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Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 21 of 28

Shoot: Conquering Boring Spaces

Victoria Will

Portraits Under Pressure

Victoria Will

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Lesson Info

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.

Lesson Info

Shoot: Conquering Boring Spaces

Once again, this is my client here Arlene Evans. Very nice to meet you. I'm so glad you're doing this. Once you start shooting we have about, we have that 15 minutes with her, once you start. Okay, so I'm going to take out this card. Let's move this out of the way. How are you doing? I'm actually nervous, which is weird. It's not weird, that's what's supposed to happen because having your photograph taken, as we've talked about the last few days, can be a little bit intimidating. I was about to say it's awful. It's not awful but having your photo taken is hard. It's really hard for me. So I'm with you. You can empathize. I can empathize for sure. All right, let's move this out of the way completely. Can we do that? Where would you like to be? I'm going to stay over here. Can I move these couches? There a little on the heavy side but you can move them. Can I just slide one maybe? You're good, you're good. Talent doesn't have to move anything. Do not break a sweat...

. All right, I'm gonna let you move that. Let's just slide this to this way. Put that lens right here. Okay, that's nice, let's just do that. Just like this? I think so. I don't know, yeah, let's try that. I like it even a little bit less. And just push the whole thing towards me. Okay. I'm liking something about the way you were sitting over here. Thinking. Yeah, can you please the phottech up all the way the other way around and we're gonna start right there just with the phottech. I'm gonna have it feathered but directional, yep. And we're just gonna see how the light's bouncing around in here. We should probably turn off the overheads. Just so we don't get any ambient. I'm sitting down on the job guys, I'm sorry. All right, let me have you sit here. Thank you. All right, so let's try that. Again, I'm starting from scratch with no prep time and the most important thing is... I'm starting with lights that I like. Things I've experimented with before. This light on purpose is not facing my subject. I'm feathering the light, I want this light to hit her. So I'm going to see what this looks like. So the first one doesn't count Arlene. Unless it's awesome. That was pretty nice. You look very serious. I'm not serious. I know. You've got a great smile in there, I can see it. Okay. I like the couch and I like what I'm doing but I don't like the background. There's a lot of distractions so I'm actually going to move the couch I think. Think I might do something over here. So Arlene you can just take a seat. This is fun. Really neat. I'll put this up here. I like to have things a little bit off angle maybe. Sometimes I think instead of moving the furniture, I should just move around the subject. That's obviously really important but I've got a table over here, I've got windows back there. That might be cleaner. I like the environment better this way. Instead of this white board. But let's try that. Can we just swing this all the way around? We're gonna go in a big circle so this way. All right, perfect. Let's try this. Something like that. So I'm gonna have this like come this way. Again, if you're in someone's home ask permission before you start moving their furniture. Let me have you take a seat. So I'm gonna have to clean up this background a little bit and you know what Arlene I'm even going to move you one more time so I apologize. This way, I just need more room. So I'm going to be shooting this way. And we're starting that 15 minute clock. All right, I'm ready. This has got to get out of our way. So I'll just bring it this way. Okay. Hopefully that's out of the way, we'll see. Have a seat. Okay. That's great. Now we're talking. This is really beautiful. All right. We're good. No, I'm just kidding, I'm going to keep going but it's really beautiful. So let me bring your hand up here, let me just see. And bring, yep, you're right hand bring it over a little bit. Other hand. Yeah. That's why I'm like what's my right and left? Because of my dyslexia again, I have to go I write with my right hand. And then I just went like this 'cause it's your right hand. I was confused. That's okay, it makes me feel better. It really does, this is really nice. I'm going to bring in some more ambient here. More ambient light. This is great. So bring your head around towards me. Yeah, that's nice. Excellent. All right. stand up and sit down in the same spot. Yep and then go ahead and sit down. Great. Sort of cozy on in there, get comfy. Yeah, there we go, that's great. Really nice. This is very open. I'm just using one light. I do see some cables in the background but I'm not going to worry about that because it's not affecting the image. This is great. Really beautiful. Let me have you look this way for me. Great. And back to camera, great. So I want to try something when you turned your body this way. So look this way somehow, whatever feels comfortable. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And really lean into the side of that couch. Actually going to have you bring your body back and then lean forward so there's a little bit more space between you, yeah, exactly yeah. Really nice. Look this way towards me. Gorgeous. I'm kind of competing with the light in the background but I'm also using it to my advantage. This is great. I'm blowing out the windows in the back and having the light wrap. Okay, so while we're here, look this way. Okay, now I want you to actually I'm gonna do really nice wide here. Look this way, great. And a nice smile in that direction. There we go. How long have you been married? 31 years. 31 years, that's amazing. What's your husband's name? Mark. Okay so look this way as if Mark was calling you, What would he be saying to you? (laughs) That was a great laugh, I love that. So I would I want to try something even a little bit more casual. So bring your feet, yeah I like where your feet are but bring your body more this way and kind of lean more this way. Come closer. So you're leaning in, you're on the sofa a little bit more like this. Oh, okay. Like this? Yeah, get in there, whatever feels comfortable. You don't have to do what I did. No that's all right, whatever works. Great smile, love it. So what if you bring your arm up? This one? Right? I don't have any hair to play with. No, it's okay, you do though. You've got an earring. Playing with ears is always nice. Take your eyes that way, great. Let's see how that's looking. Chimping again. Here we go. Great, let me slide this over. You're doing great. I love this. This is nice. So I'm going to, I'm seeing my friend in the background. I'm going to bring this down it over for a sec because now I feel like I got some nice pictures in there so I'm going to change it up. Great. Feathering it even more but there's a lot of bounce in here which is I'm using to my advantage. Great. Great. Fun. Okay, so let's turn towards me a little bit more. Yeah, that's nice. Like this? Yeah. Don't like rest, rest because nobody likes to have the... so yeah, it's kind of a you sort of rest your hands. But now, now we've talked about it too much. So we've lost it. Exactly so let's put your hand again. And then we go back we'll go back. Go back and play with your ear again, that's nice. Yeah, there you go. But I think my angles too low. Let's try that again. And I see a light in the background. And chin down here for me. Okay, let's move on from that. I think there's other stuff. Okay, clock's ticking! All right. Let me look around the room here. See what else I've got. We have five minutes. We have five minutes? Five minutes? Yeah, that's how fast it goes. I love this still. Instead of doing something completely different I think I might stay here and I'm going to bring this light back. Underneath. How long have you lived in Seattle? Three and a half years. That's right. When are you coming back to East Coast? Whenever I can. Over the summer. Oh good. So we check that again. I have one other idea to try. Feet up again. Yeah, there's something really, yeah. This is great. Let me check that light, I'm gonna do the full length here. So really like this backlight that I'm getting. All right so within here. Gonna have you look this way. Did you go on any vacations this year? I'm going to Paris in two days. Oh my gosh! Really? Yeah. What for, for work or for pleasure? For fun. Oh my gosh, that's gonna be amazing. Where are you gonna stay? At a small Chateau outside of Paris. I'm coming. If you fit in my suitcase. That's amazing. I think this is really beautiful and I have some nice stuff here so I want to bring you over into this window. So let's bring Danielle this soft light again. I'm gonna just see what happens when I just put you completely back lit wrapped around. I actually, one of my favorite pairs of shoes I was wearing yesterday I bought in Paris a couple years ago, four or five years ago. Everybody loved your shoes yesterday. Oh, I'm glad, I'm glad. Thanks you guys, they're my favorite. I just was walking down the street in the Saint-Germain and saw them and was like. It's great shopping area. Have a seat on the window. Is that comfortable? Oh yeah. Okay, great. Let's see how this looks. Okay, I'm going to open up. Let's see. So that's looking pretty good. Let's turn that light down. Okay, I go here. Beautiful. Chin down a little, great. Let's turn that light down even more Danielle. This is really nice. Great. All right, go ahead look away from me. Do you have a favorite place in Paris? Have you been often or? Can't be a first time. I've been, my mother was French so I-- Your mother is French? Yeah, so I spent time there. Do you speak French? I used to. Yeah, I know. Well you'll go back, I'm sure you'll pick it up. That's fantastic. That's really beautiful. So turn towards me a little bit and just sort of rest your hands together on your knees and I love your your crossed legs. That's great. Look that way again. What area of France was your mom from, do you know? She's from Lorraine. Oh yeah? Northeast corner. I've never been up there but-- It's beautiful. My white balance is a little bit chilly here. Excellent, here we go. So turn a little bit this way. Maybe turn your whole body. Do we have a seamless? We don't have a seamless? Just oh, the gray one. Well we've used that one so I'm not going to do it again. Well, you want to set it up quickly? I don't know how much time we have but... Over here? Anywhere, just on a wall that will hold it. That's great. I love that, look the way again. Beautiful. Same thing happened here, when I looked away Arlene went oh, and looked away and then I went oh, like right now. Very good, I love that, great smile. Really beautiful. I'm gonna just even feather this even more. Almost nothing getting to you. See how that's works. Do that again, look that way. Good, eyes right here. Okay. So I'm using the backlight. Can I get, you know what let's scrap that idea but use it just because I think my time's running close. Either a scrim Jim or a reflector, soft show card. Sorry to change my mind on you. Sometimes, there you go. I'm just going to use some of this. There's a little fill in your eyes. A little much on my exposure here but you look great. It's nice so my exposure is a little hot so just come in a little. Yeah, really good. That's what I needed. So I might... Great, look this way. Great, your smile is awesome. Look right towards me, towards camera, great. Okay. I love how your hands are. Why don't you, you know how ladies like to play with their rings? Yeah, I like that. Yeah, right. There we go. Aren't we all. I have a ring problem I should say. I had a lot of them. Oh really? I like rings a lot. That's not a bad thing. You're in frame a tiny bit so come out but then find it again, great. Okay, all right. So the last couple frames, I'm going to put it up to you to decide how you want to move. So each frame like a photo booth. Each frame you just move. You don't have to do funny faces but you can but it's just you know, shift up your weight a little bit. But there's no wrong answer. We've got four minutes. Oh, we got four minutes? That's what I've been told. Does that math work guys? No, it doesn't! Not at all. That's okay, there we go, yeah. All right, so ready? If we have four minutes. let's set up the seamless. Ready? This might end up, you know, might not. Do you have the tape? It's already sort of taped from below. Put it right, we'll just do right here. The camera crew is like seriously guys. It'll work. It'll work. All right. Okay, have a seat over here Arlene. If I had had my Druthers I would put the seamless closer to the window light so I could use the window light but that's not an option right now. So we're gonna move on and try something else. So this is going to go this way. Can you just help me push this? This is just sitting right where I need to be. You know what, I'll sit on the couch right there. That'll work. Okay, so yeah, you're great. Bring over the soft lighter. I'm going to put the soft lighter right there and have you have the beauty dish right here. I got it, you get the beauty dish. Just because it doesn't need to be much higher. I'm going to put the bottom of the soft lighter at her eye level. That's where I want it. With the side. So this is going to be, now I really feel like I'm sitting down on the job. But hey. Okay, so turn towards me. Let's see what happens when you lean forward towards me. Like this. Yeah like really, yeah exactly. Let's check this out. Right, you come lower with the light. Go like down so it's filling her eyes. There we go. Okay. Where am I, five, here we go. Get my exposure. Which I wouldn't say to my subject. I wouldn't be like by the way, that was wrong, and I totally messed that up. I'm just letting everybody else know. You know, I keep it in. Let's go up a little tiny bit higher. Not in power, in height. There you go. The more Arlene and I spend time together and the more Danielle and I do, Danielle will understand where I'm going and even Arlene will understand my gestures when I say head this way. Exactly. So you're already, turn your body this way for me. I want to try something just very artful so like what if you're just like. I mean, I might look, yeah. Really nice. Even relax your eyes, look off that way. And rest your head, go ahead, yeah. I mean this is sort of, come a little bit around Dar, Danielle. I just combined your names, Darlene. Easy to do. Now bring your other hand in, let's see where that can go. Yes, gorgeous. This is a really nice image. Let me bring you over here. I need to be coming on the same side I think. Great. Really great. Now, I'm going to see what happens. You just exit frame and I'm going to open up a little bit. I want to get a different quality of light. You look comfy. I am comfy. That's great. So this is it's a different quality of light and not quite where I want to be so I'm going to bring it down. And again, more of the edge. See how that goes. Yeah. All the way in, there we go. Even more. It's like right when I again, it's like what when I think I have the picture, just really start to see what else is out there. Good and look this way. So now turn your body and do it in that direction a little bit, yeah. Face you? No, you can face away. We'll just do that see what that is. Yeah. Now head up, look towards me. And sort of look up. Yeah, cool. And let's try it on the all the way on the other side. And last shots please my friend, last shots. All right. That's great. There we go and sit up for me and just sit up nice and straight and look this direction. It kind of reminds me of the painting of the grandmother sitting in the chair, you're like. You have great posture. Thank you very much, appreciate it. Thank you. It was fun. Thank you so much. And now we'll look through. So as you start to ingest, wanted to give you some comments that are coming in. Once again, despite all the challenges people are saying you still do make it look fluid and coming through and make it look easy but people know that you have had such experience having to come through and do all these things. Elsesbox says I love this segment, her model is very much like a typical client. A little bit nervous, uncomfortable, quiet. So this is great to watch you work and see her open up. And again, people are asking about, so okay if a client is nervous, how do you open them up? And as you could see, Victoria starts to ask her questions about her life, about vacations, creating those moments of connection where you can see Arlene's face light up when she starts to talk about going to Paris, right? So that is really exciting to see and watch you do that. Well who wouldn't light up about vacation? Or France? Or France, right. I mean vacation, those things that make us all human. The little things, that's where I'm going and sometimes people don't want to be personal at all. They're just there for business and that's okay. I will connect with them in other ways and like I've mentioned you just sort of find something that you can connect with them on. So maybe I'll say oh, I'm reading a great book right now about X, Y, Z. Have you read it or what are you reading? If you give, I mention this yesterday but worth repeating, if you give something of yourself, if you tell somebody a little something about you they'll probably respond. So Victoria, what happens if you have somebody that is too chatty, I know you touched on this a little bit earlier but who maybe that nervousness, like you said, it becomes more chatty or they just want to keep talking. That's hard to actually get a shot when they're talking. Yeah with their mouths not open and they're looking somewhere. Well, a key thing to remember is that you're in charge. It's still your dinner party. You're still the host. And when I say you're in charge, it's not supposed to sound very severe but in the sense that you need to be in control. And if somebody is being really chatting and really nervous, and that's their body language, that's why they're acting that way then you need to do something to make them comfortable. And they'll probably slow down a little bit but if you really need them to just stop, I always just say let's have a quiet moment. Let's have you look over here, away from camera but let's not talk and we'll just have a thought. Have a think and that's a way to sort of take back the control of the shoot.

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.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Gear List

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Reference Guide

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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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!