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Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 11 of 28

Culling the Commercial Shoot

Victoria Will

Portraits Under Pressure

Victoria Will

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Lesson Info

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.

Lesson Info

Culling the Commercial Shoot

We're still buffering. And even though we shot to Lightroom, I don't know Lightroom at all. I'm sure a lot of you guys do and could probably drive this train better than I could, but I'm going to ingest them into Photo Mechanic and drag the Lightroom folder in as well. Because I just have my way. If it ain't broke, don't fix it is my approach. This is Photo Mechanic, and we'll do CreativeLive, shoot two. Yeah, look at me forgetting my manners. You're awesome. Thank you! Thank you so much! I really appreciate it! You were really great. Yeah. I apologize for that. Shoot two, open, shoot two, ingest, and then they'll start popping in, and then I'm gonna find the folder. If you watch this it might make you sea sick, so hold on a second. So here's where we started. And, I'm just going for photos here that feel... That have a feeling to them, that draw me in, I think that it's really nice, there's something about what she's doing, her hands are great. I like that her feet are spread. It'...

s really... We're, as photographers, honestly, we are the worst editors, have you ever noticed that? I'm sure that there's some photos in my edit that you were like, if I took that I would never click on that. But, that's the beauty of it, it's very objective, but I'm going for the photos that aren't obvious or the ones that make me stop and look, just a little bit longer. Obviously, if you are shooting a client, maybe a bride or a senior, they need a portrait of them smiling, you have to, you know, you're looking through those, but the ones that you end up keeping for you and that should go in your book should be the ones that feel right to you. Not necessarily the obvious ones, and I don't think you should put that photo of the senior, necessarily, smiling in your book because you think that that's what people want to see because that's not true. And we'll talk a lot about that in marketing. Which is... This is nice. The highlight on her hand's a little bit bright, but I would bring that down and if I... But it still seems very real to me, that her face is in shadow, that doesn't bother me at all. So I'm gonna go through... This is, there's something nice about her expression here, very nice. Here she's lost, she's like, what's happening in the world. It's really beautiful though. It's nice. I'm going quickly because this is how I edit, this is... I know what I'm looking for, so it's not... And, you know, I do mull over some things. I stopped here because I really like that one. I really like the shape of it. There was a photographer who, when I did those workshops, who said, when you think you have your picture, that's when the photo shoot begins. I think that's very good advice, and I think about that all the time. So when you're doing with your seniors or whatnot, you're working for a client, and you get the photo that they want, that's when the shoot really begins and that's when you get to really, sort of, push it. And it's It's something that you have to remind yourself, because you'll be like, I got it, we can go home now. This is great. So fun. Love the energy in that. So I'm trying to get to where we... That's nice, it's more quiet, that's nice. Oh that's nice. Something in there. I mean, oh here we go, see here I go, liking them all and I'm gonna, gonna end up having way too many, and then I'll go back through. This is just my, the first take. This is sort of just like my first reaction, to them. Oh interesting. This one is much more interesting than this one to me. I like that. And I might crop it in, because to me the image is, you know, this. This is it. So I might find a square in here. I'm sorry, not a square but a, rectangle of a different, shape. Oh that's interesting. Hair is great, just like rain is great. The elements you think that tend to be really annoying, like having long hair can tend to be that way, it's also really interesting in photos. Rain makes landscapes, and asphalt, and roofs, and everything really beautiful and here in Seattle, you've got a lot of it, so I think you should, you know, instead of it, Getting upset that it's raining on your shoot day, embrace it and see what you can come up with. Interesting. Very good. Here she goes. That's nice. Oh look at that, that's fun. I think that's, there's something in there, I don't know if that's usable in any context, but I think it's cool, so I'm gonna mark it. That's fun energy. That's nice. Something like this, it's like, it just feels real and intimate to me, like we're really together, we're engaged in something. Doesn't mean I'm gonna use it, just means that when I'm looking through, I'm on the right train. Back of people's heads, I got a thing about it I guess. Neat, that's fun. That's nice. Huh. Alright, so then we move over here. That's good, I like that. Yeah, like, I like this. I like this, this is sort of that moment, she's not, quite have her hands in her pockets yet, but she's getting there. Here when she softens her look it's really nice. Hands can really make an image, the way people touch their hands. You know, they sort of, when they stick them in their pockets, and their shoulders. Hands are really, definitely important to keep an eye on. That's just fun. Really nice. So... Victoria, as you're doing this call, are you thinking about what the final intended use is going to potentially be, or are you mainly focusing on what you're drawn to as what's your point of view or the things that fit you? It's definitely, right now it's just what I like. But you have to keep the client in mind, of course. So right now it's just the photos that are speaking to me in this situation. And... I think, hopefully, that vision is the same. You don't ever, it's not great to be in a situation where, and this happens, we were actually talking about this at lunch earlier, that you send the photos over and the client says, is there more of this situation? I want it to be more smiley. Do you have more, you know. I think you have to be very up front with the people that are hiring you and... I essentially have a policy, and I say, this is very, from the beginning, you have to trust me number one, which is the whole conversation we can have about trust, and number two, you're hiring me for my point of view, and so what I'm gonna do is look through the photos and then I'm gonna polish them up and I'm gonna send them over to you, and that's the end of the conversation. So that's what you're getting. And we can, you know, sometimes you have to negotiate, if they want, their expectations, you have to, you definitely have to figure out what that is because they might think that they're getting 100 photos, and I generally would send in a session, maybe, this long, I'd probably send 40. So you definitely have to manage that expectation from the beginning. If at the end of the day, they don't like the photos that you took of them, the communication was lost, probably. They were hiring you, basically to be a puppet. To take some vision that they have and you execute it. But we're photographers, we have point of views, we have opinions that's why we're bringing those in. So, that conversation has to happen before. And I think it's a good idea to have people bring examples of what they're going for, and if it's not what you do, turn them down. I really think... And maybe even refer them to your friend who possibly does that situation. I like that image. So that's, sorry I'm doing two things at once. I'm like that most of the time, so I'm editing and answering your question. You really hope that when you're editing and when you're shooting, the images that I'm picking are in line with, you know, their intended output. That's obviously the ideal situation. And there are times where you have to manage that when it's not. I think there's a lot of fun stuff in here. Caitlyn is pretty gorgeous. That's nice. I might open that up a little bit, but I like that I shot it a little bit under, to really keep it rich. And we are just still looking directly at the raw images. They're all raw images. And they came straight out of camera. Straight out of camera. The good the bad and the ugly. Alright, so this is that first set. This is what I tagged. I'll just make them smaller. So I tagged a lot and I'd go through again, but I also shot to card, when I got frustrated and ripped out the tethered cable, and I put that, right here. We can look at those images. Oh it's got the whole card on it, doesn't it. So these are the ones at the end. I'm going in reverse, do you guys ever edit that way? I edit that way a lot actually, because a lot of times the best stuff is at the end. So it's easier for me to make that edit 'cuz I know there was stuff in there. That's really nice. I wish her face was not quite so in shadow, but I know that it's accurate with the mood and what we were doing, it's realistic. So if we had moved all of these lights and put them over here, then that would be fine, but I'm not gonna light her from this side, because that's, again, that's gonna make it flat and it's not natural, to this situation, you know, if this is our window, which we're mimicking here, you wouldn't have a big bright light coming from over there. There it is, I just love this curl. I love this. It's great. And this is a photo, it's not a portrait right, this is not a portrait portrait, but it is who she is, it's what happened when we were here, and when I put all of these photos... That's fun too. This even has like a fashion element to it that I like, it's sort of elevated in that way. When I... I love that you just see the tip of her nose there. When I... I love cutting people's heads off. (laughs) I apologize, lots of people hate it, I don't mind it at all. I shot this right? This is obviously not a portrait but I liked the way the light was hitting everything and I just liked seeing somethings, maybe it works maybe it doesn't, but when I'm putting together all of the photos that we've marked... So this is, we're sort of repeating again here. Here is it. When we put together these photos here that I just tagged, and we put together the ones that we just tagged here, we've got full lengths where you see her, we've got tight pictures, we've got horizontals, we've got verticals, we've got a lot of energy, we have quiet energy. That's a portrait of who she is. It doesn't always have to be the person's face looking to camera or looking away, you know, this is, I think this is a really successful image, and who she is. And obviously we were creating this but if you were documenting a family at home, that's very likely something that some kids would be doing. And I think it's working with what's presented in front of you, and again, these people are going to be doing things for you, so really look at their body language and see what they want to do. So I hope that you, you see sort of the portrait of who she is here, 'cuz I think so, I think that there are details that you can always grab that are really interesting, and then when you put it all together, it feels like a narrative, sort of, of who that person is.

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!