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Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 25 of 28

Culling Working with Groups Shoot

Victoria Will

Portraits Under Pressure

Victoria Will

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Lesson Info

25. Culling Working with Groups Shoot
Build a critical eye by critiquing the group shoot, looking for what works and what doesn't.

Lesson Info

Culling Working with Groups Shoot

I think you've seen it a lot over the course of the last couple shoots when I shoot really loose and I make a lot of mistakes and that's where the magic happens really. So we just finished, thank you guys it's so nice to be back in the air conditioning. Wasn't expecting so much sunshine in Seattle but thank you for the weather gods. Okay so this is legitimately every frame on that card so when I started here just test my exposure when I got up there. He was sitting in the shade, see what's goin' on. Everyone's workin' around me, there it goes. So I sent you guys off walking away and you know, there's a light test essentially but look how harsh the light is but because of all that bounce that I was telling you about, it's just really filling in the eyes and I was like, great we're good. I don't have to reinvent the wheel here. I don't have to come up with a complicated lighting situation and I really don't want to put up all these lights and then only have my band be able to work in a s...

mall area. I really wanted to have the access to use all of the space that we had and that we'd been given access to and the beauty in this type of shooting situation is that, as you'll see, sometimes I use the light as a backlight where you can see the sun is you know, nice little edge rim light and sometimes I used it as a frontal light but look at this right here. It looks like a band to me. You guys, they just met 24 hours ago and that, what is our band name? Creative Vibes? Creative Vibes, that's right, I love it! So, it's really good, I have to say it. I like that, very clever. So I just had them start walking, you know? It's, it is a cliche band shot, right, but cliches are cliches for a reason. I don't think that you should shy away from them. I think sometimes, album covers go out all the time, they drop all the time and it's sometimes just the band walking, sometimes that works. So definitely don't shy away from it just because other people have done it. You know, if you had them crossing the street perpendicular to you on a crosswalk? It might be a little bit too much of a reference to Abbey Road but you know, it's a place to start and the reason I do that is it's easy. It's something really easy to ask and everyone is comfortable walking away and towards you and it gives them some place to look. So here are those photos. I like it, I like where we're going. I like the light, I like the exposure. You know, again I said if there's three people, I shoot three times as much as you'll see 'cause we have a lot of photos to go through. I don't mind if people are off camera. I don't need all eye contact of all three people. I think what I'm trying achieve is everyone's personality and so Mandy here is our lead singer and Robby's our sass. He's the one who's gonna, I think he might trash the hotel room maybe. At least that's the vibe I'm getting in this and then Sheldon's the glue, I'm just kidding about that. I think, you know, everyone does have a personality and that's what I'm trying to show. You know, you're trying to get who they are. You're not trying to get everyone looking to camera. So here we go. Some of those ones that we've passed, I think are successful and if I was shooting for a record label, I might include I mean this is nice image. There's that sass in Robby again and there you see the, this is great, I mean you know, there's a nice, there's something nice about this. So the background isn't distracting me but it's not complementing the situation either. So if this were black and white, I can bring it down. It sort of eliminates that. The other thing that black and white does, and you can't rely on it as a crutch of course, but the other thing black and white does is eliminates clothing as an issue. People stop looking at outfits and clothing and they just look, start to look at faces because there's no red, there's no denim, it's just the gray tones. So that's something about my tintypes that actually was an interesting thing to see and I knew it going in but one of the reasons I loved the tintype process is because it's black and white. At Sundance, I have no control over what anybody's wearing as you guys have heard me talk about and a lot of times people come in in crazy sweaters and bright orange ski jackets and that's not awesome for a photograph. So by doing the tintypes it can, it eliminated the clothing as an issue at all and just made it about the portrait. Look at this, this is a great image. I would probably crop in a little bit, make it a little bit tighter but I love, there's, I see Mandy's sass in there, I like it, but it's great. Her hair's blowing perfectly. Sheldon's enjoying himself. You know, I want people to look like we're having a good time and that's what I was going for and here we are. So again some of this is an off moment. I'm getting everyone, like I like that. So I have to say, this is an image that I, when I first started working on my own and didn't have an editor anymore, when I wasn't, when I no longer was a staff photographer, I would probably not have put this in my edit at all because I was looking for the more obvious photographs, but I love this. I think this is nice. Album cover, no I'm kidding. We can decide which one we want. You know so I worked this scene a little bit longer and I think at this point I wasn't really directing very much, I was just talking to Mandy and everyone else is like doing their thing and that's what I wanted. It's great. So here we start running. Okay so the thing about the running is that it's entirely a means to an end. I'm really just trying to get energy out of people and it was, you know, the fact that we couldn't run over these, they're probably skylights under there or something but ya know, we don't want anyone to go falling through the floor but I just wanted to see sort of what was gonna happen and so I knew I was probably not gonna end up using those but that wasn't the point. So I just shoot through those, you know that's the beauty of those, this is digital. We don't have to worry about the film and if we were shooting film, like when I shoot film or when I shoot tintypes, like I do have to slow down and I do have to, I could have created all that energy without taking any pictures but I like to take pictures. It makes it, there's a flow to it and it makes me feel as though we're working toward something and it makes that relationship clear. I'm here to take pictures and because I do it so often everyone forgets that the camera's there. If I keep the camera down and then when I see things just perk up, when I do that, everyone's gonna start being aware, oh she's shooting again, ya know? There's something nice about that. I wish I hadn't cut off their hands but so be it, there we go. My friend, the Holiday Inn in the background. That's what I was trying to avoid and this is completely cropable. You could easily crop that out or take it out if you have that ability based on, you know, the output of this. So even right, just right here, just reminded me I should've told Mandy to just spin in circles. That could have been really cool, done something, you know and after every shoot, I'm looking through my edit and I go, "Shoot". Probably use a different word than that but you know I always think of something that I missed or that I should've done. That always happens but that's the nature of the beast and who I am as a photographer. I'm always trying to make the photos better and so I will note that to myself and the next time I'm shooting somebody with long hair and that, you know, I'm gonna be like, "Just spin around." But I think it works with two other people. One person spinning by herself, maybe not but it's just something to keep in the rolodex in the back of your head of things to do because it is heavy lifting as a photographer to constantly be coming up with ideas and now I have a group. I have three personalities to manage. I have the light to think about and then now I'm gonna have to, you know, keep the energy high. It's a lot to manage but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. So I liked eliminating the background, you know, not having to deal with Holiday Inn. Oh there it is, there we go. So this is when we were moving, you know. I like walking photos. So this is when we switched and I went with the same exposure and we turned all the way around and that was my first frame. Obviously not a great exposure but that's using the direct light so I changed my exposure and I'm like, you know that's, we're gettin' there but I'm not loving the shadows in the eyes. I did like that though. I saw that and I thought there's something that I like about this and again it's that detail thing, you know maybe this would go on the inside of the album. Maybe it ends up on the cutting room floor, nobody you know, it ends up in the garbage but you never know. Details are important and I think, if you see it and you like, even if there's a, you know a pair of shoes that someone's kicked off to the side and they end up in a nice spot and the light hits them. Just take the picture. It doesn't cost anything, it's not film. You just never know what you could use it for. So here's where we were before I brought over that key light that, the soft lighter and I'm first of all, I'm still working on exposure here and I'm not even worrying about the fact that there is a telephone pole coming out of their heads. I'm just not even moving them because I don't, so I move myself right there and I'm still sort of sorting it out and I'm talking to myself in my head thinking I just don't love this quality of light but I do like, look at the sass from Robby, it's hilarious, I love it. He's like, "What?" But you get that from people, they're like what is she doing, does she know what she's doing, ya know? That's just how I look. No I like it no but it's the shadow in your eyes actually, that's part of it. The shadow in your eyes is making you, that is not how you look, you are not that sassy, but the shadow is making it look much more intense, you know? Your expression, you are just looking at me, but and if that's what I was going for then great, then put shadow in somebody's eyes but that's not what I wanted so we swung it back around because I liked that light better and then there's some nice things in here, you guys started. So here we go, this is Sheldon having lint picked off him and Mandy is gonna whisper in his ear and again, it was about the reactions. So he's reacting and then it's the laugh there that I like, you know, that's where I was going for and it, everyone is starting to loosen up and we're moving around. I think I gave... I like it, I mean I just, you guys, you worked together as a band, I have to say, you fit well. So here we're still walking and here I've given Robby some instructions but Mandy knew it, but I still like it, you know, but it's the playful energy I'm going for and this is, this is fun. You know, I'm not sure it would be an album cover or what but if I was shooting perhaps for, you know, a music magazine, this is personality. This is the personality of the band. So in this take we now have, I mean this is really pretty. I would probably take out the Holiday Inn but I think that this is a nice moment. I think if I were shooting for a band album cover you do actually, the band has a lot of say in that. You know, it's representing them so you do work a lot more hand in hand but I do think that if, you know, portrait wise, I'm getting, we're getting a sense of who these people are and that's why it's successful. I like a lot of these. Look at that, that's just not in focus, no one's even in the frame. I don't really know what's going on but you know what? That's all right. So Victoria, I know this class is mostly about the connection and such but you just mentioned that that part's not in focus. I have tons of people asking how it is that with all the movement that you're doing that you're keeping things in focus, for the most part. What is the combination of factors and I know we have EXIF data over there when we're looking at these images that people can see? Well my shutter speed is at a 200th of second or higher for the most part. I mean you can go lower but that's when I tend to get a lot of camera shake because of the way I shoot. There are photographers who are much steadier than I am. I'm also shooting on AI Servo. Is it called something else on Nikon? Continuous right, it's continuous which is what AI Servo is. It's a continuous focus so it's okay, I'll give you a little photojournalism tip. I learned this actually from my husband who's a photojournalist. I back focus on my camera. Do I have a camera around? Maybe someone can grab a camera for me. I back focus, not front focus. I'm not going like this with my shutter finger, you know, while it's trying to focus, thank you. So my husband and I, because we're both photographers, we have a lot of gear in the house, right, and we sometimes switch gear by mistake or maybe we swap it and there was a couple times when our settings, my personal settings and his personal settings were different, and so I would grab his camera by mistake and I'd head to a shoot and I would push a button that's supposed to be focus and nothing would happen and it was really frustrating. So, you know, we're married, what's mine is his. We're supposed to talk this out so one of the things we did is we sat down and we went through the camera and we decided that we were gonna have a uniform system. So this is a very unique situation obviously but what we do, what works for us is because my thumbs are small, I don't use this AF on button for focus. I turn that off and I use the star button for focus because that's a comfortable grip for me. So remember this isn't, your camera is an extension of your arm. It's part of your language and you're supposed to know it backwards and forwards. You know, instinctually you just change things without having to look, right? So I shoot, and I have it on AI Servo and it's tracking the whole time. Focus, focus, focus, it's tracking. I'm looking for things and when I'm ready and I see the picture, click. In fact, I'm done in here. So I'll just turn this on. So I'm focusing, focusing, focusing and when I see what I want, click. And when I see what I want, click, click. Oh now it's happening there, click. So see focusing, focusing, focusing. If I'm going, doing this and trying to focus and take the picture, the camera's getting confused, I'm getting confused. So photojournalists tend to, I'm sure a lot of other people do it too but I learned it as a photojournalistic skill because that's what you're doing. You know, you're looking through the camera. You're waiting, you're being patient, you're seeing what's happening in front of you, you're ready, you're ready. This is how, so I always have my finger on the focus button so that's how I'm doing it. Sorry that's a long answer but... No but people have been asking that the whole time so I appreciate it. Yeah. Okay we'll keep moving. Some lenses are much slower than others too and so you have to learn your gear. Some lenses I think, I have lens that I love, my 85. It's a beautiful, sharp lens but I think the way I shoot, one out of every seven pictures is sharp. So I really have, when I shoot that way, so I really have to slow down. This is a really fun image. So I really have to slow down with that lens but you know your gear, you'll learn it. Look at that. That is a band cover. The Creative Vibes. (students laugh) You know, but this is us. I was telling you up there that this is the situation when we were walking from one end to the other and I was gonna shoot while they were walking 'cause I wanted them you know, trying to get someone to be unaware of the fact that you're taking pictures. I knew that a couple of these weren't gonna be successful but I was shooting anyway just so people are used to the sound of the clicking and they're just turning it off. So we sat down over here and we worked on the light. They're sitting in the shade. I brought in some fill with that soft lighter and we just started from there. You touched my hair. (students giggle) I know, I totally get it, I totally get it. I just watched it happen, look I got it too. I totally get it, this is great. They're like, really honestly. I love it, I love this, the energy you guys have 'cause it's very honest, it's real. This is nice, pretty straightforward. That's nice. Look at the wind blowing your hair. You know, sometimes people bring fans. Sometimes you just, you know, you just get it. You have the natural. You know, high fiving, I only said that because it's what came to mind. Obviously no one's gonna use a picture of you high fiving. It's ridiculous but the point is, is that they're gonna go this is silly or they're gonna do it and just laugh because it's awkward and uncomfortable and then I'm gonna take the picture and then they're gonna go, oh I get it, you know? Like that's the look the what does she want me to do? So then I have the, look that's nice. That's an interesting image for a band, you know. I don't know, I, there's something there. They're just doing the little musical chairs. They're just having them sit around. So I really feel like, see Sheldon, you see why I had you look there? I just think you have very strong profile and it just, it worked with the composition. So this is why I kept having Sheldon look to the side. That's nice, though, look at that. It's a nice image. This doesn't bother me that I cut off your hands here but I'm really glad that I have Robby's. That's a nice picture, in my humble opinion. I think that's when I stood up and was like, "I think I got the album cover." Yeah, I like a lot of this. This is interesting. Here's my stand, I was aware that it was there. Sometimes I like shooting through things just to see. Put something in the foreground. This is cool too. There's just stuff, there's stuff in here. So we walked, look at that Sheldon and I love your hand up here, Mandy, how it's just gently touching but it doesn't feel, like you and I are, you are more posed than everybody else but that's okay, there are three people. If everyone was fully posed, then it would feel very stiff and inauthentic perhaps but Robby's look is awesome. Sheldon's, you know, smile, looking at some pretty lady down the road, who knows, you know? I love giving narratives to things. I'm sure you've picked up on that over the course of the last couple days but that's because to me, it's all that detective work and I'm like putting, giving life to it. So then we were pretty much almost done then we got some, our group hugs which reminded me (students laugh) I mean, it's awesome, this is great. It's such personality. But I love that we can go from, you know, this to like, you know, we're a very serious rock n roll band. We're actually alt rock, you know, she's like, "No we're not." (students laugh) So again, you know, when people do things like this and you know how sometimes people get in front of the camera and they go... You know, I'm not sure if that's every happened to you but that's because people are uncomfortable. They don't know what to do with their hands, they don't know what to do and here, ya know, we had been shooting and shooting and they were like okay, I'm done. I just keep shooting. I don't put down the camera and go, "Mmm-um, can you put those fingers down please?" You know, you just, you have to work with people and work with making sure that they feel comfortable because again, we ask people to do this everyday for living and so I think you should, you know, remember what it's like to be photographed and if you haven't done it recently, get in front of the camera just as a reminder. So we went back here. We got some running pictures which I think are fun and then, you can see I shot a whole lot more this time. There we, and we have lift off. I mean, that's so fun. I would take out the Holiday Inn or make it black and white to really, to be a successful image but this is a very editorial image. This is not, this isn't for everybody and definitely not for every output so but this is my voice to it. This is my vibe which is why I'm, you know finding these and I'm telling you as we go through these, the photos that I like. If I pass any that you think are, you know, why didn't you pick that one, you know, feel free to ask me but I like this balance actually, a lot. I totally don't mind that we don't have Mandy and Robby's arm. I think that the whole, it just flows really well. There's a nice long linear line through it. I think it's actually pretty sweet, in my humble opinion. (laughs) You know and here's, this is the one we stopped on and drew my attention, here's the next frame but I like the first one better. The second one where he's up, I lose too much of him and then he's out of the picture and it doesn't have the same thing so, and obviously when I shot that, I didn't really know that that was the image, you know? I thought maybe I had something in that little vignette that we did. Each little thing I do is sort of a little scenario and I thought maybe I got something in there which is why I moved on, but you saw me have them walk back and forth a couple times 'cause I wasn't, you know, I just had them keep doing it. One thing I do sometimes that I'm sure it drives my subjects crazy but I tend to say, "Let's do that one more time" and what I really mean is we're probably gonna do this 300 more times but stick with me. I'm like, "One more time, one more time" and I should probably change my lingo but it's a habit. Not in focus, there we go. You're running away with her, that's great. So where I was getting pretty hot out there and so I had a feeling that my subjects were getting pretty hot so I was like, you know, you do have to gauge people's energy. Even models that are being, you know paid to be there, they're still human beings. They're really just, they're still people at their core obviously. I know that's a pretty obvious statement but I said in the very beginning of this class that I approach all my shoots the same way. So if I'm shooting an ad job or an editorial shoot or you know, a CEO, it just, I don't, it doesn't matter who's in front of me because I'm gonna treat them and create that interaction the same way. So I started to feel like I was getting hot so they're probably getting hot and so then we started doing this. I love that when Robby did this, so I thought okay one more time, I'll have them come forward, I would have this nice wide lens and I love that you sort of bumped into each other. That is one of the things I mention to people. I'll have groups and I'll say, "Okay just like walk up "to him and like shove him a little bit, like can you "elbow him a little, gently just to get a reaction?" You know get people to get that, because it feels like camaraderie in a way. I mean, that's fun, these are fun, and then they came right over camera. I was laying on the ground and I don't know, you know getting good energy and I always say, "Okay it's the last "you know, we're getting really close like let's wrap "it up" and people will kind of, especially people that are uncomfortable because this is our last situation and everyone goes... (students laugh) So sometimes I'll say to people, "Smile as if this is "our last frame" and they go "ahh" and I'm like, "Oh my God, it's what I've been waiting "for this whole time." You know, these are fun, there's just, there's photos in there that I would definitely turn into an editor, that I would definitely use. Hopefully the band likes it. You know this is the type of photo that a band might maybe use on social media. There's so many outputs now. You just have to look at, I know it's great. You just, there's the last frame. You just don't know what people want. People, a lot of people want social media photos that feel as if they were taken on someone else's iphone, just one of these caught moments, you know, that you just happened to have a little point and shoot camera around but of course, they weren't taken that way. We created them, we created those moments. So when you're editing you do have to know, you know where they're going 'cause there are photos in here that would potentially end up you know on an album cover, on a magazine, on social media and they're all very different, so there it is. Our last shoot. It's awesome, so much fun. That was so much fun. I hope you guys like them, Creative Vibes Once again, yeah, now they're actually gonna get together and create a band and we'll take your question in a minute but just so wonderful again to see the full circle and the process that you work through and a lot of people just are really enjoying and learning from that. Oh good, I'm so glad. Saying that they're gonna take some of the things that they're learning to their next upcoming shoots so that's always the goal. Good, please do. That is the goal for sure, please do. So I think we're gonna transition to starting to do our portfolio reviews, starting with your portfolio. So I think we're gonna take your computer away and perhaps now we can go ahead and get that one question. Yes please. That we've got and go from there. Did you, I can pull this up, okay. So just a question that I had was when you were photographing when we were all sitting down, did you have the strobe on the whole time as a fill or did you turn it off at some point? You know, I never did turn it off. You never did? No I never did. I was wondering. I had it on the whole time because I, let's see if I have it. Oh I closed my computer hopefully, there we go, it'll come up. Let's see if I can find it. I'm pretty sure when I had you under here, so I took a frame without the strobe and then I turned it on and see the difference how dark that is? So that is why, I just make a decision and I go with it. As you see, I could've done that 'cause it would've been a different option. It would've had a different feel but no I had the strobe on the whole time.

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!