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Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 10 of 28

Shooting a Commercial Image Part 2

Victoria Will

Portraits Under Pressure

Victoria Will

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Lesson Info

10. Shooting a Commercial Image Part 2
Continue the dive into commercial portraiture and move into more poses and deeper insight into the process.

Lesson Info

Shooting a Commercial Image Part 2

So this is now straying completely from window light but I have her here in a new outfit and I love the look so I'm just going to throw it against the brick wall that was right behind the couch. Can you bring that monitor forward so I can see for a second. See what we're doing. Great. Really cool. So the first one I have no idea what my exposure is but we'll find out. In 25 frames because that looks great. That's very fun. Okay so we are... let's turn it down a smidgen. Let's try that, so I'm taking another one. Really nice. That's great. I still want to make sure my light is perfect when I get there. A little over still. Okay now we're a little under. So let's get. Imagine when we were shooting with Polaroids, it's a sort of what this feels like. Where you rip the Polaroid and you wait. Yeah, that's what it feels like. Okay, I'm still going to open up a little and bring this back up. I think I cut it down a little too much but there you go. If you guys have any questions by the way, l...

et me know. Still finding that, there we go. Let's check that out, should be somewhere in the right realm. I just love the texture of the floral and the white, I think it's really nice. Great. Beautiful. So go ahead and kind of put your hands back in your pockets and take them out, yeah. Good and then put them in your front pocket again. Yep, eyes to camera when you do that so take them out again and then put them back in your pocket. Yeah, that's great. Really nice. Beautiful. Let's see. That's great so if you guys are watching me, you'll see that I'm... because I'm tethering and I'm looking up at the monitor. When I'm normally tethering, I'm actually never looking at the monitor because my tech is going to tell me if there is an issue and I'm just going to keep talking. So it's very unusual and I actually wouldn't recommend manning a tethering situation by yourself. I don't think it makes any sense. Love that, that looks really great. Yes. So my question I guess is like watching you shoot, your so often just like kind of going with the flow and letting them do their thing. How often are you actually like posing hands or moving feet or touching up hair like in shots? Do you kind of just let things happen naturally or when you're actually like on a shoot are you doing more of those small tweaks? Great question and the answer is I don't, I let things flow as much as possible. So hair and makeup would be standing around looking at a monitor possibly or just watching the scenario and they would say to me you know I'd like to step in. If something's wrong, maybe a hem is coming out or a shirts untucked and sometimes that can be great. Sometimes it's adding flavor to the shoot. Sometimes it just looks messy. So a makeup artist or stylist would say I'd like to step in and they respectfully wait for me to get to a breaking point and I'll say okay great, go ahead step in and then they fix the hair and makeup. As far as hands and feet and things like that. I'm watching those things all the time. So when we were actually on the sofa, I wasn't seeing her other leg based on the way we've lit this and that can look awkward. It can look as though she has one leg which we don't want so I that's why I just had to separate her legs. I'm always aware of hands and feet actually. I don't mind cutting people's heads off and you can see a lot of that in my work. I actually think that's... I intentionally do that to feel more intimate. Cutting hands and feet off bothers me. Not always, there's always of course exceptions to the rule but it tends to visually distract me from what's actually happening in the image. So yeah, I do watch that stuff but I think if I'm constantly tweaking and fixing, the subjects becoming more self-conscious. I think that's because that's how I would feel if someone was like constantly doing this, I would be like what am I doing wrong, what's happening, I'm just again, I'm more aware of what's happening and when we're flowing we're just flowing. And I like the off moments and I don't think you can get to those moments when you're okay, look three centimeters to the right, too much, go back, you know. I do move people and I'll say keep looking left, keep looking left, that's great, keep going, keep going. Okay, split the difference. They've gone too far and bring it back. So there are... I am most definitely directing but I'm not nitpicking because that's part of the beauty of the imagery and that comes from my photojournalism side. I really am making this, we're making these moments but I'm also capturing what we're creating. So I think if you're trying to... I think there's a fine line where you can do too much and then it starts to not feel authentic. I noticed that your aperture is around like five to eight as we're shooting, is that pretty common of how you approach that? And also when you focus, do you focus on their face or in the middle of the frame? That makes things goes faster, things like that. Yes, great question. So I definitely change my exposures. I'll change both things, my shutter speed and my F-stops. Generally between five, six, and eight. Sometimes at eleven. Between eleven and eight. Depending on situation. There are times when I shoot so quickly or I have people running through the frame that I'll need a higher F-stop of course. Shutter speed, said it backwards. Where I'll need a higher shutter speed, sorry. I don't actually think about that, that often. It's literally an extension of my hand. I'm just doing it. So the funny that you even noticed it because I wasn't even aware that I was doing it. I just was watching the meter and moving around. Some shots I want more shadows. Sometimes I wanted her skin to be more open so that's kind of intuitive at this point but those are obviously all creative decisions that I'm making and you had another question. Do you see this? This is so beautiful. She's so relaxed. These are the little gifts that people do. I would just, you know. If I were shooting, right, I am shooting. I would just say don't move, this is really great. Because it's just I mean, if you said to somebody can you please interlace your hands in this very interesting way where you just and then lean against the wall. Everyone's like okay, is this right? You can't get these things, they have to happen on their own. Do you have more questions? The focusing point do you focus on their face? Oh yeah, that was the other part. Sorry, I knew there was another part of the question. Yeah, their face. For the most part. Sometimes I end up when they're moving, if when she was jumping on the couch I might have grabbed focus on maybe her hip but if you're selling jeans that's okay. These happy accidents are awesome. Sometimes photos that are in my portfolio and I'm like you want me to do that again? Probably couldn't. Probably couldn't have done it twice if I had tried. So that's sort of what I love about photography though. You just never know what you're going to get that works. So I don't throw anything away. I look at everything at after the shoot. I'm not here deleting because you have to see it big. You have to see what it is and what it feels like. Okay, so I'll keep shooting here. Which I love. So I'm going to have you just sort of take your hair down and kind of shake it out. Good, nice, good. Beautiful. Really nice. This is when the hair person goes can I step in? This is really good, I love it. Go ahead and lean against the wall. I'm going to come in really tight here. Yeah, beautiful. Yeah. So I'm definitely, I was focusing on the eye and recomposing if necessary but really good. Have you turn this way, good. So let's see what happens when we just move our light around. It's probably going to change a lot. But why not? Let's try it. I obviously wouldn't say that if my art director or creative director was on the set. Go hey, let's just try something new. I would be directing them like oh I have a great idea, let's try this. Beautiful. I've done a lot of verticals here. I should do some horizontal. Let me bring you just into the corner. Just go ahead into that corner. Good. Okay. Let me bring you out again and bring you back in. One more time, yeah there we go. My camera wasn't cooperating again so go over here. I also if we were shooting like this and this is really slowing me down because it's taking some time, I would literally rip this cord out like 15 minutes ago and kept shooting because I don't. But I want you guys to see obviously what we're doing. So go ahead, that's beautiful. One more time. I'm about to throw my camera across the wall because I've now missed the shot twice. Okay, here we go. Let's see if my camera wants to catch up, go ahead. Because there's something you're doing, there's something she's doing that I'm seeing that I have to get but I was missing it because my camera was still buffering so go ahead. There I got it. I'll see if it was worth all of that effort. That's perfect. Come on back over. Now, I don't think this sweatshirt necessarily fits the vibe of this. So let me have you change quickly into another dress. We'll definitely shoot some more and I'm going to change lenses because let me just go to the 50 because I can. I have time. So I want to do that. And I think she's going to be back quickly but I could probably answer another question. Why you're choosing to use the umbrellas as opposed to like an octabox? Is it like the depth or how shallow that's feathering the light or is it becoming harsher from that or softer? Okay, so good question because there's definitely... you can definitely do it with larger sources but you lose the depth. I can control each one. These two are... Let's try to bring it sort of back where I had it, which is aiming where I am theory would be but I move around a lot obviously. So this is sort of creating the the window shape, these two and then this one is the one, this feather is actually hitting her. So this is the one that I'm driving to shape her and when all of the sources are really big, you don't have that control. So that's why I do it. There there are of course a lot of ways to reinvent the wheel but this is one I like, that's all. It's good question though. I don't know if I got that picture, let's see. I do like that one though. She just does this thing where she'd fall into the wall and I was hitting the shutter and it wasn't firing and I was like what, no! It's pretty good though. So to that point when Caitlin does come back in, do you want to untether? We can definitely do that since we're going to be looking at the images. I could do that, we'll see when she comes back in because I feel like... I have to see what she's wearing, see what's where it fits in this little scenario. Cool. So I had a somebody asked, Roberta in the chat rooms, can you tell us again what the purpose of the movement because I love how your having her move all around, get up, get down, get up, get down. Sure, sure. The purpose is twofold. I want her to get out of her own head so I want her to be with me, listening to me. I mean, it sort of feels like Simon Says in a way but adult respectful version of that. I mean, we're having fun. This is definitely a more playful shoot but the other purpose of the movement is that's how I get a lot of my in-between moments. Those off moments that I like. Just what I was sort of articulating over here when she was standing there and she had her hands like this. If I had said to her please intertwine your hands and sit here look left, look left. Okay. Too much. She's sort of, am I doing this right? That's not authentic, it's not in it's not a natural way to shoot. So I am not capable of getting the moments that I want by literally saying them. Sometimes I don't even know the moments that I want either, that's the thing. So I can't say I really want you to jump on the couch and when you jump I want your hair to go perfectly to the side. If you start to have the picture too much in your head, it's impossible to get. So I just move around because I think the short answer, which I'm really not good at, is I'm after the energy. That's what I want, I want the energy of what's happening in the room and that's what I'm trying to get. So I think she has a very sweet sort of bohemian vibe and that's what I'm drawing on and that's what I'm trying to capture in this shoot. And I decided that when she walked in the room because that's what what resonated with me. But that's why I have them move around. I also think when there are times if a subject is very still and it's more stoic. And they're quiet. You can have a much more quiet shoot. It can still be about movement and it's to your question, it can still be more about the hands, move your hand here, let's try to go this way. Let's try to go here. So there are times for the movement and not but I do think that directing somebody is very important because otherwise they just look at you and they're like. Now what, what do we do? All right, you ready? All right. So change lenses just because. Like I said, it will feel different. Yeah, you know what let's put you on the ground. I think with the records. Great. So the other thing I try to do as much as possible is vantage points, I want to see something fresh. Something different. I mean, I do, I don't know if you guys do but that's sort of what I'm always aspiring to evolve to. Like what what else can we do that's beautiful that we haven't seen that can be my contribution and I like on a shoot to go super high and super low. So in this case I think I'm going to try to go high but I am not seeing your legs so I need just spread you out a little. So maybe lean this way. So kind of just spread more like this. So instead of being with your legs back here, you're here. And so being willing to get on the floor and talk to your subjects, this is part of connection because if I just stood here and said no, no, move your legs, no, no back that. I mean, that's just hard. That's also making her uncomfortable and as if she's doing something wrong and she's trying to do something that's in my head. So it's actually my responsibility to articulate that. I do like this, I want you to bring it back half an inch. Perfect, great. And feel free to move you don't have to keep them there. So I don't know, here's a ladder. Cool. Ladders are awesome you guys, I use them all the time. I want to move them over here though. Great. Let's see how that light looks. Do you like vinyl, are you a vinyl collector? Not officially but I do have my eye on my dad's collection. Oh yeah. It's already made for you. Oh, that's a good one. This is good. Reach a little bit more forward and down, yeah very nice. Good, I have no idea what our light looks like. Let's see. Pretty good, it looks like a window to me. Let me have you look up towards the light actually so go ahead and take one out and actually take out the record. Yeah, nice. Go maybe hold it up to you. Yep, exactly. And then maybe see and eye, let me have you go like this. This feels like we're in our apartment and I'm your boyfriend. And and you're going through his record collection and you're like I can't believe you have this record. Exactly and you're like well, we don't have enough room in this house, we're selling this one. I can come up with all sorts of bizarre scenarios but it's just sort of to keep people moving and thinking. That's great and let me have you put it back in and then I'll have you put it on the table. Nice. So I think the sketchbook is really interesting that I'm seeing. So what if you were to check out that sketchbook, yeah. And actually maybe sketch, oh, this is nice. This is good. See, she had a better idea than I had. Always listen to her subjects. This is great. So open up ever so slightly towards me. Yep so it's less about what you're drawing, it's just the fact that you are drawing. This is great. Do detail here. Ever so slightly look up straight up to the light, yeah. I like your hair in your face though, that's great. And chin up a little, great. Look down. Just relax for a second. Great. Beautiful. So what if you turned to write on the desk somehow. I'm sort of channeling something. I don't know, it's yep. Something very, I'm going to back up and get this whole thing. Beautiful, go ahead and rest your head on the desk as though you were, yeah, that's great. I'm buffering, so I'm going to dump that because I want to go ahead and edit for you guys. Go ahead and rest your head again a little bit. Yeah, there you go. I don't know what my light's going to be like there. Can I get a show card just to do that. Great. And maybe kind of let your hair sort of fall and yeah and then almost like you're exhausted. So yeah, beautiful. And then maybe bring your head down even a little, yeah. Okay, I'm just going to move this hair, one hair. Thank you. Perfect. Good. Actually like hair in your face, it's amazing. I always fix my thing myself and then it turns out I was right all along. There we go, I love that pearl. Great. Gonna have you swing back around this way. Great. Look off this way, good, go ahead and close up the book. I love how you kind of let your elbow, you should have dropped it, it was amazing. Yeah, that's okay. I'll get there, we'll get it back. That's the thing you have to be able to see something and then get them, at least in this line of work, you have to recreate it if you missed it or you saw something when your camera was down. There are ways to get back there and that's what I think it's important to see these things and everyone's different. She has the most gorgeous hair and I think, and the way she's moving these pages, like these are all beautiful things. And sometimes as soon as I tell her that that's what I'm focusing on, she changes it. So sometimes I will just go in and I start, they still think I'm shooting a full-length or they're still posing with their shoes or something and I'm up here. You don't have to tell people where you're going. So I think this is great. I have a lot of nice images that I love. I hope you've learned something here as far as lighting wise and how I approached it but I will go ahead and edit and show you what my favorites are and why.

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!