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Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 5 of 28

Victoria's Portrait Journey

Victoria Will

Portraits Under Pressure

Victoria Will

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Lesson Info

5. Victoria's Portrait Journey
How did Victoria go from a photo of a croissant at a tabloid newspaper to photographing Brad Pitt? Victoria shares her photography journey and the certain events that led to her success. Gain insight into how she moved from her early works to her current portfolio and stunning photo collections.

Lesson Info

Victoria's Portrait Journey

You guys got to see me shoot a little bit. And sort of a window into how I do that. But I wanted to tell you a little bit about me, a little bit more in depth at least. Sort of explain how I got from the Croissant to Brad. And it all started here. The New York Post. This is a true headline. This is one of their most famous headlines. I don't know if you guys are familiar with the Post. If you're not in New York, I can tell you a little bit about it. It's definitely a tabloid newspaper, very sensational. But that being said, it was an amazing place to work. I thought that I was going to be, start my career as a photojournalist, and I was going to be traveling around the world and going to the West Bank and doing conflict and telling really, you know, dangerous and difficult stories. And that's not the path that ended up happening. I ended up in New York. And as an intern for the New York Post. It was a three month internship, and I left eight years later. Very long internship. After thr...

ee months, I met with the editor, and he said you know what, I'm going to bring you on as a freelancer, and then eventually I was hired as staff. But while it might seem like I was maybe disappointed that I wasn't traveling around the world and doing all those things, I wasn't at all. It was a really interesting education, and just a different path and one that I had to learn how to navigate because it's it's own beast. And after all, someone, I'm very grateful to that person, is paying me to take photos. That was the bottom line. I was 22 and I was thrilled to be paid to work in the way that I wanted to. We're not all that lucky, you know. And it's something we shouldn't take for granted. So I'm going to tell you a little bit about my experience there. Basically while I was there, one of the other photojournalists that was there, had been there for 20 years, said to me, what's going to be your contribution to this paper? And I was like, what do you mean? And he was like, well how are you going to be different than all the other photojournalists? What's going to be your contribution? And I had no idea. I was like that's a heavy question. So I thought about it for a while, and I decided that what interests me was lighting. So I was going to learn to light. And the rest is history. My career went soaring through, no, not at all. It was actually a very, very circular path, a little bit like this, which I've always appreciated. Halfway through my time there, I had sort of an eye opening moment, it was almost soul crushing and uplifting at the same time. I had a really good shoot with a musician. And her publicist said, oh my gosh, that was so great. She really loved you, the images looked great. We should do this again. Can you send me your portfolio? And I, like a had that pit in your stomach feeling, where my stomach just sank. And I was like yeah, sure, totally I'll get that right over to you. Now a couple of things. I didn't have a portfolio at the time, number one. Number two, when I thought about, okay I'm going to go home and put a portfolio together because I'm going to shoot for this record label. This is going to be so great. I looked through my work, and I didn't have anything to show. Now I worked every day, five days a week, and sometimes I shot one story a day. Sometimes I shot five stories a day. So how is it that I was working so hard, but yet I had nothing to put in my portfolio? And I had to sort of grapple with that, and I realized that I didn't feel like I had anything to show because nothing I had had my voice. I wasn't shooting for me. I was shooting for the newspaper, and I was really good at it. I would show up, I would deliver. I would, you know, I'd go to the shoot, I'd come back and edit. The next morning the photos are in the paper. And then I'd do it again, I'd do it again the next day and over and over. So I had this sort of epiphany. Here I was, I had been working for many, many years there, and I had nothing. And I sort of felt almost like a fraud. I was like I hope people don't figure out that I don't actually know what I'm doing. And it took, it took that moment for me to sort of say you know what, it's time to, you have to change that. I'm really, I'm going back to my motto here, but I was really uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable at the idea that I worked so hard and I had nothing to show for it. So I was going to do what I could over the next couple of years or whatever period of time to make work for me. So what I started doing and I had the luxury of having this job, is that I would go to the shoots. I would set up the lights and do what I just did and shoot for them, and as soon as I felt like I got what they wanted, I started shooting for me. And then eventually the two things sort of merged. And I would just show up to shoots and I was able to shoot for me and it still was what my newspaper needed. That was a really long journey. Because every time I went out to shoot, you can't go into a shoot and say I'm going to put my point of view on it today. What's my point of view? You know it's something that develops over time, and I think the way to get there is just to honestly approach it and say what feels right. What is, is this beautiful? Am I getting an emotion out of it? And if you don't like the image, chances are other people aren't going to like it too. So I finally felt like I was building up a bit of a point of view and I left the paper. And I'll tell you a story about the breaking point for me, why I decided I was finally ready to leave. So I was gaining confidence, but leaving a full time job is very stressful for anybody. Security, insurance, like all those things, right. Well I finally made the decision to take the plunge because I was in a bar shooting a trend story. So at the time, and I'm sure they still do this, they would you know do stories about clothing trends, but they'd also do food trends. And one of the trends at the time was a pickle back situation. Do you know what a pickle back is? I know you do, I can tell. It's a shot of Jameson followed by a shot of pickle juice, right, okay. Just so I'm making sure it hasn't changed. But the trend in New York was that oh everyone's doing this thing, pickle backs, but because New York is New York, bars are actually making their own artisanal pickle juice. So I'm in a bar in Midtown setting up lights to light artisanal pickle juice. And I got a phone call from Rolling Stone asking if I could shoot a portrait the next day. And I couldn't because a, I was a staffer. Of course I'm in my head, can I call in sick? Can I do this? Number one I was a staffer and I had work the next day. But I also had a shoot, we were already set up for the next day so I couldn't take the assignment. And it was like a ack, it was terrible. I was so disappointed. And I got off the phone and I was thrilled that I had been asked, thrilled, but equally disappointed. And I turned back and I was like, pickle juice, pickle juice is why I can't, you know. I think I've grown beyond pickle juice, and I'm now ready to invest in myself. That was my defining moment. So I left the paper and started freelancing, taking any kind of job. I shot events, I shot anything. But of course I tried the hardest to get portrait work. And I started to get a bunch of portrait work. And I was plugging along, plugging along, taking portrait after portrait. And things were going well. And I'm going to take you a little bit on an evolution of, a sort of creative evolution of how I got here. So it happened with this photo. So I really was plugging along. I was getting good at this five minute thing, 10 minute portraits. I'd show up, I'd do my jam. I'd go home, I'd edit, I'd send some photos. And then I went to go photograph Brooke Shields when she was on Broadway for the Addams Family, and she was Morticia Adams. So I show up, and I do my thing. We're in a tiny dressing room. And I set up a seamless, and I set up my lights. I have, at the time, I didn't have B one's. I had the 600 B pack. Again I can't plug in in a Broadway house. So I had my battery, put up my beauty dish, I had a strip light. Went to turn on the pack, and my battery was dead. And I was like hmmm, this is going to be really interesting. So I was like okay, think fast Victoria. And I looked in my Pelican and I had brought that 24 prime lens that I showed you. And I was like I guess I'm just going to shoot wide open. In my head I'm like it's going to, the yellow lights, these sort of tungsten-y lights make things yellow and it makes skin tones really tough. And I was like so I'm just going to, with the intent I'm going to make it black and white. So I'm going to shoot wide open, and I said, I remember so specifically I was fussing around and I found the prime and I put it on. And I said, you know what Mrs. Shields, I have a great idea. Would you mind if we actually shot in your dressing room? And she said, yeah, okay, well let me clean up some things and remove some personal items that I don' want seen and yeah, go ahead. She did that, we went in. We shot some stuff here. And made a couple of portraits. This one was my favorite obviously. And she actually sort of was getting ready turning into Morticia, which I loved. And then the shoot was over and I was able to sort of salvage the situation. But it was a really big lesson for me. I would have never made this image if my battery hadn't died. And so it was, I left that shoot going literally like, number one, charge your batteries. Right, number two, you have to, I have to evolve. I have to step out of my comfort zone as much as possible. I have to challenge myself. That's how you continue to keep finding your voice. I'm always going to be doing that. And I'm always going to be changing styles in the sense of what I like. I'll find something that I really like, and I'll shoot it a lot. And then three weeks later I'm over it and want to move on to something else. What's consistent throughout it, is not the lighting style, but what I'm bringing to the shoot, which is my energy, my connection, what I'm getting from people. That's not changing.

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!