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Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 20 of 28

Culling Dark Tight Spaces Shoot


Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 20 of 28

Culling Dark Tight Spaces Shoot


Lesson Info

Culling Dark Tight Spaces Shoot

How was that for you? That was great. I'm not gonna lie, it was hard. Our light was all over the place. And I try not to chimp as much as I can, because I like to, you know, part of ... I can't even reiterate this enough, how important it is to be prepared. I obviously had all of my gear, but I had no time to prep. So I had to throw it together. And I feel like I definitely got some shots, but you're gonna see, I made a lot of mistakes, and that was really, truly the first time Danielle's had to work with me when I'm in the zone, and I'm just really talking. And so she wasn't entirely sure what to anticipate, and I think you did a great job, because I was just throwing things at you. And if we were to do five more of these shoots, you would know right away what to anticipate. So I think that that's the beginning of every working relationship. And I appreciate you hanging with me there. If that had been a real shoot, I would have been really frustrated, actually, just with the idea th...

at I didn't have time to setup. But, that was exactly the purpose of this challenge. And to come away with a few photos. If this had been a client who had hired me, if Matt was hiring me for headshots, obviously I would have had more time. But I think, I'm gonna go ahead and ingest. Pardon, okay. And once you do the ingest, we can go take a look at the second space. Oh, your gonna see the. Oh, should I hit ingest and then? Yeah, yeah, hit ingest for us. I did. Okay. Alright great. So alright, let's go. Let's go reveal the second space, which you asked in the ... You said earlier, I hope it's a bigger space. Well you got a bigger space. This is the space. Big room, alright. So talk us through what you're gonna look at. I wonder if that would have changed my mind at all. I don't know. This is beautiful. Look at, Arlene don't move right now. Do you guys see what Arlene's doing right now, as we're speaking? This is a beautiful picture. She's ... I love the way your hands are. They're so natural. And you just are doing it on your own. And this, you're leading me here already. I'm gonna start with you definitely on one of the couches. There's a little bit more daylight in here, and again the ceilings are white. So I'm seeing, just with Arlene in the red, a bright, very open image. Not very moody, not a lot of contrast. And something that's not built around dramatic lighting. So I think I'm gonna light it as sort of open and airy. Tools wise. What do I want? Well let's see. This table's interesting. Can always be interesting for CEO's and corporate folks. But I don't want Arlene to be ... I think it's too severe, with what I'm going for. I want it to be a softer look, so I'm definitely thinking about this area. I do like floors, to have people sit on floors, but Arlene, I don't think that would be appropriate for you. I think you need to be sitting, and it's definitely more, it has a bit of a sophistication to it. So that's where I'm headed in my mind. I love white ceilings when they're low. If this were red, or something else, all of the light would be casting, there would be a color cast, but I don't have to worry about that. I do sometimes have to worry about that with red. There might be a bit of a color cast, but I could do a bunch of things in here. We could try bouncing a couple lights off the ceiling. I think a Photek in here would be really good, just really soft. I want soft shadows. We could also try, just as a juxtaposition, something with a very specular light, so maybe a bare bulb. Because that would really soften the look I'm going for I think. Well we could play off of it. I would have a very soft look, and then something where it really softens your skin. So, I'm gonna mull that over. While you- I'll sit on the floor. I appreciate that. I know, but it's not, it doesn't feel right to me. Okay. There's a sophistication to your outfit and everything. If you were wearing jean shorts and flip flops, that could be right, but this is, your look has, there's an energy about it, and so I think we have to work with that. Okay. Okay. Alright, so I think we are gonna move everything into this room. Great. So we're going to bring the images, so that you can start culling what we saw in the last shoot. So excited. By the way, people loved seeing you work in that room, and really felt like it was real world experience. The chaos. That it truly was portraits under pressure. Total chaos. Total chaos. Alright, back over to you. Again, minimize the chaos by showing up early, and having a chance to light. Or, I sort of went to some go-to situations. So of course, in the beginning I started ... Are we seeing my monitor now? Does everyone at home? Yes. Okay. So, this right here, I could make this an interesting ... This was my first test. I'll just walk you through. My exposure was not set anywhere close. Not there. I sit him down. This could be a really nice black and white image, and I would darken the background a little bit. So, I think I could make ... I'm distracted by the books in the background, right? But it doesn't, it's not really bothering me. But one way to make sure that your eye doesn't go there, is to darken, slightly darken the background, and bring up your subject. That way your eye will go directly to what you want it ... Your viewer, you're leading them where you want them to go. I think this is nice. I like the way he's biting his lip. I realize that yesterday, I think I was go ... When I was editing, I was editing very realtime, and exactly how I do it. Which is I just go through, and I mark the ones I like. And I was telling you why I liked those photographs. I wasn't telling you why I was skipping over some. So, right now, I think this is too obvious. It's not the mood I was going for. Obviously we've got motion. This is a beautiful smile. I really like that. I think he's got a lot of character. This eyes closed has more emotion to me than the other one. And I think as a black and white, that would be really nice. Looking down is nice. The hair. These aren't, as I keep going, if I'm not picking them it's because there's, I'm just not seeing something. And if you guys see one you love and I pass over it, feel free to ask me. I think this one's really nice. There's a softness to it that could be really nice. Let's see. Let me go back. Almost cut his hand off here, but I didn't, thank goodness. That's the problem with shooting very loose. I do tend to make some mistakes. Let me just see. Generally speaking, what, I would consider making this black and white. If I did that, could I really get it where I wanted to go. Possibly. I really would bring down the exposure in the back. I'll show you. It's sort of a very subtle vignette. I think vignettes are overused. This is way too much. But I'm bringing down the back. Now I'm gonna bring up the foreground. This is also not ... I edit in Photoshop, not in Camera Raw, but I'm just editing, just subtly. Bring up the contrast here. Bring up the contrast here. We're getting somewhere. So let me open that, and see where we are. This is just an example of, I would do a lot more to it, a lot more crunch. I call it, it's a crunch, it's a term a friend of mine came up with. That's sort of my process. That's how I process it. It's sort of my take on it. But, this is generally, let me go get some ... What I was thinking when I said about a black and white, I'm gonna even crunch this some more. And there's a million ways to get where we're going, right? So, this is just one very quick example. All of a sudden, the books in the background are a lot less of an issue, and just as a reminder, we'll go back. This is the image that we were just working on. I think that's a, there's a very ... I had that vision of the black and white in my mind, and that's where I was going. So we're gonna keep going forward. I like this one. So, here's the first test, when I had Danielle come in, and my exposure was off for the beauty dish. What's interesting though, is that is so underexposed, but sometimes with the magic of Camera Raw, you can find some interesting things. Sometimes you bring up who knows. There's something very cool and moody about this. Since I don't like that white balance, let me go back to how I shot it, a little bit bluer. I'm just suggesting that you can play with underexposed and overexposed images, just to see what you can find. Because, there's sometimes magic in that. If the portrait's there. That's the bottom line. And I, he's still doing, he has this thoughtful pose. So here we go. This is him with the beauty dish. I'm still thinking that this would be very grainy, and very black and white. I like that. We're getting somewhere, but the highlight on his hand is really bright here. But I like that my eye goes right to him. I'm not distracted by the books in the background. So I would potentially crop right around here. This is the picture, right here. It has nothing to do with the other stuff. So, his hair is so spectacular, and it feels like, it's sort of like a modern day regal, or some sort of steampunk situation, where he's sitting in this chair. It's sort of like a throne, and then this is his crown. That's sort of what I'm seeing. There's a nice smile. Still, it's a great moment. Not what I'm going for, but I would, potentially if it was for him, maybe throw that in there. This was when I changed angles. I came up, just to see what was going on. I was getting a lot ... Something in there I like. But I came back, that's a nice moment, and just enough light. Danielle came over towards me. We feathered that light a little bit. And you can see the light on his eye. That's really important. I didn't want it to go, fall into shadow too much. Here we've got eye contact. I like without the eye contact, I think. It's covering his face obviously. Not what we were going for. That's interesting. I would change my angle a little bit, because I'm shooting a little wonky. Oh, chin down's nice. So that's this situation. I feel like I have it there. Alright, so we put up the seamless, and really had to throw it together. All hell broke loose, but we pulled it together. So here's essentially what I was going for. And weren't quite there. I do think this works. But I had to nail in the light. There we go. So we moved it around a little. I'm, you guys are seeing all this wonky stuff on the side. I'm gonna crop right in. It's gonna be very, a much tighter, intimate crop. I don't, I didn't really have a choice. You guys were in the room with me. I don't have a longer seamless. I don't even have a longer wall to use, so my four and a half foot seamless is it. So, when I'm shooting, I'm ignoring all of those things on the side, because I know that I'm gonna crop the image. That's a nice moment there. It's definitely not traditional, and not ... It's unexpected. That's what I like about it. It's not a photo that you would see necessarily on a website that's, where someone's looking to have a headshot taken, perhaps. Or, needs a new LinkedIn profile photo, or Tinder perhaps. So I move the light. You could see, that's the bottom light firing. And Danielle's hand holding my light, so she didn't have it up yet. We brought the light up, and the light's all over the board, and I'm distracted by two things. The shadow, and the rip of the seamless. I do kind of love this gesture though. It means, it has a tension to it that's nice. But, I didn't feel like I had the light dialed in, so I kept going, and I brought in the other light that was bouncing through the window. And changed my exposure. It's a little bit under here. I changed my exposure, because it felt a little bit too bright, and a little bit too flat. And then we started our GQ pose. And Matt really started to get into it. And this is where I moved the bottom strip light out of the way, because not only was it in my way, but it was too bright. Even though I had it on it's lowest power, you saw us touch hands, we are so close together, that I just needed less. So you could grid it. You could put some sort of diffusion on it. Or you just get it out of the way, which is what I wanted to do. Just simplify. So, this image is so wonky, and it's, if this were a moment, I could easily fix the crop. So don't worry about being perfect, is basically what I'm showing you, because that, I clearly am not. And this is not even in focus. So I like Matt doing his thing. I think this is interesting. He has a smile on his face. I love the way his hand is touching. We're just gonna open that up, to see it a little bit bigger. So let's crop it, just for argument's sake. Oop. Clear. Let's just say this would, let's see how that's going. It just makes it, the picture's in here somewhere. I might even want this to be a horizontal, if I was in a situation where I could extend the side. I think if he could breathe a little bit on each side, but there's something really nice in there. Maybe. Let's keep going. So his hair is just spectacular. So, he's taking it off. So as you can see, I'm really struggling with the light here. We're really not dialed in in any way. But I don't have much time, and I gotta get a picture, so we got, I like this. Matt, this is tension, it is attitude. Feels a little bit like a rockstar. Let's see. I like the tension in his lips. Let me just open that up. This is just a rough ... There's something in there for sure. We don't know Matt, but I think he was in a band, based on this image. Matt, were you in a band? Is he still around? He's downstairs. Okay. But he does play music. He does play music, I knew it. Great. And we have two more minutes. Okay. Well we only have about two more minutes worth of photos that we shot, because of the situation. Here we go. So you can see the beauty dish is in my frame here. That doesn't bother me, because that means the light is getting there. It's the quality of light that I'm going for, and the closer the beauty dish is, the nicer the light, in my opinion. There we go, that's nice smile. This is, the light's really dialed in here now. Just by moving her over. The vignette's a little bit strong for me. But, I went through the motions with that. If I wanted to soften the vignette, I was gonna have to come outside and deal with the Photek, and have Danielle do that. I had to make a call. Was that something I wanted to do? This is nice, I like that a lot. Let's try that one. This is a nice smile. Oop. Just pick a crop here. Let's open that up. So, this is our image. And we also had this image. Oh, why is it set- oh, there's the raw. This JPEG. So, here are two images from the same shoot. Very different feel. One is much happier, has more energy. The other one's more serious, it has a little bit more tension to it. But, as an editor, I would be pleased with having both of those options, and of course I do have, as we carry on, we'll keep going. That's great, nice. I know he's married, but, would work for Tinder if you ask me. It's a nice smile. Just, there you go, that's nice smile as well. I think there's a ... So that's really beautiful. I think that's a beautiful portrait. It's obviously not traditional. It's not necessarily, when someone hires you to take a corporate image, or a headshot that they need for a variety of purposes, yeah you do need to go and be a little bit more safe, but again you have to shoot for you. And, I'm bringing my point of view here, and I like this stuff. And you would hope that Matt hired me because he liked my quirky choices as well. There he goes, another one. That's really great there. And that's the end. So, in my edit, I didn't mark very many, but I've got in our shooting time, which was quick, and without any setup, I'd say we've got one from each scenario. One or two. And maybe this one from the table doesn't work out. Well, we tried it. I'm glad I moved on, and didn't stay there. So we've got a black and white one up here in the chair. Maybe a color one. I'm starting to like this one a lot. Now that I'm looking at them as JPEG's again in my first edit, I might change my mind about that first one I worked on, and go maybe to something like this. Feels very Godfather-ish, which I like. I think it needs a grain. I was at a higher ISO, so I can really punch that up. And then down here, we have some nice smiles. Some more straightforward. And I didn't take any headshots. Nothing super tight and close. Maybe that was a mistake, I don't know. I think there's a pretty good variety. And I'm looking forward to the next one.

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!