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Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 27 of 28

Portfolio Best Practices Q&A


Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 27 of 28

Portfolio Best Practices Q&A


Lesson Info

Portfolio Best Practices Q&A

Do you guys have any questions before we go into the next set? You know what's interesting is I actually just redid all of my portfolios and they're currently in the hands of an art buyer. Hire me. Call me. But some of my stories, like the Coachella story, I went back and I looked at it and I looked at a lot of my old stories and I kind of, it's been so long since I looked through them, that I looked at them with these sort of fresh eyes and I found photos in there that I was going I cannot believe I didn't put that in my original edit and I swapped some photos in there and so, that was really fun. I did it on, I looked through a lot of stories and a lot of them stayed as they were, but it was just fun to find those gems in there. You know, time has passed and maybe I'm seeing differently maybe I'm editing differently, It's just, it was like finding a gem, finding a little diamond. So if you guys have questions about books and whatnot, let me know. Yeah? What would be the first size ...

you would recommend to start out with? As printing a book, like a specific size for a photo, like your Tintype book is a little bit smaller The Tintypes are small because Tintypes are small. They are, well I was making four by five wet plates. You can shoot eight by 10, you can shoot, but my, those were, so I wanted it to feel the same way that the plate did I think when faces start to get too big, face after face after face, that didn't work. So I liked it small. I have to say there isn't a solid answer for that because it's so dependent on the image and the imagery and what you're doing. What type of work do you do? You told me mobile, right? Kind of all over the place right now. So landscapes, cityscapes. You're finding your voice. I am exactly, so I have a lot of mixture of a lot of different types of photographs. Okay. Well when making your portfolio, what I would suggest is printing out a lot of them. Anything that you think might maybe be strong enough and print them on four by six, just go to Walgreens, get the 25 cent prints then lay them all out and then start there, because it becomes very obvious. I'm very tactile obviously. I think you guys are all too. That's what photographers tend to be. You literally start sliding photos around or putting them up on bulletin boards and moving them and that's gonna help you figure out what your edit is. Once you have your edit, that's when you can decide what the book is gonna be like. If it's gonna be a box of prints. I love tactile prints, I mean, I don't necessarily think they need to be the size of your face. You know, as mine was. That's where I would begin and then... and then you can, it'll be more clear if the images need to be bigger or smaller or you want to print them on canvas, I mean, there's a million ways to do things now. All bets are off. The rules don't matter anymore. I obviously have a lot of images in that book. I have a lot more than 20 images in there, but that's because I'm presenting things as a story. It's just, but this, I still get hired to shoot portraits and there's not portraits in there, but actually there are. If I grab this book, I'm not sure. This is a portrait. People are gonna take away this is a portrait that I actually, I can still take portraits, the vibe that they're getting from this is that... is my point of view. I've always liked this one. That was fun. Anyway. I'm going off on a tangent, but I hope I answered your question. [Female Audience Member] You did, thank you. Okay. Any other book questions? Making a portfolio is really hard you guys, the first time I did this, I mean I think it took me three weeks of just doing this, because you gotta look at it and you gotta re-look at it and you have to decide and you have to show it to other people and you have to get feedback. So, do you have a question? Well, it's just the question had come in from Andy Kempford about when you should make your first book and at what point, I mean I know you said at the beginning anybody should make a book, but I guess what are the questions that you ask yourself like, who is the book for? What, to go about getting to that point? Okay. The book is for... you. It is the work you want to get hired to shoot. End of story. So, okay, I know a guy who he has two websites. He has one only seniors and then he has a different one. I think that's smart actually because it's church and state. There's the one that, if I still did events maybe I would have an event website or something to generate that, that work and then this work would be elsewhere. I mean I'm sort of thinking out loud here. I think... If the book really needs to be the work that you wanna get hired to do and I think the exercise of making a book is very important and you should do it a lot sooner than I did it because I learned so much in doing it. Doesn't mean you have to show it to somebody. Doesn't mean that you have to, if you're not willing to expose yourself to that. Baby steps. That's okay. I remember, I mentioned this in our marketing segment, I remember making my website. That was essentially making my first portfolio and I remember throwing up all my pictures and going, oh this looks, this looks like I have a point of view and it did, it was really neat to see. So, for me, even making that website was a big, a big step forward in the, to get to the portfolio view. But I actually, I remember I bought my URL and I bought a template or something to make the website and then I put up one photo, I made it really blurry, and then I wrote coming soon, and that was up there for like, months, because it was just baby steps. I bought it, I was getting ready, I wanted to do it, but I didn't actually have the confidence to put the work up there and then press live. And then I did. I've never looked back. I was wondering if there's any companies that you recommend for the books for printing that you felt have captured what you see on the screen to being printed. There are million actually that do this and it's just about the communication with them and if you like them. You're gonna be on the phone with them a lot probably. There's a... a place in San Francisco called East Bay Photo. There's a place in the Midwest called White House Custom Color. There's another place out there called Miller's. They all are really good at this and if you just went to their website, it looks like a traditional place where you would send a wedding photographer. Their website don't necessarily advertise portfolios, but they do do albums and they do all sorts of things. I remember the first time I looked at one of them I thought, well this is for either a wedding photographer to make an album or maybe the bride and groom to pick something, but the more I dug into them, I realized that I had the ability to make the book that I wanted. They don't, those places don't necessarily have leather bound, embossed situations, like this book. If I had had my clam shell box actually be a book, those places are much more of a custom situation and they're also not bound books. That type of thing. When I first started doing this everybody had a black, leather bound book with their name embossed on the front so that your book can't get lost, you know who it belongs to. But if you open it up, it either had plastic sleaves to put things in or it had a clip so that you can un-clip and you can add pages. That's great because then you can just keep adding the book. I just really was sick of black leather, that's entirely the only reason why I picked turquoise. That's it. There was no special. I just sort of, I just pictured an art director and creative director having like 40 portfolios in there and there was just one blue one in the middle. And I was like, well I'd go for the blue one. So that's why I did it. Apparently I like to be the center of attention I don't know, it's all about just trying to get people to gravitate towards you. So, I hope that help. Awesome. Especially once you had the confidence to do so. I love that you kept your coming soon on your website up for months. There's so many of us that feel that way, so, thank you. I loved that I actually went to the extent of not just putting coming soon in big letters over the image, but I actually blurred the image. You know, gaussian blur 1000. That's what I did. It was, so you could barely see what was behind it. I mean, it's pretty funny. Baby steps.

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!