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Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 23 of 28

Shoot: Working with Groups - Part 1

Victoria Will

Portraits Under Pressure

Victoria Will

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Lesson Info

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.

Lesson Info

Shoot: Working with Groups - Part 1

We're up on the roof at basically noon. It's 1:00 and I would generally advise not shooting at noon unless you are intending to use the light that is here. It's very bright. We're on a roof, so there's a lot of bounce. But we're gonna make it work. Sometimes you don't have that chance to say, "I'd like sunset light," or whatnot. But I actually think with this band, you guys wanna come out over here. These fine folks are gonna be by band today and we're gonna talk about groups. Now, generally speaking, I find groups can be difficult, difficult to connect because you've got three different personalities, plus my personality and we're... I wouldn't even think difficult, it's a little bit more of a challenge. You have to be a little bit more in control of the shoot. So, as I've referenced in the past, if someone's a chatterbox, then you really have to sort of break it down. If you guys are talking a lot and doing your own thing, that could be amazing. That could be energy that I absolutely...

want to capitalize on and I wanna use that and I wanna watch the body language. But I also need to make sure that I'm in charge of the shoot. Right now I've just come up on the roof and I really have absolutely no idea what I'm gonna do. So, I'm gonna think it over for a second. One thing to note is that I'm not wearing sunglasses. That's because and only because I try to do, be in the same situation that my subjects are in. I don't want them to necessarily wear sunglasses. We'll discuss that in a minute. Actually could work. No, could work for the band. I'll take it. But generally, portraits, you need eye contact and sunglasses are a barrier in that way so I like to shoot, if somebody loves their sunglasses, we'll shoot with and without. We try to do both. But if I'm wearing sunglasses, I'm not aware of just how bright it is and where the glare is. Obviously, I need to see what's going on in my lens so if I can't, then wear sunglasses. You don't wanna miss the shot. But I can tell you those nightmare stories where we were shooting spring dresses and, of course, for spring we have to shoot much earlier, so we were shooting in the winter. It was 19 degrees outside. We were shooting by a fountain. I was freezing. The models were freezing, but I kept my jacket off the whole time so I knew how uncomfortable they were and I knew that if they were turning blue, it was time to go in. And I knew if I was turning blue, they were probably doing the same thing, so just to be sort of sympathetic to that. Okay, so let me think this over. I'm just gonna take a stroll. And while I'm gone, I'm literally gonna walk in a circle. Why don't you guys start thinking about a band name. Band name? Yeah, what's your role? You're the drummer, the guitarist, the bassist. Guitar and piano. Guitar and piano, look at you. This our lead singer right here? I gotta be because I have no musical talent. And what about you? I'll be the bassist, I guess. Okay, like Slash. Yeah. All right. Blade. Is Slash not a bassist? He's a guitar player. You know-- It's okay. I just switched that in my head, exactly. Okay, so the light's hard right now, but I don't want to keep you guys standing around, either. I would never want my subjects sitting around. I brought up some lights, but I actually think I'm just gonna start shooting available light. I'm gonna get on a long lens and I'm gonna have you guys walk towards me because that is classic band. From that direction? I'm gonna have you start over here and you're gonna walk towards me. So I'm gonna get a long lens on. I'm gonna try it in different directions and sort of see where the light is. While I'm doing that and I'm testing out the light and seeing how it's reading on you guys, I'm also, could capture some magic in there. So, let's get this done. The hat gonna be an issue? I don't know, I have hat hair. Let me see, this is interesting. I kind of like your whole vibe. Pretty authentic, so if you want. Let's do with and without. You are, I just noticed, chewing gum which doesn't bother me, especially with a band vibe, but when you're shooting a portrait portrait, you don't want someone to be chewing gum because it's a nervous habit, you know what I mean. Okay, so let me have you guys head down that way. (shutter sounds) Again, I'm gonna be showing you guys absolutely every frame, like I've done all the way through. And we'll see how this goes. All right, so nice and close together for me. And go ahead and come on. (shutter sounds) Excellent. Are you sure you guys aren't a band? All right, you can get closer together. Good. All right, perfect. Now let's try that again. I'm just gonna have you do it again. This time I have... Danielle, I have a question for you. Is that Mandy. I can't remember either. Yeah, we gotta find that out. Okay, thanks. Okay. Actually, yeah, all of. All right, close together. I love it. And then let me bring you right in front as, yeah. There we go. So you're just gonna be one step ahead. Okay, great. All right, go ahead, come on forward. (shutter sounds) Awesome. All right, drop your hands, shake it out. I want more sass. That's it, very good. Okay. One more time, head back that way. And then go, hey guys, hey guys, guys. Yeah, there we go. That's what I wanted. I got you to spin around and look at me and I wasn't gonna tell you that. I wasn't gonna say, "Walk down there and then spin around." I really wanted to feel it natural, but now that you know that's what I want you to do, let's do that again. So you're gonna walk towards me. Come this way. (shutter sounds) Nice. So right now the light's kind of amazing because you're backlit in a really pretty way. So I might focus us this way. I was having these buildings, there were these buildings behind and it was fine, but I think that compressing you guys into this space is gonna be awesome. So can we possibly move that camera and so that they can come this way. This is nice. So I'm gonna keep shooting while everyone's, yeah. Look at you guys. I love it. It's really good. No, we'll get there, we'll get there. I'm really gonna talk about it, very quickly about, right now I'm getting, it's almost a lifestyle moment that I'm working up here, but I have this space and this opportunity. I'm not stuck in a studio. But I will get you to do a couple things that are like interaction that's very portrait and some of my tricks for connection. And I will be... So, let me have you walk right towards that corner. Robbie, Mandy, Sheldon. Robbie, Mandy, Sheldon. Mandy, Sheldon. Can you get that, yeah. Okay. All right, that's perfect. So get together. Okay, this time I want you to, is it safe to run? Can we run up here? I hope so. Can we jump up on these things? So they have to run around them? Run around them. Okay, so I want you to run towards me, but, run, like jog, whatever, but apparently you can't run over these, so go around. There's no wrong answer, just let's see what happens. They're running or all? You're all running. It's like a game of, yeah, you have to go around. So, one go this way, one go this way and then just run at camera right behind me. What's that game you play as a kid? Red light, green light. That's what I feel like we're doing, but I'm ready. Okay, go ahead, come towards me. (shutter sounds) Right towards me, keep going, keep going, keep going, keep going, get closer together, closer together. All right, back up like four feet, turn around. There we go. I'm really trying to eliminate some of the things around us, but I like the light this direction, so which is why I'm getting lower to get into the sky. All right, guys, come this way. (shutter sounds) Yep, perfect. Let's do that like five more times, I love it. So turn around. Okay, come back. Come back, come back, come back. So, let me know if you can't hear me 'cause I'm speaking to the ground. So what I wanna do is kind of just like, right where you guys are, where you are Robbie, that's like the furthest, so go there, and then run, come, you don't have to run, just walk. You mean all the time? No, but I like where we are right now. Okay. Let me get, no I'll stick with this lens, but let's get the longer lens, the short lens ready. That's what I call my short lens. They're obviously much wider lenses, but okay. All right, guys, come on. Come walk towards me. Okay, look right over me. Look over my head, okay, now walk back. Mandy, turn around. Mandy, yeah, there you go. Okay. I wanna see, let's try this facing this direction. I'm not sure if I'm gonna like the light that way, but let's try it. So, no problem, just walk this way for me. Okay. All of you guys, head this way. Go ahead. (shutter sounds) Great. So now turn back this way. Let me see if I, I'm just using the light. I don't really, get together for me. I wanna use the sky, though. So let me see. I'm just checking it out. Let's see. I'll shoot a couple this way. So come right here, right towards me, just like, yeah, there we go. Okay. Don't know if we're supposed to smile or not. I like it. You have a Jennifer Nettles thing going on. So-- She's a country singer? Country singer. So right now, I think the light's pretty harsh, so I'm either going to put a scrim above you to basically block the sun, or we could try, let's bring the Photech over. I'll just put a little light into it and sort of balance it out. It'll have a very different feel from what we just did. And then we can decide later which one we like. (shutter sounds) Is that on? Yeah. We're on, nice. So let's see how that's looking. Just cleans it up a little bit. Just a little bit. Yeah, it's good. So get close together for me. There we go. Okay, so here are some tricks. One of the things I like to do, people always ask me, I'm gonna dial in my light first 'cause I think this could be... What'd you say? It's you're thing, go with it. Like I detected the (mumbles) eyebrows. Oh, nice, I like that. This is great. My gut's telling me to go back where we were 'cause I really liked it, however, there is something really nice about this and I wanna make a point about, I'm gonna fill in your eyes a little bit more, about groups, which is that, yes, I wanna play on their energy and hopefully they will bring something to the table, they know each other, they're like, "Oh, about like last night, right Robbie? "Ooh, that's crazy." You guys are sharing, you know, sharing their experiences as friends do. (shutter sounds) I know, that's the best part. Yeah, there we go. Everyone has a little. Those are great. So I'm gonna move this back over here 'cause I just like the light better. It feels more me. I wanna come back to do a portrait portrait and I'm gonna do it somewhere in a shaded area, but right now, let's stick with this. I'm gonna go back to where I was on my exposure, back here, and I'm gonna have you... Yep, there we go. So I'm at F10 right now. It's pretty bright out here. Okay, so, you can be in the middle for me. That's no problem. I'm glad we can switch it up. Mandy I'm gonna have you, you're gonna go ahead and whisper into Sheldon's ear and Robbie you're gonna pick lint off of his jacket, okay. Yeah, good, right. Okay, now Sheldon, you're gonna be like, "Get off me." Right. Good. So did you guys see that? This reaction wasn't the photo, it was after that that worked, right. Okay. Let me get that long lens again. Get outta here. No photos, no photos. No paparazzi. Thank you. Don't go far, I'll need that back. Okay. Okay, so let's do a couple more where you guys are moving and walking, all right, 'cause I think I like it and I'm gonna get back on the ground. This way, I guess. Like it playful? Yeah, so, I'm gonna have you walk towards me and then Robbie I want you to stay. Where, what? So, walk towards me. Okay. And then I'm gonna have you stay here and I'm gonna send them back. So come on towards me, and the reason I'm on the ground is because I want the sky as the background, I want blue, not the gorgeous hotel across the street. Everybody come together. Yeah, okay. Good. (shutter sounds) Keep going right over me. Good. Okay, perfect. So you guys go back and Robbie, what I want you to do is we're gonna do the same thing where you're all walking, but I'm gonna have you start behind Mandy and then I want you to run and pick her up. Okay. That's like I do. I tell one person in the group to do something to sort of create. Okay, so pick her up, like run behind her and like tilt her back from under her legs. Whatever, I mean, don't drop her. I won't drop her. Just like whatever, because if you were in a band, you would be very playful and this is the type of thing I would ask. Exactly. Okay. Okay, I don't know if you can hear that, but you're gonna see exactly what I was just describing in 30 seconds. So I just gave some directions to Robbie and here they come. All right, so you guys just walk straight forward towards me. (shutter sounds) I told you. Exactly. So good. I love that. So now let's do that again. This time... So Mandy, you knew what I was gonna do? How'd you know? I had a hunch. I love it. All right, go ahead, walk towards me again. Just walk towards me. Sheldon, this time you get to do it. You're gonna pick her up. Now, the secret's out, right. So Mandy already knows. So Mandy, I do need you for the purposes of this, I want it to feel authentic, but I want you to keep in mind that you're having the best time you've ever had in your whole life. Okay, so you're playing best time ever. All right, well, Robbie, you can help. (shutter sounds) You guys see this interaction that's happening? This is great. So, Robbie, why don't you both do it? Don't drop her, though. Ready? So we're gonna walk? You're just gonna, you know, something along those lines. All right, ready? Go ahead. (shutter sounds) Okay, put her down. No, that's okay, great.

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!