maybe it's like, "Holy cow, they're too big. "We need to find a smaller model "Or we need to make the set bigger." "There's no budget to make the set bigger. "Okay, well I guess we're finding a smaller model." It's all those kinds of things that you want to talk about. Yeah, how much time you'd say you're allotting for the production process before you actually do a shoot? That's a good question. It's different for every project. Sometimes it's dictated by budget. These people are working on daily rates. They'll work as long as you want but it's costing by the day. Again, it all goes back to maybe you arranged that this is going to take twice as much time but I have a flat rate. Are you willing to work for this rate no matter how much time this takes? That's a conversation you're more than welcome to have. They can agree or not agree. So don't get locked into that. It's fine to talk about that and anything's fair to ask. I would much prefer somebody to come to me and say, "I know this is crazy, it's a small budget, "But we're really excited about working with you "And I had to at least ask." I feel good about having that conversation as opposed to someone being like, "Here's the rate, just tell me if you want to do it." And they're not really helpful and all. It's insulting that you're not even communicating why you want to work with me and you're asking me to do something that's ridiculous. I'm not as inclined to do that. So be thoughtful and courteous. Even if it's a stretch. This job is all about making the impossible happen. Put it out there. To give you some context though, how often? Typically it depends on how many shots you're doing. Typically a producer on a basic shoot would be doing three to four days of pre-production, however many days you're on set, and then maybe one to two days of wrap. So after the shoot's done, they're making payments to all the crew, they're making sure everything's getting returned, they're making sure contracts are getting signed, they're making sure that the images are getting delivered to the client and stuff. So an art director though, I think, we can as John later, but I think on this job we're doing four shots. I think he's doing nine or ten days or something like that. So I think three days shooting, couple days wrap to tear stuff down, take whatever can be taken back, and then a couple days riffing with me, and then four days of building. So that's kind of a good layout for it.

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!