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Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 22 of 28

Culling Boring Spaces Shoot


Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 22 of 28

Culling Boring Spaces Shoot


Lesson Info

Culling Boring Spaces Shoot

Here's Arlene, the very first photo, the, I call it a Polaroid, of course it's not. But that's how we used to test in the film days. I actually get a lot of reactions outta people when I say that, they'll say, "Polaroid?" And I'm like, "Well not actually, just an analogy." but it does start a conversation because if that person knows what a Polaroid is they probably know about photography, and right there we have something to connect on. So here's Arlene, the next frame, I mentioned the Polaroid, she has a nice smile, I'm not liking the lighting. It's really lighting her foot, if you notice. And the background's really distracting. So, I'm not there, but I am liking the red and the black on the white. I think that's starting to get somewhere, and that's what I'm gonna play off of. You can see my light, the soft lighter and the reflect. I don't know why I'm pointing back here, it's right here, it was over here, you can see the reflection in it. You never wanna see your light, obviously.

You never wanna see your lights in the image. If you can help it at least. I remember seeing a very old Annie Leibovitz photo, back when she was doing a lot of stuff in early, her Rolling Stone era. She was in a bathroom photographing somebody, and you could see the reflection of the umbrella in the tile. And I remember thinking, "Ah, happens to her too." So, here's Arlene, we flipped the couches around, and I'm really liking the soft light. It's really opening up her skin a lot. Here's just to compare. So now I'm getting the expose right, and I'm gonna end up using the background which is very graphic, and has things going on, I'm gonna end up using that backlight to sort of wrap around her. So here, also as I mentioned, I see the cables, but it doesn't bother me. But we're really starting to get somewhere, this is a nice frame. I think she looks very nice, she looks soft, comfortable, vert straight forward. I like that the angle of her head there. The back line, some people might think it's distracting, I think it's drawing, in this situation, it's drawing my eye right to her. I am seeing a lot of the bottom of her foot. There's no need to see the bottom of somebodies shoes, so I did have her move it around in a second. But here I am changing my exposure ever so slightly. I had her get up and sit down because she was sort of getting a little bit too stiff and comfortable in that pose. And she got up, and she sat down and I took this frame, and I think I started to really like the shape of it. And I see the bottom of her foot, however, it's not distracting. So if we go back to the other image... Which was over here, the only thing I see in this image on the right is the bottom of her shoe. But in this image I see her. And I see this long elongated body shape. So we'll go back. Still liking this, still working the situation. There she is more serious, but I love the gesture of her hand there, it's sort of sweet. There's a nice smile, beautiful. I like that a lot. Then so I go in a little bit tighter. I probably would've had her relax her fingers and just place her hand back on there, but we moved. So, here we go. That's nice. I love the backlight, how it's just opening up the whole image. Such a beautiful smile. You know, and oh, out of focus. But I got it, the next one I really nice. When I'm, I obviously didn't have... Any time to do this, but if I knew I was shooting somebody, again, I mentioned when I photograph someone I don't do a lot of research, but I do look them up on Google, just a Google search to see what they look like, if that's possible. And if the person isn't on Facebook or something, and doesn't have it, it's not inappropriate to ask your subject to send you a picture of what they look like. I know it sounds rude, "Hey can you send me a picture of you? "'Cause I wanna know what you look like." But that's actually really important and will help you start thinking. So Arlene has this beautiful short cut and... I just was thinking of an actress or actor who would have a short haircut who I could reference. And I think of somebody much older than Arlene like Judi Dench, but... And anyone who has a short, Melissa, Michelle Williams had a short pixie cut for a while when she was doing some work for Prada. I would look up both of those people and see how other people have photographed them. Just to give myself some ideas and to see what is out there. But be careful not to do too much research so it sort of clutters your head space because you still need to have your own point of view. I think this is beautiful, I think she looks great. Go back there, I just think it's a nice smile. Just looking off frame. That's very genuine. It's when she's like, "I'm going on vacation." My next frame, not in focus. Going tighter. Something, let's see. I like this one, it just sort of depends on the intent, and the output of the image. What she wants, where this is going. So this is too obvious for me, but I am getting her somewhere, it's a means to an end. We're trying to work to find, that's a nice little touch on the ear. Oh what a sweet smile there. So here I turned, I wanted to see what else was going on. My light wasn't right, had some obstructions in the back. And so we moved it around, I fixed the light, I was working it a little bit, but I'm not loving it. I do like that smile, but I don't like the frame. And the light's a little bit too flat. The more I really stuck with it, and a lot of that is because of the all of the bounce. So I'm not having quite as much control over the situation. So we came back to where we were. And I think that there's some, I now don't have, the reason I came back is I didn't want to have that bar sort of going through her head, but it, as an option, because when we select our edit we'll see which one's we like. But I move her up in the frame and that's really nice. It's just sort of finding the right one, and I think that that's it. I like how comfortable her hand is on her leg. Ideally I might want to have seen her other foot... But it really isn't distracting me here. Sometimes... Sometimes that can definitely be something that catches your eye. And so here I brought her over to the window and I just wanted to just see what happened if she was backlit, and we wrapped the light around her. So I brought in a fill, and I'm really placing her right in the window for symmetry. And I love her pose. Now immediately I think this photo should be black and white. My white balance is one auto since I don't know where I am. I barely know what state I'm in, let alone what room. And... So I just went to auto to get it in the ballpark, knowing that I have the ability to change it in raw. And I think there's something sweet in there about this. But I'm trying, so I changed my white balance, it's a little bit warmer. It's not really helping me with my end result 'cause I'm still thinking black and white. A nice smile there. But I'm so far out in this one, I would definitely go in much tighter to crop in the end. So here she needs some fill in the front. I love the back sides, and I think, but she needs a little light in the eyes here. Which is why we ended up bringing, I opened up, but because I opened up to open up her eyes, while Danielle was getting me a show cart, I then ended up blowing out the highlights on the side. That is actually a big pet peeve of mine, I never let images of mine go out into the world that have the highlights blown out like that. In sports photography, well I shouldn't say in sports photography. In a lot of situations where photographers, myself included, have to shoot athletes, a good way to do that is to sidelight, because that accentuates their muscle tone. And the shadows and the highlights, and you really start to see a body builder's physique. I like to see a highlight, but I want to see the texture of the skin. That's important to me, but it's a personal choice. If you look at a lot of athletes and how they've been shot, it's sort of with a very strong high key front light, and then the side light. And you'll see some people who intentionally blow out the highlights. And that's the look their going for, just a personal preference. That's really nice. I like that I got low for this one. Nice smile, looking at the camera. I still have the highlights blown out, we're still not there. But I'm not gonna let her sit there. I love what she's doing with her hands. And as soon as we brought in the fill, I stopped down a little bit and you can see the show card on the left side of the frame. But I love what she's doing with her hands. I think that's probably when I directed her to touch her rings. Women are fidgeters, they just are. I think humans are fidgeters, but particularly women, and so she probably would've grabbed her necklace and sort of play with it. That's sort of what women do, they touch their earrings, some people twiddle their hair. Those are the things I'm looking for that allow... That look beautiful that are natural idiosyncrasies, they are what people do when they're nervous, and I'm trying to actually capitalize on that. I think they're beautiful. That's a nice image. So that's a perfect example of when I'm moving too fast. Great smile. So I think there was one or two in there, and I thought, let's go, and we're gonna switch over here. This is the first one, I'm way over exposed. I like where we're going, we're switching the light up. Still over exposed. Danielle and I are still finding our rhythm here. I'm still directing Arlene, and I'm shooting through this. And I mentioned to you, I was still adjusting my exposure, but as a learning purpose, I never would've said that out loud, I would've just kept shooting. I did not want my subject to know that something was going on, they don't need to know. And you just keep your cool, and you just keep shooting. If I'm having my dinner party and burn the turkey, I'm not gonna tell anybody, I'm gonna send somebody to Whole Foods to buy another one. In the meantime I'm gonna just go out front and offer everybody more wine. (audience laughs) So I like where we're going here. Then over exposed, come in, oh okay, finally we got it. I finally have cut out all of the ambient, and I am shooting just with my strobes, and this is much more traditional. And what I liked about it is that if Arlene had hired me to take these portraits, I'm then going to offer her something very bright and airy, and horizontal using the environment, and then we tried the window, and now I'm gonna give her another option that's definitely feels more like a studio setup. But the I decided that, you know, let's just try to take it somewhere. So we're not there yet, we're not there yet, but we're getting there. We're going somewhere, and I actually think... Somewhere in here she really settles in and we make a nice frame. There's something very nice about that. Now it's obviously... It's intended to be more artful, not a typical headshot in some way. I think that's really interesting. I don't know why, but I do. And there at the very end she sits up, she looks over, I think she's got a great look on her face. I might crop in. And then when you put the camera down and everyone goes (sighs) and there's a nice image in there. And that's it, that was our shoot.

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.


  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.

  2. Evaluating Location and Set-Up with Assistant

    Portrait shoots often mean walking into a location that you've never seen before. Walk through the process of evaluating the location and prepping for the shoot. Learn major essentials and smaller tips, like why portrait photographers should deliver multiple images with a consistent appearance but varying orientations.

  3. Editorial/Celebrity Style Shoot

    Think you can't get several great portraits in 15 minutes? Watch a live 15-minute portrait shoot, from communicating poses with the subject to helping the client feel comfortable in front of the camera. Learn how continuous changes help the client feel comfortable while creating variety in a short time frame.

  4. Culling Editorial/Celebrity Style Shoot

    After watching the shoot unfold, see the results as Victoria looks through the images from the 15-minute shoot. Get answers to questions posed from students like you, then watch an image critique.

  5. Victoria's Portrait Journey

    How did Victoria go from a photo of a croissant at a tabloid newspaper to photographing Brad Pitt? Victoria shares her photography journey and the certain events that led to her success. Gain insight into how she moved from her early works to her current portfolio and stunning photo collections.

  6. Victoria's Sundance Experience

    What's more under pressure than a 15-minute time-frame to shoot an entire cast? Victoria walks through her experience shooting celebrity portraits in temporary studios during the Sundance Film festival as a prime example of working under pressure.

  7. The Power of the Portrait

    Rule number one of portrait photography? Portraits are never about the photographer. Victoria walks through the power of the camera and portraits that have changed the national conversation.

  8. How to Connect with Your Subject

    Human nature means most people are uncomfortable in front of a camera -- but portraits aren't about cameras and lighting, it's about the person, Victoria says. Learn how to create a connection that will bring out the person in portrait photography.

  9. Shooting a Commercial Image Part 1

    Photographing people doesn't always fall strictly under a portrait category. Watch Victoria's process through a commercial shoot designed to sell jeans and see how the same portrait photo tips work for commercial work.

  10. Shooting a Commercial Image Part 2

    Continue the dive into commercial portraiture and move into more poses and deeper insight into the process.

  11. Culling the Commercial Shoot

    What do you look for when culling images from a commercial portrait session? Victoria walks through her process and why, when she chooses photos, it's not the always the obvious smiling photo that makes the cut.

  12. Marketing: Websites and Portfolios

    Victoria calls marketing the eye roll of the photography industry -- but it's an important part of working as a professional. Walk through online portfolio advice, marketing photo tips and more in this lesson.

  13. Social Media & Blogs

    Social media is an extension of marketing -- and an essential one. Dive into photo tips for marketing with social media and blogs as a portrait photography artist.

  14. Interview: Lacey Browne, Money Magazine Photo Editor

    Marketing to potential clients is one thing, but what about attracting the attention of a photo editor from a major magazine? Gain insight into what photo editors are looking for when they hire photographers.

  15. Wardrobe and Make-Up Best Practices

    Just like marketing, makeup and wardrobe is an essential subject that photographers don't always have a handle on. Victoria walks through the process of selecting clothing and makeup for the shoot, from making the subject feel comfortable to what colors work best.

  16. How to Work with Agents and Reps

    Portrait photography is not a solo career. Learn how to work on creative teams, starting with finding a rep to working with an agent.

  17. How to Work with Assistants: Skype Interview

    Assistants help portrait sessions move quickly while under pressure -- but shooting with an assistant can be intimidating. Victoria dives into working with assistants and building a relationship through an interview with photo assistant Tim Young.

  18. The Importance of Being Prepared

    Portrait photographers often walk into a location blind -- but that doesn't make preparation any less essential. Walk through the process of preparing, learn how to scout locations if you can, and dive into the process of building flexible ideas pre-shoot. Learn the gear Victoria brings with her and more.

  19. Shoot: Conquering Dark Tight Spaces

    Portrait photographers don't always get to pick epic locations. Learn how to create a studio space in a small, dark space and how to assess a tight spot to create multiple different types of portrait images.

  20. Culling Dark Tight Spaces Shoot

    See the result of working in a dark, tight space as Victoria culls and critiques the images from the challenge. Also, watch Victoria's initial reaction and thoughts on the "boring" location for the second shoot.

  21. Shoot: Conquering Boring Spaces

    Learn how to make create interesting, riveting portrait photography in boring spaces. Watch Victoria set up multiple shots in this quick shoot, from re-arranging furniture to adjusting lighting.

  22. Culling Boring Spaces Shoot

    Examine the results of the portrait session in a "boring" space. Watch Victoria critique her own work and see how she progressed from testing the light to developing comfortable poses.

  23. Shoot: Working with Groups - Part 1

    Groups increase the challenges to portrait photography, especially under pressure. Get a behind the scenes look at developing a group portrait, from building a relationship to working with harsh light.

  24. Shoot: Working with Groups - Part 2

    Continue working with group portrait sessions and watch Victoria create her own shade, direct poses, and channel high energy in a group setting.

  25. Culling Working with Groups Shoot

    Build a critical eye by critiquing the group shoot, looking for what works and what doesn't.

  26. Portfolio Best Practices

    Building a portfolio is essential to working as a portrait photography artist. Learn portfolio essentials from how to build your point of view to formatting options. Learn how to create distinctive features to make your work stand out and why a consistent appearance is important. See classical examples of portraiture in Victoria's own portfolio.

  27. Portfolio Best Practices Q&A

    Grab deep insight into the most common portfolio questions in this Q&A session with students in our Seatle studio.

  28. Portfolio Critique

    Listening to photography critiques helps you develop a critical eye for your own work. Learn the common protocol editors follow in a review of photo collections from distinguished artisans in the CreativeLive studio audience, and gain critical insight to use in your own work.


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!