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Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 1 of 28

Class Introduction

Victoria Will

Portraits Under Pressure

Victoria Will

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Lesson Info

1. Class Introduction
In the first lesson, meet Victoria and dip your toes into learning her creative process. See the portraits that Victoria has captured in windowless storage rooms and learn why a bad location is no excuse for a bad portrait. Discover why portraits are about preparation, point-of-view, and connection and learn what to expect from the class.

Lesson Info

Class Introduction

Welcome to CreativeLive. I'm Kenna Klosterman, your host for Portraits Under Pressure with Victoria Will. Now Victoria Will started her career as a photojournalist for eight years, and she is now a portrait and advertising photographer. She photographs celebrities, politicians, dignitaries, from all over the world. Therefore, she knows how to work under pressure. Some of her major clients include people like Levi's, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and she is here for the very first time on CreativeLive, so please help me welcome Victoria Will to the CreativeLive stage. (applause) Hi guys. Hi! Welcome, welcome. Thank you. We are so excited to have you here today, Victoria. Very excited to be here. Awesome. You've been photographing for a very long time, but it's the under pressure part, it's that how do you connect with people in that 10, 15 minutes that you have in any scenario. What are the two biggest things that you want people to take away from this class, but from your ye...

ars of work? I guess I hae to say, actually thee things. Okay. I think it's being prepared, it's having a point of view, and it's connection, being able to connect with your subjects. So being prepared, point of view, as well as connecting. Well, we're gonna learn all about that, we're gonna see you in action, and I think we should just get started. All right. Thank you again. Thank you. Over to you. I have a lot to share with you guys, actually, about my creative process. So, let's talk about why we're here. I hope, and I think it's because you all want to grow as photographers, and you want to evolve your art, and you want to push yourself creatively. I think maybe something like that. That's why we look for platforms like CreativeLive. And I think you're also here because you want to make beautiful, emotionally connected moment-driven images. I think that's what we all strive to do. And you want to do that regardless of the circumstances. So, regardless of the obstacles that are put in your way. So maybe you'll have limited time with somebody, or you'll have a really unattractive setting, or it generally can be a number of things that we have to work through, you know, the curve balls that get thrown at us. So I'm here to show you that you can make a beautiful image anywhere. And so I'm gonna give you a few examples. But first, I want to clarify a few myths about celebrity portraiture. By the time you reach the point in your career where you're shooting Matt Damon or Brad Pitt, I thought that it was gonna be all unicorns and rainbows. (audience laughing) Legitimately, I thought that Matt Damon, Brad is gonna walk in, and we're gonna be best friends, and we're gonna swap stories and we're gonna spend all this time together, and we're gonna collaborate, and the location's gonna be beautiful, and the light's gonna be perfect, because it's gonna be the perfect time of day, and the clothes were gonna be really chic. But in fact it doesn't actually work that way, even at the top, at the highest level. Celebrities, CEOs, musicians, they all are very busy people, and they're fitting you in in a small window of their day, so the circumstances don't actually necessarily get easier as you advance in your career. That being said, you just have to learn to deal with all these things, which is what I'm going to talk to you about. So I want to show you this image I shot in this room. It's pretty, right? (audience laughing) I shot this image of Steve Martin in this room, and actually I'll go back and show you this. He's sitting on what looks like a speaker, right? Well, it's actually a refrigerator, a mini-fridge, that I found in the employee lounge of this location. I shot both of these images, which are obviously very different in feel, in this room, which is essentially a storage room. The point is, you really can make a beautiful, connected image anywhere. I think we make excuses for ourselves, oh, I didn't have time, the light wasn't good, I don't have that. I have to come back, if I'm on assignment, I have to come back with a portrait, so I have to just put the excuses aside. So when we're shooting, and we're on assignment, or even shooting personal work for ourselves, there's a lot of pressure that we put on ourselves as photographers. Both the kind, you know, creatively, we're really trying to strive to make something great, but also the pressures that are given to us from things that are out of our hands, like perhaps the publicist, who's trying to rip the subject away, and take them to their next interview. Well, during this workshop, I'm gonna share with you my creative process, and the tools that I use to alleviate those pressures. I'm gonna go over everything from how I plan for a shoot, because every shoot's different. So I take all of the things that I know about the shoot, and will make decisions based specifically on that. I'm also gonna talk to you about how I pick my gear and how I troubleshoot on the fly, how I work with clients, and also how I work with my team, that's also really important to bring my shoots to life. And honestly, I'm gonna talk about everything in between, and so if you have questions, definitely let me know. We're gonna do four live shoots with real-time editorial editing, so I'll go over the four different types of shoots we're gonna do. The first one is a very real real situation, or very similar circumstances to if I was on assignment with a celebrity for a magazine. So I'm not gonna have a lot of time to set up, I'm not gonna really know what the subject is wearing, and we're just gonna all be in this together, so we're gonna approach it that way. And you'll see how I handle that. The second one will be mimicking natural window light in a studio. So as if we were shooting in here, but this window didn't exist. So I want to create this sort of light. I get asked about that often in my work, so I want to share that with you. The third shoot, conquering difficult spaces. That is a little bit more, when we get to that segment, it's more like a portrait challenge, because I don't know who I'm shooting, and I don't know where I'm shooting. So you guys are going to see our subjects and our spaces at the same time that I am, and you can watch me sort of work through the process, and then ask questions, sort of why I made the decisions I made. And then the last one, the fourth shoot, will be actually shooting outside with natural light, and incorporating strobes, and also touch on working a group situation. And then after each shoot, I'll go through my take frame by frame. So you can see exactly what I shot, the mistakes I made, which images I selected and why, and what I'll do is approach it the way I was editing for a magazine. So I'll narrow it down, and then show you the photos that I would then later do post-production on and send to the editor. And the reason why I'm showing you the contact sheets is I find it really valuable. A couple years ago, I saw a contact sheet of a very, very well-known photographer. A guy I find to be at the top of his game. He's incredibly talented, who works all the time, shoots covers of magazines, does ad campaigns, someone I really admire. And when I saw his contact sheet, it sort of, a light bulb sort of went off, and I looked at it, and it wasn't very different than what my contact sheets looked like. And I don't know why I thought it was going to be any different. I thought, you know, this guy is, like, whoa, really good. So I thought his contact sheet was gonna be perfect image after perfect image, you know. It sort of broke down a barrier for me, and made me realize that if he can get there, that I could get there. So I think it's actually really valuable to see the mistakes that we make, but it's also about the process. How he shot through a certain situation, how I shoot through a certain situation, to get to the image that I actually select. So I hope you find it as valuable as I did. From there, we're gonna talk about marketing. And I'm gonna talk to you about how I take the work that I'm making, and I get it into the hands of the people that I want to hire me. It's so important, marketing. It's like the giant eye roll of the industry. Everyone's like, oh God! I have to update my website, I have to do my portfolio, do I really have to email them? Should I pick up the phone and call them? There's a lot of questions that people have, and I will tell you how, how I do it, my approach to it. And I brought some old portfolios of mine and my current one, along with some promos that I've sent out in the past, so you can see how I've done it. And I'm going to touch on social media, of course, the good and the bad, I think it's a double-edged sword. And I'll talk to you guys about rep relationships. And I'm really excited to tell you that the photo editor of Money Magazine is gonna be Skyping in. She'll be joining us to answer our questions. It'll be a great opportunity, I would like to ask her a question I've always wondered, which is if she receives a thousand emails a day, what is in the subject line that makes her want to click on it. Don't we all want to know that? I certainly do. So we'll get her feedback. All right, so what is portraiture? Well, to me, it's three things. It's a craft. It requires particular skills, right? As most crafts do. And photography is lighting, it's understanding your camera, it's computers, it's Photoshop. But it's also an art. It's your voice, it's how you come through in your imagery. That's the artistry of a portrait. And the last part is the collaboration, and the connection. It's about what you're creating in that moment, on that set. How you connect and collaborate with your team is just as important as how you connect and collaborate with your client, and also, most importantly, your subject. I have said this before, you may have heard me say this before, I don't think that taking a portrait is capturing somebody's soul. I just don't, that's not my philosophy to it in any way. I think there's an importance to portraiture, which I'll talk about later, and a responsibility that comes with it. But I think that the perfect image is when the craft, the art, and the collaboration all come together. So finally, through our time together, I'm gonna share with you my philosophy on portraiture, and ultimately how that directly affects how I connect with my subjects. Great lighting doesn't make a great picture if the portrait isn't there first. I'm gonna say that again, because people go what? Great lighting doesn't make a great picture if the portrait isn't there first. Portrait is the most important part, the essence of the image. It's about the gesture and the connection and the emotion, and I will walk you through the ways I create that. Because I think that's the heart of portraiture. So why me? Why are you guys here listening to me? I'd like to share with you my croissant, ta da! This is the very first image I ever had published in a newspaper. That is it, in all its crowning glory. You can even see I didn't even do it very well, you can see the shades here. Well, it was silhouetted, and it ran in the newspaper, in The New York Post, about the size of a quarter. On a good day, it's the size of a quarter. And it was mis-credited to Getty Images. However, I know, ouch. I remember that day very well, and I was so excited. I couldn't believe it, I actually had a photograph in the newspaper, and it's framed and it's at my house. Well, the reason I'm showing it to you, and sort of talking about my journey here, is that everyone has their own path. We all get to photography in different ways. But no matter the different ways, we all share a lot in common. And the reason I think you're here, listening today, and you may not realize is it, is that I actually was you, literally sitting in those chairs. I started the same way you started, just by picking up a camera. Like you, I had a desire to learn, I had a really strong ambition, and I have a strong creative drive. I actually picked up a camera, because I have a learning disability, I'm very dyslexic. And it was a lot easier for me to articulate my thoughts through photography and through a visual art than writing and reading. Writing and reading were always, and still tend to be, very much a chore. So the way I learned was very hands-on. So I took a ton of workshops, just like you guys are doing today. I took as many as I could find. I picked the brain of every photographer I could, for better or for worse. Some of them were so open and honest, and so compelling in what they taught, that I learned things that literally changed the way I shot. They changed the way I see, and ultimately, they changed my career. And that's why I'm here. I don't want to preach to you, because I think there's a lot of ways to achieve the same result. But I just want to share with you my experience. And I'm not going to teach in a technical sense. I'm not gonna have graphs, and I'm not gonna have diagrams. But what I want to do is share with you the things that I've learned, that I found helpful on my path, and answer all your questions as openly and as honestly as I can. And hopefully along the way, you'll hear something that inspires you, and it hopefully inspires you to go out and shoot, and it will propel your work forward.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.


  • Leverage new techniques for choosing the light and locations for a successful portrait
  • Know how to build a rapport and utilize clear communication with your subjects
  • Set up a developed concept as well as how to light on the fly
  • Use successful strategies for marketing yourself as a photographer and how to get your work in front of editors


Portraits require more than just great lighting and equipment. Sometimes a shoot doesn’t go as planned. The location is drab, the client isn’t in the best mood, or you forget to charge your camera batteries. Great portrait photography artists are able to think on their feet, connect with their subjects -- and capture great images under pressure. The best portraits often come from portrait sessions that didn't go exactly as planned, when challenges turn into assets.

Celebrity portrait photographer Victoria Will shows you how to use your environment to capture a unique, sharp image that reflects the person in the portrait. She’ll also highlight how to quickly evaluate a less than perfect situation and make it work for you and your subject. Take your portraits from amateur to near Mona Lisa gallery worthy by learning how to shoot portraits under pressure.

You’ll watch Victoria photograph real people in limited settings, discovering multiple opportunities in a limited space. Learn her three portrait musts for preparation, point-of-view, and connection. Gain insight into how to make every frame count and how to get the shots the editor requested, as well as those that speak to your vision. Learn how to make your subject feel comfortable in only a few moments while capturing exquisite photo collections in Portraits Under Pressure.


The photographer looking to improve their portraiture through thoughtful lighting, creative techniques and leveraging the environment around you to get a consistent appearance.


Victoria Will’s background as an American photojournalist and celebrity photographer has helped her to develop techniques on editorial assignments to quickly connect with a subject. Her career began as a photojournalist for the New York Post and grew into a sharp portrait photography focus that opened opportunities to photograph celebrities. She continues to work in New York as an artist specializing in portraits and commercial work.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Gear List

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Reference Guide

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


Helena Sung

This was a great class and I learned a ton! It was amazing to watch Victoria Will in action -- shooting portraits under pressure. I learned a lot watching her walk into an unknown situation -- not knowing the location, what the natural lighting situation would be, and only knowing she had 15 minutes for the shoot. I loved watching her problem solve on the spot with lightning and tight, dark spaces. She also taught a lot about how she interacts with her subjects -- always putting them at ease (like you're the host at a dinner party -- gem!) It's much easier for a photographer to take pictures in their studio, but this course was not about that. This was watching a photographer handle real world situations under time pressure and think on her feet. Loved it! I also loved the parts where she culled her photos afterwards and picked out the ones that caught her eye. In most instances, I found myself agreeing with her!! When she gets subjects to stand up and sit back down, it is the in-between moments she is looking for, or the moment right afterwards -- genius!! Oh, lastly, I loved how she went through stunning images she shot of celebrities like Brad Pitt and Janelle Monae and gave us the backstory of how she creatively problem-solved to get the shot! Hello, showing up two hours before a shoot and knocking on random hotel room doors for furniture?!! Of course she could do that because she has a lovely, warm personality! Oh, and by the way, the bits she shares about her early career path is very inspiring!

Robert Negrin

Great course! And the best part was the honesty. I was an executive in a fortune 500 company and what the critics watching this course missed is that there are a lot of talented photographers, actors, singers, accountants and even landscapers, but there are very few that are successful and accomplished. Yes, part of it may involve a certain degree of luck, but most of it is the drive and desire to suceed. It is obvious you have both. I used to beleive that a true image could only be captured by styling the shot, metering light and controlling the subject. (Yes, I shot film...complete with developing and printing all my images) Then, one day I realized that, if deliberate-shooting was the right way, why then most of the great images I have were the result of quick, rather than deliberate reactions. I get it Victoria. Love your style and how you get there. Three things I learned today are that the conditions... even the background, do not have to be perfect if the image is strong enough to carry the message. Second, setting up to capture the perfect image, misses all the imperfect, epic moments. Third, I disagreed with almost every image you picked until they were isolated from the rest. Then they made perfect sense. Well done. :) Robert Gabriel

Meredith Zinner Photography

I really love Victoria and her work. She's something suuuuper special and showed me a fab new way to look at portraits. I love her openness, honesty, the whole 'you're at my dinner party' intimacy, care and respect for her clients and am SO impressed at how quickly and reliably she's able to transform any location to suit her needs. She's super impressive, professional and inspiring thank you!