Skip to main content

Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 9 of 28

Shooting a Commercial Image Part 1

Victoria Will

Portraits Under Pressure

Victoria Will

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

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.

Lesson Info

Shooting a Commercial Image Part 1

So, one of the things I would do in a commercial shoot sometimes, or in any shoot is, and I'm not doing it here, but if I have a lot of photos that I'm working towards, and if it's not the lighting necessarily but I have ideas of where I want to get people, I'll bring photos and stick them on the wall outside or stick them on the V-flat, because the subjects come in and they're like, what are we doing? Where are we going? And I'll say, oh this is what we're trying to achieve. I'm working towards this. And when they're on set and maybe they're stuck. They're like, oh I've done the same pose 10 times, as a model they can sort of look and be like, out of the corner of their eye they'll go, oh okay. That's something. It's just sort of, we all need inspiration sometimes. It's really hard to be creative and think, invent things that feel new and fresh all the time. So, that's why I put up inspiration, because I think it really can help. Particularly when you're drained. After a long shoot or...

after the 20th look. And when I was working with Levi's, they are an incredible company. They have so many pairs of jeans and shirts and everything that they have to photograph and get out into the world. And they are a very smooth ship. They just, you keep it going. And we would just shoot look after look after look. So by the end, it was hard to come up with another way to shoot a pair of a person in a pair of jeans. But that's why I have, and I would look at it myself and say, oh I totally forgot, I haven't done this yet. This feels like something we could try in here. So, as far as my lighting setup, I have three umbrellas that have socks on them. There's a million different brands that you can use. Profoto, Westcott, Photek Softlighters. And then I have them different sizes. I have the largest and then this one is the smallest. This is a medium. You could also switch these. Generally speaking, and what's interesting about this, is that none of the lights are facing my subject again, because I'm still using this, I mentioned this earlier. I'm using the light that's being feathered and it's being, it's technically angled towards camera. So. Why don't we go ahead and bring in our model, Caitlyn. Caitlyn. Excellent, how are you? I'm good. Thanks for doing this. Nice to see you. Yeah of course, you too. Welcome to the studio. Thank you. All right. So come on in. And I'm gonna take some test shots but I'm just gonna let you know that I will never forget our talent's name, because it's on the back of my camera. It's a little trick I was telling them about earlier. So first I'm gonna start just with a test frame. Let me see if we're connected here. Which we're not. It's saying it's busy, so I'm just gonna disconnect. So where are you from? I am from Seattle. So I'm a local girl. Local, born and raised. Yeah, yeah. (laughs) Nothing too exciting. Well I've been around the beautiful trees my whole life and the water my whole life. I can't imagine being away from the sound really, so. It's really pretty up here. Gorgeous. Have you been to New York? I have never been to New York. Really? I would like to go. You should. Please, let me know. Okay. I'll give you, yeah. We can meet for coffee or I'll give you just a list of a lot of great stuff to do. Perfect, yes. Because it's sort of the non-tourist, the stuff they don't put in the guide books. I can give you those. Yeah, I tried those guide books, but I always end up in a lot of crowds and that stresses me out. Yeah, there are a lot of people there. For sure. And so, have you had your portrait made recently? Not recently. It's been a few months, I guess. A few months? That's not bad. We're waiting for technical glitches, I'm sorry. I get that. So while she's doing that, in a normal situation, I would do this. Hey. Hi. (laughs) And then as soon as we're up and running, will you let me know? So. Tell me about yourself, no I'm just kidding. It's like we're on a first date. No, I actually would sit down and talk to my subject because it's, I want to know about who this person is and the only way I'm gonna figure it out is by engaging with her. Yes? So Victoria, we'd had some questions come in about this while we're waiting. But one was, because you're talking about finding things that are interesting to yourself and people, are there a number of things that you've found or questions that don't work, or that generally people are turned off by, that you've used and tried? Great question. Nothing comes to mind as something that is an epic fail. You have to be careful. You can't just say, oh, I see that you're married. Tell me about your husband. Because we don't know what's going on in these people's lives. So you have to sort of enter it gracefully and try to engage it and read body language. Because I'm pretty sure if something's going on, if you say, oh, I see that you're married. Oh, how long have you been married? 15 years. You're like okay, not gonna touch that one with a 10 foot pole. You really have to listen to the responses. There are, as I continue my career, I do photograph a lot of people that are getting older, so I'm obviously gonna be sensitive to the fact that perhaps maybe their parents aren't around anymore. So, if that were come up and they mention it, I definitely would say, please tell me. Tell me about your mother. You can have those conversations, but there has to be a time and a place. If I'm trying to make an image that is joyful and supposed to be full of life, then I'm not going to ask a very thoughtful question like that. So, you do have to drive your questions based on what you're trying to achieve. Great. All right, are you ready? So I'm just gonna take your photograph. I know that in a way, you're modeling, but I don't want you modeling. I just want you to be you. Tell me about, (laughs) I feel like with this couch, it's like, tell me about your problems, right, yeah. Well-- That's great, I love that. Don't move, don't move, it's amazing. All right, so our light's not quite right. It looks, oh that's me. That's the frame before. Hold, please. Okay, so I obviously am having a shadow that's coming in here, which is actually very realistic to some windows. So this is, I'm gonna leave it for right now because I think it's adding something but I think we could, can we switch those two? I feel as if, you know what I want to do? I don't want to switch them. Let's just bring that in closer a little bit. And I'm gonna have to sort of move my stuff into there. Want this closed? Only because I see that, I see that under this stand. So let's turn it out, okay. So obviously this was not my intention, to get her laying this comfortably this quickly, but it worked and I'm gonna take it. I think it looks great. So let me take a look here again. I don't know where that shadow's coming from. So I'm gonna have you investigate that while I keep shooting, because I do like it, but if I wanted to take it away, I need to know what that is. So this is great. So I'm sort of going with the intention that this is not so much a portrait. It is, it's a portrait of who she is, but I'm also approaching this with a little bit more of a commercial mindset, that I was selling jeans at the time, and so, I'm sort of, it's more about, it's a window into the world of this person who's wearing jeans. I want you, that's kind of an advertising mentality. People want to know who, who is the Levi's wearer? This is great, I love that. So, I love, (laughs) go ahead and look straight ahead and up. But I love the body language here is great. Let me see if I can, and you know, let's see what's going on. So go on and actually take your left hand and put it up on your knee. Yeah, that's beautiful. So I'm, let me check this out. So this is a pretty strong window right now. If I wanted to make it a little bit softer, and I wanted to fill her face some more, I would put V-flats right here. And I don't think I'm gonna do that right now, so that we can all keep looking at the screen. Of course, there's other ways to do it. Bringing in, I could bring in another very, very soft, soft light or a white card. We could probably try a show card from the front, just to fill. But this is great. I love what I'm seeing here. Beautiful. Really nice. This is good. Yeah, I love it. So go ahead and look off this way. Let me see how that, and maybe spread your legs a tiny bit in this, keep them here but bring your, there we go. Something more like, yeah. Just so I can sort of, you know what, if I was selling shoes, I want to make sure I see the shoes. But make it there, great. Good, eyes to camera for one. I love that, right over there is great. Beautiful, and just check on our light. So I think I want the fill to be coming from over here. And I'm gonna sneak a peek. Beautiful. Okay. Good. So when you're trying to connect, where I'm obviously engaging with her and I'm moving her around, but I'm approaching this shoot as I would a portrait shoot, like we did earlier or if I'm shooting my friend next door. It doesn't matter. I'm approaching this, she's a model here today, but she's actually also, surprise, she's also a human being. And that's how I approach it. It doesn't matter if the person has 18 years of experience in front of the camera or zero or is a professional model. I still want to know what's going on with them because that's how I'm gonna connect. So, let me do a couple more things here. I like how you look like you're very sleepy. You look very cozy. I am cozy. I woke up at two this morning. Really? Yeah. Why? What was going on? I don't know. Something in the air. Oh really? My upstairs neighbor has very loud feet and I think they're an insomniac. They wake me up sometimes. And they woke you up? Yeah, sometimes. That's amazing. Maybe look this way, keep going. Keep turning, keep turning, keep turning, keep turning. Keep turning, that's good. Two a.m. So I'm a little sleepy. Are you gonna complain? No. Is that-- No, not at all. I'm good. Still looking like a window light, you guys? I think so. This is really nice. Okay, so go ahead. I really think this is beautiful and I feel like I could push through it and explore it a lot, but I want to do two things. I'm gonna have you go ahead and sit up for me and bring your feet this way. I like shooting through things. That might not be necessarily the best representation of it but putting things blurry in the foreground is always a nice, that's beautiful. Go ahead and turn your head back towards me, great. Go ahead and lean forward a little bit. Good, what if you just kind of really sink in there? And look towards that light, good. Good. And look away for me. Let me see the, good, okay. So. Here we go, this is great. I love the way you're, the body shape is making right now. That's great. Perfect. So are you dating anybody? No. No? I think all of our viewers online are trying to get her Twitter handle right now. That's what I think. (laughs) Beautiful. We'll keep it private, don't worry. (laughs) This is great, now let me bring you, lean this way. Good, and come forward. Even just kind of really get in there. That's great. Good, and let that, beautiful. All right, I feel like I'm, okay, here we go. I love the, head this way. Great, great, great, great. My camera's really not wanting to cooperate. But that's okay. We'll wait for it. Okay, so. I love where you are, so stay here for a second while my camera catches up. (mumbling) Okay. So, beautiful. So, every time I look at the back of the camera, it's called chimping and I talked about it earlier. And it's a phrase, it comes from the photojournalism world because people would, let's say you're at a concert and you're all shooting and you're standing next to the other photojournalist, and you're shooting, and then you look and you go, ooh, ooh, ooh, ah, ah, ah. Look what I got, look what I got. Ooh ooh, that's why it's called chimping, so. I never knew that. Right? Isn't that funny. Thought that was, I always thought that was an interesting analogy. I'm like, we kind of act like apes sometimes but that is a beautiful image. Very nice. So, there we go. Let me just turn this burst off. That might keep our camera from, computer from slowing down. This is really great. Okay, let me have you, again, look off towards the light. Really pretty. And maybe run your hands through your hair a little bit. Great. Excellent. (laughs) There you go, I know, it's good. Beautiful. All right, so Danielle, I'm gonna have you come over here for a second. You can just put that down. Great, that's great. Let's see how these are coming out. Oh I love that, that's beautiful. Great. I'm shooting too quickly for this, sorry. Very good. Hmm, do you shoot at all? Or have any cameras? With my iPhone. With your iPhone? Yeah. Well, there you go. It's a camera. This is really nice. Here we go. Very good. So, slowing down is an interesting challenge for me. Like I said, it's a little bit, I'm gonna have to look into a little bit more like a tintype almost. Because obviously, I'm getting more than one opportunity to shoot, but it's gonna be a little bit more deliberate. Do what you just did. That was amazing. That's it. I don't remember. That's it. (laughs) Good, and look this way, beautiful. That was gorgeous. So, let me have you just go to this back light over here, Danielle. Good and then, perfect. Good, and try moving that up a little bit. So, really nice. Okay, and just sort of relax for a second. Sounds good. No, I love that, that's beautiful. Okay. All right. So Danielle, let me have you come over here, actually, and will you bring that board? Great, so. Yeah. Do you guys notice what happens when I put my camera down? Do you see what happens with Caitlyn? Those are the moments, that's what we need to be shooting. And so, I'm actually doing that on purpose so that you guys can see. I know now you're gonna be dying of embarrassment. But every time she, I put the camera down, she does something or she goes somewhere or she goes, and that's how I shoot. I'm still here. There's a lot of pictures of me doing BTS, actually. Behind the scenes. And I have a friend in Hong Kong who would always comment on Instagram and other social media. Why are you always talking to the subjects? The BTS was never me like this. And it's because I'm actually still doing this. Those things are happening. (laughs) That's something you really need to be cognizant of when you're having this. Gorgeous. So good. That's a wrap, no, I'm just kidding. (laughs) I really think this is great. I think the light's coming together. You're very natural. So Danielle, let me have you come and just sort of walk around the side. Good. So, there's another thing that's happening here. And I'm not sure if you're seeing it. But every time, I'm also doing this to illustrate a point. Every time, (laughs) Caitlyn's so scared. Every time I talk to Danielle, and I look at Danielle, where does her gaze to? To Danielle. So what's happened? It's changed this. This isn't the, it's affecting our connection right here. That's something you have to be aware of. So, I try and I was obviously looking at Danielle to make this point, when I'm talking to my assistants, I'm speaking to them, but I'm still here. And I'll say, Danielle, then lighten down a third, do this, lighting to go here, but I'm still here. This is still the important part. I remember learning that and because someone was watching me shoot and said, you looked at your, in one of these short shoots, you looked at your assistant 10 times. And I was like, you were counting? What? I wasn't counting but it was a really valid point. And so, it needs to be here and you need to work with your assistants very closely so they understand, your assistants are such an integral part of your success. So important. And Danielle's not offended by the fact that I'm not looking at her and not engaging with her because she knows we're both here to work. So you don't need to be making that eye contact. It's supposed to be here. So, I think I have some really beautiful things right here. So let's try moving you onto the floor. Oh, that's great. You know what? I already missed it. Go ahead back up and have you get back down, yeah. I love that. For me, I love the off moment, which is the motion. So go ahead and get back down on the floor. Yeah, good. That's beautiful, let me take a look here. See what's happening. Looks like a window to me. Really cool. I love this gorgeous blonde lock that you have. Bring them around, yeah there we go. Good. Let me have you bring your legs out, just because to sort of elongate you, and maybe try to get into the records. Good. Really nice. Go and pick one up. Yeah, and go and put it back. And pick it up. It's kind of like a, in some of these, people get stiff and you're not actually getting stiff in any way. You guys see that? I start talking to you and she's like, oh yeah. It's the best. But that's human nature, right? Any time somebody does that, you're like, okay. I can talk. This is great. Maybe go ahead and get up again and go sit on the couch. There's something. Yeah. Go ahead and get down again. Good. And do it one more time. Go ahead, back up. Really good. And I know I don't wanna shoot too fast because I don't wanna slow down the computer but I'm getting really nice moments in there. And it's when I'm directing her to do these things and I, it's fun, but it's also with purpose. She's not thinking about how her hair looks or if she's holding in her stomach, like trying to be, am I looking my skinniest and my longest? No she's here and she's present and she's listening to me. So that's really why I do that. And again, it's a process. I'm shooting through it. There's obviously a lot of frames in here I'm not gonna use. But it's about getting to the ones that we are. Okay, I'm just looking through all my lists of, this is also a really good thing to do. I write down, just like the inspiration board I taught you, I'll write down things that I want to do, and then in the moment, I always forget. So I do write them down and refer to them. But what, which is what I'm doing here. And we obviously have more time. So if it was a really quick shoot, I might write them on my hand, so then I don't have to refer to my notes. But this is where I, I have some of my other ideas are over here. So you know what I'm gonna have you do? I think we really have this setup. So let's try, where we, I have you kind of leaning this way on, and let me hand you this. Yeah, that's good. I might move this out of the way. You know what's nice about this set is that I also love the white wall, and I know she has other clothes. So I'm just gonna keep going and shooting as I, this is so fun. And the one before was like, could totally see that as a, as an advertisement in Rolling Stone. I don't know, wherever. But I think I actually want to have you sort of come in and you're sort of jumping on the sofa. Just as if, I know potentially it might be awkward the first time, who knows? We'll see what happens. And I don't know where my light's gonna be. But the way I've set up the light is that I give her range to move, because this is just how a window was. I obviously have to watch my exposure as it moves to this edge of the couch. But all right, I'm ready. (laughing) That's great. Really nice. Perfect. I love that. I mean, seriously, this, your hair falls so perfectly. And I think we're beeping, that's great. Eyes right here. So this is also how I approach a shoot if I was doing a multiple looks, let's say we have seven looks. I would shoot through this entire situation. Even when I am, again, I shoot very loose. I like that angle but potentially, I could always correct the crop. And I would just shoot through all of these moments and keep shooting and keep shooting. Oh that is great, I love that. That's so fun. I think we should actually have you change. Oh you know what, I have one plan. Turn around for me. Gonna have you stand up, yeah. And I go, sit down for me. If you look at her, she looks like she's so confused. That's okay, I like that idea. I'll have you-- Do it again? Yes. Okay, go and sit down. Good, now, bring your feet up on the couch again. Good. Okay, now bring your feet up that way, and your head down this way, that's it. Yeah, and then head up. Good, it's like a sit up. There we go. I mean, that's the idea. I don't know where we're going with this, but we're going somewhere, and I bet there's some great things in there. Exactly, all right. Perfect. So let's, I'm gonna have you change into a different outfit. Well you know what? It's also, when we're talking about options, if I have her take off her jacket, just that alone is an entirely new outfit, right? So, I could have you put on a sweatshirt. Yeah, let's put on that sweatshirt quickly, and I'll just, I'm gonna take one of my lights, I'm gonna turn it towards the wall and I'll do something a little bit more high key. I mean, I really like that picture. But I'll have to look through the edit. We can go through it.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.


  • Leverage new techniques for choosing the light and locations for a successful portrait
  • Know how to build a rapport and utilize clear communication with your subjects
  • Set up a developed concept as well as how to light on the fly
  • Use successful strategies for marketing yourself as a photographer and how to get your work in front of editors


Portraits require more than just great lighting and equipment. Sometimes a shoot doesn’t go as planned. The location is drab, the client isn’t in the best mood, or you forget to charge your camera batteries. Great portrait photography artists are able to think on their feet, connect with their subjects -- and capture great images under pressure. The best portraits often come from portrait sessions that didn't go exactly as planned, when challenges turn into assets.

Celebrity portrait photographer Victoria Will shows you how to use your environment to capture a unique, sharp image that reflects the person in the portrait. She’ll also highlight how to quickly evaluate a less than perfect situation and make it work for you and your subject. Take your portraits from amateur to near Mona Lisa gallery worthy by learning how to shoot portraits under pressure.

You’ll watch Victoria photograph real people in limited settings, discovering multiple opportunities in a limited space. Learn her three portrait musts for preparation, point-of-view, and connection. Gain insight into how to make every frame count and how to get the shots the editor requested, as well as those that speak to your vision. Learn how to make your subject feel comfortable in only a few moments while capturing exquisite photo collections in Portraits Under Pressure.


The photographer looking to improve their portraiture through thoughtful lighting, creative techniques and leveraging the environment around you to get a consistent appearance.


Victoria Will’s background as an American photojournalist and celebrity photographer has helped her to develop techniques on editorial assignments to quickly connect with a subject. Her career began as a photojournalist for the New York Post and grew into a sharp portrait photography focus that opened opportunities to photograph celebrities. She continues to work in New York as an artist specializing in portraits and commercial work.


Helena Sung

This was a great class and I learned a ton! It was amazing to watch Victoria Will in action -- shooting portraits under pressure. I learned a lot watching her walk into an unknown situation -- not knowing the location, what the natural lighting situation would be, and only knowing she had 15 minutes for the shoot. I loved watching her problem solve on the spot with lightning and tight, dark spaces. She also taught a lot about how she interacts with her subjects -- always putting them at ease (like you're the host at a dinner party -- gem!) It's much easier for a photographer to take pictures in their studio, but this course was not about that. This was watching a photographer handle real world situations under time pressure and think on her feet. Loved it! I also loved the parts where she culled her photos afterwards and picked out the ones that caught her eye. In most instances, I found myself agreeing with her!! When she gets subjects to stand up and sit back down, it is the in-between moments she is looking for, or the moment right afterwards -- genius!! Oh, lastly, I loved how she went through stunning images she shot of celebrities like Brad Pitt and Janelle Monae and gave us the backstory of how she creatively problem-solved to get the shot! Hello, showing up two hours before a shoot and knocking on random hotel room doors for furniture?!! Of course she could do that because she has a lovely, warm personality! Oh, and by the way, the bits she shares about her early career path is very inspiring!

Robert Negrin

Great course! And the best part was the honesty. I was an executive in a fortune 500 company and what the critics watching this course missed is that there are a lot of talented photographers, actors, singers, accountants and even landscapers, but there are very few that are successful and accomplished. Yes, part of it may involve a certain degree of luck, but most of it is the drive and desire to suceed. It is obvious you have both. I used to beleive that a true image could only be captured by styling the shot, metering light and controlling the subject. (Yes, I shot film...complete with developing and printing all my images) Then, one day I realized that, if deliberate-shooting was the right way, why then most of the great images I have were the result of quick, rather than deliberate reactions. I get it Victoria. Love your style and how you get there. Three things I learned today are that the conditions... even the background, do not have to be perfect if the image is strong enough to carry the message. Second, setting up to capture the perfect image, misses all the imperfect, epic moments. Third, I disagreed with almost every image you picked until they were isolated from the rest. Then they made perfect sense. Well done. :) Robert Gabriel

Meredith Zinner Photography

I really love Victoria and her work. She's something suuuuper special and showed me a fab new way to look at portraits. I love her openness, honesty, the whole 'you're at my dinner party' intimacy, care and respect for her clients and am SO impressed at how quickly and reliably she's able to transform any location to suit her needs. She's super impressive, professional and inspiring thank you!