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Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 4 of 28

Culling Editorial/Celebrity Style Shoot

Victoria Will

Portraits Under Pressure

Victoria Will

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Lesson Info

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.

Lesson Info

Culling Editorial/Celebrity Style Shoot

So let's pull up the pictures, and see what we got. Are you using the Passport or your lacy? No, I'm good. I just need a chair I think, actually. Do you wanna just use this stool? Yeah, that's perfect. Okay. So let's see. The good, the bad, the eyes closed. The whole kit and kaboodle. Alright, so, I think I have a couple pictures on this card, actually, from yesterday. I think I need someone to take a look at this, as I don't think I'm hooked up. However ... Really interesting to see how you were really more focused on those, asking those questions of your subject matter. What kind of nail polish are you wearing? All of that connection stuff. So I was definitely able to see that in action. She seemed to listen to you very well, in terms of the direction you were giving her. Do people ever come in with preconceived notions of what they want to, how they wanna pose, where they wanna sit? Oh yeah, absolutely. And guess what? That's a gift. Start with that. Even if you have a p...

lan, and it's the opposite of what they want, you need to honor that. You need to acknowledge that they have an opinion, because it's their image that's being made, and they are giving you the opportunity to be photographed. So, I always start there. And, we take a few frames, and sometimes it's great. Sometimes it's a great idea. And also sometimes they're comfortable, because it was their idea. And it's part of a process. And then once I feel like I have it, we move on. And when we, then they go onto, I get to drive the train from there. A lot of people know that they're shot ... Or they're shot so often, I'm sorry, I should say, that they know that they have a side, and that's really difficult, when people say, "I only like to be photographed from the left side," or "the right side." They're probably right, but that doesn't help my purposes, and I also think that in the way that I'm shooting, I'm actually trying to get natural moments. I'm trying to get real moments. These are from yesterday, so I'll move down the screen, but. You can go ahead. We, it's a really good question because you don't wanna be like, yeah, no, terrible idea, and oh, I'm not gonna shoot you from your left side even though that's the side you like, because then you're working against them, and you're trying to collaborate, and you're trying to make something. So, I'm gonna talk a lot about that too in our second shoot. But for now, I'm going to go through here. So, I'm just gonna go through it. Here were my tests frames. This is just the daylight. So I'm looking at the way the light's hitting her, but I'm also looking at ... Yeah, I'm looking at the light, in these only. I'm not looking for moments or anything, obviously. So here was the daylight, just the ambient. That's her opening up just a bit. This is when we brought in my Photek, and had the wrong exposure. So this is where I was thinking, you know what, maybe we want this to feel more lit, so that we have that daylight option, and the lit option. This is something, obviously, the Photek is overpowering, so I changed my exposure. And it is a little bit overexposed. So I go under. And now I'm finding it. I'm moving that light a little bit, and just trying to get it a little bit, to balance it out. But, I'm also always curious what happens when you pull, when you start turning white to gray, because that's another option. If you only have a white wall, you can also change the lighting in a way so that it makes it gray. So right there, two options, right? So here's it going to gray. And I'm just looking at the light here, and I'm not ... Alright, I think I got something here. So then we move over to the gray. This actual gray. And you can see this light. I mean honestly, this light's not ... I love the light from a beauty dish, but the fall off, if you can see the sort of, you can see where the light's hitting. It's really hitting here. And it's falling off right here, which can be really beautiful. But I wanted to then see what happened when we added different light. So, I don't know if you remember, we turned off the beauty dish, because I like to see what each light is doing on its own, and piece them together. So this light is just the Photek umbrella. So that's what the Photek was adding, which basically means it's going to take that sort of vignette. I do like a natural vignette, but sometimes it's, sometimes I hate it. Sometimes that's all I see in the picture, but here it's nice and soft. I see a resemblance to Sheryl Crow in this. Some sort of ... So it's like I'm imagining Sheryl Crow, and, but I wanna just potentially soften that vignette a little bit, so that's what the Photek would do. And then, I wanted to see what my strip light was doing. That's the strip light. So you can see that it's only lighting a tiny bit of fill from below. That's, so here she comes in. And then she came in ... Oh, my transmitter was on, right? And I said, "First one never counts." For this reason. Well, that was the real first one, I suppose. You know one thing that I did the very, right when she stepped into place was take a picture, because I think that establishes your relationship with them. That we're here to work. But I also then take a moment to talk. It's hard to find the balance, because I wanna be a human first, right? I actually want to engage in conversation, and I'll talk a lot about that in our connection segment, but I also have a job to do, and I don't have a lot of time. So, I have to listen and be present, but I also, and I need to connect, but I also have to get my work done. So, this was with all the lights firing. It's actually quite nice. It's very clean. But I like a little bit more depth to my image, and what I saw, I'm like, great, okay, so, this is a beautiful image. She's looking right at me. It feels very connected, I think. But then I turned off my ... And just used the bit of daylight, and you can see the difference. From there to there. I think that this is a more powerful image. There's more depth. And, I know that we're ... Let's say this is an album cover, let's say. This, if I had this image, what I would do in post, is I would go in, and I would bring it down. It's too bright for me. So, that's what I did. I turned off the fill, or I turned off that extra light, and here we are. And I love the way the black is. It's so straightforward, but I think there's something very connected about it. So I thought to myself, okay, great, we have a photograph guys. My editors, so far we've got one. And it's so simple. It was honestly a test shot, but the test shots count. And here's why. In my opinion, in the very beginning of meeting somebody, there's a very powerful thing that happens. It's so raw. And it's so real, right? She walks in, and I say, "Hi, I'm Victoria." And she said, "Hi, I'm Sarah." And it's like we're complete strangers, and we're meeting. That's a very raw, powerful energy there, that I'm trying to use. So, I immediately sit and say, "Come on into the studio." Try to make her feel comfortable, because we're at my dinner party. And she goes in and she stands there, and she's still real. Or, I'm sorry, of course she's real. She's still raw, and it's still that honest time. It's before I've started diving in, and trying to relate to her about her nail color, which I'm actually, genuinely interested in her nail color, because I get my nails done all the time. So, that was the first thing I went to, was talking about something that I know. I have to give something of myself first, before I can start taking. If you just go in, and you start asking all these questions, it becomes very much like a bombardment. So, even that second answer, I think I've just asked her about her nails, and she's like, it is not pink, it's lavender, which is what she said. And then I get a nice smile. So, I'm gonna keep going through, because I really feel like we, if I were editing, I'm actually gonna go back and mark my image here. The one I like. Okay, in this scene. There we go. So, in my first edit, I do sort of a wide edit. Anything that could possibly have anything in it, that might work. So there's a lot. So we're moving around. So I like the top part of this image. I don't necessarily, I like the engagement with the hand, but I could also make this a horizontal. So I could keep that. What's also nice about this is all the extra space. So when you're thinking about editors, I'm obviously, that's in the back of my mind. It's not my main priority, but what if this was a cover? I have room. And they also could put taglines over here, so. Sarah goes CreativeLive. You can splash it all over. Alright. So we're moving around. Oh I love that. Okay, we're done. No I'm just kidding. We got our pictures, we're going home. So I'm pulling back. Changing angles. Something very nice about that. We're just getting up and getting down. And I honestly do that because people need to move. So going back to the discussion about having your portrait taken. When you as photographers, when you were last in front of the camera. So you were photographed recently as well. Can we get her a microphone? What was the circumstances? Because honestly, it takes, you have to move a mountain to get us in front of the camera, right? Yeah. So, mine was actually about three months ago. I went back home to my home state over the holidays, and had a personal family photo shoot done with my husband and our children, which are my dogs. Okay. So yeah, I had actually booked it, but it took a lot for me to actually make that leap and hire somebody else to take my own pictures. So yeah, it was definitely an experience. Yeah, right, and it takes a lot. And it's something that I think we all need to reflect on. We ask people every day to sit in front of our camera. So you have to do it too. When somebody asks you if they can take your picture, a stranger on the street, a cousin, a friend, or whatever, you have to say yes. And the reason is, you have to know what it feels like, and you have to, I'm gonna talk about this in a little bit, because I'm running out of time, I wanna finish this, but you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. That's it. It's the bottom line. You just have to do it. And the longer you do it, the more comfortable you actually become. That's sort of a theme in my life. I'm just generally uncomfortable, but I'm getting really good at being uncomfortable. So I like this moment. I'm gonna tag it. So, sorry, going off on tangents, but ... So I'm gonna and mark anything that I see. That's fun. Oh look, not sharp. That one's sharp. That one's not. Which is a real bummer. Sometimes that happens. Even to me. Don't tell anybody though. (laughter) That's kind of interesting. Great. It's beautiful. See how self conscious she is here? So then I wait for the next moment, which is this one. Because she, I'm letting her ... I'm directing, but I'm also saying things to get reactions, and I'm letting her take me places. This is sweet. This actually is a sweet moment, and then I might mark it for my editor. But to me it's a little bit more obvious. It's a little bit more direct. This is a nice moment. If this were ... If you think about shooting celebrities, people wanna see them in ways that you haven't seen them, which is more vulnerable. So I think that this is a really beautiful image. Sarah might be like, you can't see my face. But that's not the point. If this were Angelina Jolie, it might feel ... Sarah might look at it, if this were Angelina Jolie, and say, "Oh, that's a really nice vulnerable moment." Which is why I love it. And so, that's what I'm going for. Particularly with people that are well known. Particularly with people whose photo we've seen a million times. I'm trying to find something a little bit off, and a little bit unexpected. It's the photo that I would wanna take if we were sitting on my couch at my dinner party. So I didn't change lenses in here, but I changed focal length. I went in much tighter. This is pulled out, of course. Something beautiful about that. I like the eyes closed actually. There's something in there. I might crop it in. But there's something sweet and real, again. So I always take the photo of the back of somebody's head. So actually a lot of those photos. Maybe not in my portfolio or on my website, because a lot of people that are famous, again, recognizables, not necessarily famous, but you can recognize them without seeing their face, right? So I, they're, Anna Wintour, for example, the Editor of Vogue in New York, you can spot her a mile away, just by her haircut. There are a lot of people like that. So, we don't know Sarah very well. But again, it can be an interesting option for a portrait, and I'll give you more examples of that later. And also the idea of taking a portrait without the person in the image. So here we go, this is fun. Alright, so I'm like, alright, we got that. We have a couple. I think my editor will be happy. I felt like I explored it. I got some tight ones, I got some full length, pulled back. So we switch over here. Now, the light is very soft. I'm intending to make this a black and white image. I think that the ... The contrast will work very well. I shoot very loosely, as you can see, and I'm obviously intending to crop out the side. Or, if it was for a magazine where they would want to extend the sign, fine. But, since I can't do that, I would just crop it. Turning people away from the light, makes lovely, moody images. So I'm gonna mark that. I think that could be great as a horizontal too. Let me find ... There's a soft smile there, that's nice. Great. So I'm not gonna go for the big smile. That's nice. I love that. That right there. That picture, and I don't mind that I see the floor. I don't mind that I see the roll at all. I think that's all part of the image. To me, this ques- don't you wanna know what she's thinking? I do. I think this photo asks more questions than it answers. And that is what I want. I want it to compel the reader to stop on that page in the magazine. This is a different one. It's also very nice. It's connected. Totally different feel. So, again, I'm gonna select both of those, and give my editor options. Hm, something interesting there. So here, my light is not in the right spot. But that's okay, look at it, there's something in there. I shouldn't say it's not in the right spot. I should say it's not where I intended it to be. But then, because I hadn't articulated to Danielle to move it down. So then we moved it down, and it made it a very different image. But maybe that's more successful, I don't know, we'll look. So I'm gonna continue, just quickly marking anything that catches my eye. So then we went to this gray. My light's all over the board. So this is super clean. Just clean, clean, clean. Right? If this was, again, I see just a sliver of her nose, but if that were Angelina, if that were so and so, you might think it was very interesting. I find it very interesting, not knowing Sarah. Just trying to ... So, I have this, right? I made some images here, and then Danielle starts, I start having her move the light around, because I wanted to make something a little bit more dramatic. So I turned off the strip light. I actually just spun it around. And then turned off the Photek. And it's not quite right, because what I did was, I turned the lights off and put them over here, and then I had her turn that way. Oops. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. So then I looked at the back of my camera, and I was like, right, I need to bring her back around. So, that's nice. That feels connected. And the light is dramatic, but it's not distracting to me. Generally, I think the light here is too flat. So we go back here. That's a fun little pose. If I need a nice smile. Oh, so we're not doing that one. This I can see with a headline above it, you know? The rising star of Sarah, you know? I don't really think about that when I'm editing. What the headline's gonna be. Half the time I don't even know what the story's gonna be about. It's just about who that person is. But, I think that giving a variety of images that say a lot of different things, is important. It's a lot better than if I had just spent the entire 15 minutes ... 13 minutes, actually, sitting and just dialing in that one setup. And by moving her around, I really was able to get her to stop also thinking about herself.

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.


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!