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Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 19 of 28

Shoot: Conquering Dark Tight Spaces

Victoria Will

Portraits Under Pressure

Victoria Will

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Lesson Info

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.

Lesson Info

Shoot: Conquering Dark Tight Spaces

What do we got here? Hi. Hello. Hi. I'm gonna show you what you got. This our room? This is our room. Let us know what you think. Wow, I got space. All right. So right off the bat, well first I have to say hello to my subject. Hi. How you doing? Hi, we're fine. We're good. Just had to make sure my subject was here and comfortable. Remember it's my dinner party so I want to make sure she was set and this is our room. These are my first thoughts. This is an interesting texture. Could do something with this. We have to be very minimal. I think it would sort of be a headshot. As a background. Potentially this chair. Depends. It's really cozy. This could be a nice picture. Arlene is wearing jeans so she could do it. I'm not sure if that would be appropriate. We'll figure that out. I also noticed that this wall is very busy. So I'm probably going to avoid this wall all together. Not because... Because changing it around is going to be too difficult. Moving the couches, I don't re...

ally have a place to move them. They're probably very heavy. So I could put a seamless, hang it from right here and bring it down. That's already a studio so then I could be right here and in a small studio situation like that I would bring small lights. A beauty dish and probably a strip light. Similar to what I did yesterday. I call that an over under. It's very clean. And once it's set up I don't have to worry about it. I don't have to move the lights too much. Let's see what else I'm noticing. I'm noticing that the ceilings are very low which means I'm gonna have a lot of bounce from the light in the room. Which is gonna be very flattering on skin. It's really going to open it up. If I want to make something more dramatic I'm going to have to keep my light much more focused and more specular. I also notice that there are black... These look like sound panels of some sort. Black can be used for negative fill of course so I could try to incorporate that if I needed to. Might be a little bit tricky. And what I'm noticing also, which is awesome, is a window right here. I could easily bring a light through here. I would stick the light in the hallway directly in front of the light to bring light into the room or alternatively, I would put a stand in the room and reflect it right into the glass. By putting it into the glass, I'm just softening it that much more. The light will shine into this room over here, this will act as a big soft box and then the light will come back in. I don't really know exactly what my exposures and stuff would be but we would work with that. Lastly, I noticed these curtains... Hello. This could actually be very, it could be a backdrop. It could be a bit of negative fill. It's not quite dark enough but it could create some toning. There's a white board here if I wanted to do something just very white. Although it's very reflective. I noticed that right off the bat. I try to avoid mirrors at all costs to shoot except to use them to bring in light. I hate shooting against them. It becomes very difficult and obviously when you're trying to use mirrors, if you've ever done that. You will often see yourself in the picture so that's difficult. All right. So there are two chairs over here. I noticed this table. This table could be really neat. I'd have to move it and clean it up but you can do something in here. Figure that out. But of course, I'd have to clean up the background so instead of doing that I would probably take this table and move it elsewhere. Over here or shoot into this gray curtain. And those are my initial thoughts. Just off the bat. So do we have another room for me to see? I'm staying in this one and now I pick my subject. Fascinating. So this is tricky because if I knew what the other space was it would dictate very clearly. Well, holy moly. I'm stumped. I'm stumped. I think my gut tells me to go with Matt on this. Primarily his outfit, I think it fits with the vibe but I'm really digging this table over here and I'm thinking of doing something a little bit sort of a classic portrait where he's sitting at the table and maybe he's leaning. Try maybe to use this or I don't know , we'll see. All right, come on in. Let's go get started. So where's Danielle? How are you? Doing good. Great, so let me take this camera please. So just a reminder for everyone, I'm not shooting tethered. It's just going to slow me down in this situation but I will be going through my entire edit. So afterward. That was really interesting. Do you see what happened when the lights turned off? Yu can see this is where our ambient light is. That's how much of the overhead lights was affecting this. So maybe we want to shoot without them. And with the lights off, right off the bat, I always notice window light and ambient light immediately. So I turned off the lights. Well actually they turn themselves off and I notice this so why don't I sit you right here. I'm going to bring you really close to the door. And have a seat. So this is great. Now I'm going to shoot ambient light right now and see what's going on but I like the idea that you're in sort of a throne here. This is a bit of a little editorial moment. Definitely feel... So bring your body closer to this edge and really sort of sink you down a little bit. Let me take an exposure here just to see where you are because we're going to need more light I'm pretty sure. So I might just push it to ISO 1600. I'm wide open at a two eight and I'm at a 60th. So this is just really. Even went to 50th. I can hand hold at a 60th of a second but I shoot so quickly that I really shouldn't because that's where I get camera shake and I just moved too fast so I try not to go below 60th but this is really interesting. So how are you feeling? I feel pretty good, you're getting my good side. I was in a horrific bike accident so I'll have this like crooked tooth right here so this is what you should be documenting. All my personality comes from right there. I got like a little rodent teeth piece right there. I think that adds a lot of character. So I'm I'm taking this image. I love this, I love that smile. With the idea that I'm probably going to make this black and white. And it feels very kind of like The Godfather to me with this hair, I'm really digging it. So I'm gonna have you look straight ahead. I love that. So obviously right off the bat I can tell you Matt has a great personality. I know it's going to be easier for me to get smiles. Sometimes I'm trying to go for something more thoughtful and my subject is a chatterbox and you're not being that in any way but sometimes you can't get your subjects to stop talking because it's a nervous reaction actually. And in those cases you have to make sure that you maintain control of the shoot. This is still your shoot and I'm just sharing this information with you is by no means a reflection of you. But if that's the case, if somebody's nervously talking you do have to say things like you know what I really am going for a thoughtful moment and I want it to be you know, so let's go for something more quiet. We've had a lot of great energy but let's go for something quiet. So in this particular case, I and thinking where The Godfather, has a little bit more. I love your hair, it's incredible. And I'm going to, if you can move just there, you're perfect, you're out of frame already. Great, I love this. So Danielle if you could grab the beauty dish for me. And bring your head a little bit towards me Matt, yeah. And that's fantastic. What happens if you sink down even lower? You could go in, what's your power on right now? Five six. Five six. Okay, let's see where that lands us. I'm going to totally change my exposure. I realized yesterday that with these B1s I can change the power right here on my air remote but I kept going to the actual light and changing it. That's just out of habit. I'm sort of old-school in that way and technically you should ask your assistant to do it anyway. So really I should be staying right here in my seat. I think I was more for educational purposes moving the light there. All right, so here's a Polaroid. I say that, obviously the first few don't count until I dial it in. All right, let me check one more time. That looks fantastic. So I changed my exposure, I went back, I was at 1600, I'm now at 640. I went up from an F/2.8 to at F/5.6. We'll see all of this in my metadata as it's on the screen when we're going through it. So this is beautiful. Go ahead and look towards me, that was nice. Great. So bring that hand up for me and kind of, yeah that's nice. Really good. Very nice. And maybe try bring, what happens if you bring your, yeah great. And now go I to move it again. I never want my subjects to stay in a pose for very long because I think it just starts to feel forced and very posed. So it's sort of what if you... Let me stand up change angle. No, no sorry you're good. You're great. Change angles Danielle. It's looking great. What happens if you... Really nice, bring that hand up again. I like how you just got up towards your hair and I love your hair is perfect. Right now. And then hand down yeah. You know how guys rub their hands through their hair? How do you do that? I think like. It's like that? I love that. I think we're going to do that one. This is great. Sink down even further. Yeah keep going, keep going. Now bring your hand back up. But here's what I'm thinking. Bring it to, I want to see you still. I want to see who we're shooting so bring it up a little bit and then kind of look this way, yeah. And look just right down the barrel of the lens. Beautiful. This is intense. Okay and so as he does that can you move towards me? Great. Beautiful. So I'm going to up my shutter speed a little bit. We got to watch glasses reflections a little bit here but that's nice. Beautiful and go ahead and look back that way and chin down, look straight ahead. Yeah, it's great. All right. I like that let's move on from this situation. Definitely has character. Just chimping right now again. Ooh, look what I got. Ooh, Ooh, Ooh. Beautiful. Okay so let's move away from that. Let's come on in and I'm going to turn on the light. See what we got. Do we have seamless up here? I have a gray. Charcoal gray. I'm curious. I would like to put charcoal gray is fine. Let's do that. I think we're going to, let's grab it together and grab some gaft and we're going to tape it up right up here. This is the sofa. Is this the sofa that I can't move? Is this the sofa I can't move? Correct. Okay, may I move this? You know what I do often? We can't move that one, I'm sorry it's all wired up. Well I don't have to unwire it. Oh wait, what's? Oh but I could do this. I'm going to take this off. Come on in. So if I do this and I unscrew these two, the table is mine. Yes, we can do that. All right. So here's another trick. I was being nice and asking but a lot of times I just ask for forgiveness if that's the problem. Of course in somebody's home, very different story. I always ask permission. Would you mind if I move this table? Would you mind if I put your bed in the living room because your living room is a great look? You know and people are amenable or they're not and that's fine. But when I'm doing an editorial shoot, the rules are off in a lot of cases. Sometimes you ask them if you can move a table, no one knows the answer. Oh, I'm going to go ask my boss, I have to go ask, I have to go ask, nobody knows, and the answer's I'm going to move it and put it back and nobody will know. Important thing though, replace everything exactly the way it was when you left. So when I'm done shooting here, I'm gonna put this back. Wanna help me grab this? Okay, we're just go over here. Straight, straight, straight, straight. We're gonna make this real tight. Right about here. Let's put the seamless right here. Can I stand on the couch? Sorry. You have gaft? Yes, I do. Awesome. Is my Pelican around? Yes. Great. Okay so we're gonna have to move that chair, I got it because this tape has to come down here from here down. So see where the couch is. It needs to be over here. So the chair behind you. There we go. Oh, you got it up. Is this going to be, this is yesterday's tape? Needs to be a little bit higher. I'm thinking up here. You got it? I got it. Can you put a couple pieces on my leg. Okay, one more. Okay. Okay, so I don't have it up yet, you got it? Yeah. So this needs to go all the way over, is that going to be it? We're gonna run into that pipe, huh? Okay, so come back. All right, let's go down here. We'll go down one lower. I wonder if I was going to make. Let's see. I think we could probably just tape it right to the bottom like right up here. Does that make sense? You got it? Yeah, you got it? Yeah, right here? Yeah. So I got to tape a lot of this. Okay, we'll just. You got this? Here. Oh, there goes the roll. Okay, well it's up. There we go. So watch out 'cause we gotta watch this or watch for, fold this. As long as it's not going to fall. Get that corner for me. Okay. This is going to do just fine. I think it's fine. So let's move this chair out. Great. And table comes in, let's see how tall Matt is. Let's see what happens when you sit on the Pelican. On the side. It's not the most comfortable thing. That's fine. It's about right height, I think for you. I'm definitely shorter. Let me try. Great. Yep, it's perfect. I really like this. Wonder how this would look against this with all this wood but this is nice, there's something nice here. So both hands up. Now Victoria? Yes. I am Matt's publicist, playing Matt's publicist again. Just wanted to let you know that Matt has a very important meeting in seven minutes. Thank you. So can you bring the beauty dish please? Great. So again my go-to is a beauty dish. I love the quality of light. I need to go much closer, go just just out of frame and again, I'm turning up the light because I know exactly where I want it. Let's go down lower. Just out of frame. Let's check that out. Okay, so my exposure is way off. I'm going to turn this up to about here. That's really nice what you're doing there but okay so come back. And lemme turn it down a smidge here. Okay. Come a little bit towards me and then bring yeah. Matt let me have you come into the table and turn your body this way a little bit. Yeah, let's try that. Yeah, it's pretty, really nice. All right. Let me see that smile that you were talking about earlier, very good. I love that. Why did you decide to put your hair like this and how long have you had it? I love it. I decided to, I was growing my hair out and it gets Garfunkel epic size and I was like I'm gonna grow it out so my wife will finally let me shave my head. So then she cut it into a mo hawk. So I was like okay, you can have a mo hawk. She was like you can have a mo hawk, not the shaved head and so at some point I decided to then cut it all the way down to just the bone and I look like a hairless cat. I look so much better with a mo hawk so that's where it came from. I think that's great. I love that you basically wanted it to be your wife's decision. Yeah right, yeah like how that works? Happy life, happy wife. Or happy wife, happy life, there you go. Right, yeah. That's very nice, this is great. I think that there's some nice moments right in here and because you have another meeting to go to. Let me have you stand. You're pretty tall. Can we bring in the strip light? Do we have it on a? So I just took a few frames there because Matt's publicist came over and told me we're running out of time so I want to get a few more options and I felt like there was something in there. But we're definitely moving fast and not having time to set up is definitely eaten into my time. So that needs to be on a stand. Do we have it? Yeah. So what I'm gonna have you do is stand just in front and I'm probably going to stand. I like to shoot a little bit from above. This is great. And I'll take that as my, talent doesn't need to touch anything! Talent does not break a sweat. Okay, great. I need the little stand. Oh, the little guy? Yeah. But since we're running out of time. Well, one more note. Victoria, I know that my client Matt also likes to be photographed without his vest well. I'm so glad you brought that up because it's on my agenda. Okay, awesome, Thank you. Yeah, of course. Great, I got it. I'm gonna just the beauty. Nope, I got it. Team effort, we both gotta. There we go. Sometimes you just got to get your hands dirty. Okay, I need you to stand more this way. No, over here. Yeah, there we go. This is a tight spot. I probably should have considered that a little bit, I don't know what's next and I love the vibe here but perhaps the next room is larger. Larger person, more space but this is working quite well. I'm just kind of dialing in my lights here. Very good. And stop down. How's it doing, how you doing and how are those arms? Doing good. Good. All right, Matt look this way for me, very good. Now you have this very GQ sort of look going on. Still not quite got the right spot so I think I'm going to have you, Lower this a little. I want to have you, let's take that somewhere. The GQ thing. I feel like I need to keep moving. Yeah, that's I like the motion so feel free to move. You don't have to hold it yourself too close. And I think maybe pretend to be fixing your sleeves. They're already looking really good but. And then kind of look up to camera, yeah. Good. Well something, is that our overhead? That was a overhead light. Great, we don't need it. I'm gonna take it off actually. I think it works better without, Very nice. So yeah, really good but something about the way you do that, even though your sleeves are already rolled up. The action of even maybe undoing it once and doing it again. Yeah. Great. Really nice. You know what, I need that modeling light on because my camera was having an issue focusing. There we go. The other problem. I'm gonna have you do that again, that's great. Go ahead and look up towards that camera away, yeah. So and I never know if you've noticed this but sometimes in GQ when people are rolling up their sleeves they look up at the camera like they're really annoyed. They're like already done yet? That's sort of the look. Yeah it's like, you're very good. Good, I love it, just look towards camera. Just look toward camera. There you go. And I love your hair so I want to play with that because I think that's an essential part of your character. So we move this down. Okay. I need you to come over here. Okay, Matt's got about two minutes. Excellent, we're almost there. So let's take off your vest. No, no, no, no, I got it. I moved it. Okay. I love you undoing your vest. All right what other lights do we have up here? Yeah that's right. I actually would have you take that on and off. The small vo tech? Can we put that in the doorway here? So put the beauty dish down right here and let's just fire it through the window right here. I'm going to have you take that on and off. Let's just get this other light up. And so how long you been married? Been married for 10 years and we were together for 10 years prior to that. So we've been together for 20 years. 20 years! Wow, that's incredible. Were you high school sweethearts? Yes, we were. Wow! The real deal! I know, they look and they're like man he just seems a lot younger than that. It's just 'cause I say stupid things. Bound to youth people. No, I love that. Do you want me to handhold this? No, no I need it, yep. I appreciate you being here. Oh no, this is great. Actually the producer asked me to do it. She was like you know would you be willing to do? And I was like no. What day do I show up? (laughs) I like that. Let me help, get our hands dirty here. Just bounce it right into the window like this. Okay, make sure it's on. All right, let's get that. Lets see where that's going. Okay. Okay, let's try that. Great. It's like when do you take it off? There we go, there we go. It feels so much... You're like let me just throw it over my shoulder, yeah. No this is great. All right so let me actually toss that to the side. And go ahead and look right here. Take one step to to the middle. Really nice. And I love this hair so I want to see more of you. That's great. Really good. So I've added some light here. I need you to get closer. I need you to be just out of frame. So basically get in the frame and the second you're out of frame and so come out, pull out, great. Half a step over for me Matt great. There we go. Okay and can you swing towards me? Great. So let's check on that. Really good. There we go. I'm just changing the quality of light a little bit. Let me see that smile. Turn your body this way, here we go. Very good. Yeah, I love that, looking down is nice. And how about you scratch the back of your neck. There we go. And look towards camera when you do that. Yeah, I love that. Very nice. Definitely has a... so you're falling, you need to come, yeah. There we go. Do you want to step, we have an apple boxes for you? Yeah, there is apple box right in that room. Okay, let me get it for you. Thank you. Okay, uh-huh. There we go. Let's go ahead and half a step this way. I'm shooting in real tight quarters right now. We can grab hands, right? We're approximately four feet away from each other at the moment. Eyes towards me. Good, chin down 'cause I got yeah. Here we go. Nope, I'm all over the place here. Which you guys will all get to see. Look towards me, great, turn a little bit this way, great. Really nice. I'm seeing a little bit of the reflection in your eyes. I'm gonna have you just bring your chin down, really nice. Let's try turning this light off all together. Just gonna move it out of the way. Here we go. I know you're probably going to... Great. I bought myself some extra room. Danielle, come over towards me please. Very good. And half a step away from the wall a little bit. A little bit this way, great. Really nice. That's great, that's beautiful. Okay, last shot. All right. You know what I really appreciate it. I'm almost done, just a few more frames, here we go. Just go and cross your arms for me. Look this way. Go and scratch back your neck again. I love that, eyes to camera when you do that. Great, hands down, beautiful. All right, we're good. Thank you very much. Greatly appreciate it, thank you. No, my pleasure.

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

Related Classes


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!