Powerful Portraits using Body Language and Lighting

Lesson 36/39 - Shoot: Break Down Barriers With Your Subject


Powerful Portraits using Body Language and Lighting


Lesson Info

Shoot: Break Down Barriers With Your Subject

How are y'all feeling about the information you got? I see a lot of mixed messages coming from your facial expressions. Mostly enthusiastic, but definitely a lot of information to take on. Just remember that each and every one of you have already had this inside you, this ability to read body language. It's instinctual between all of us, just has maybe been more in the subconscious, and then the last two days, we've brought it into our conscious awareness. And I want you to to bring that forward with your photo shoots, keeping that idea of reading communication, non-verbal communication in your conscious mind. With this last segment, we're really going to break down the idea of introducing that first impression, getting to know an individual, finding ways to break through the barriers that we as individuals personify or project when we meet a stranger. I'm gonna do my best to read their personality, assess that personality, and maybe associate the proper light that best amplifies that ...

persona. And from there, I'm going to use my tools of communication, exchange, bonding through touch, through words and nonverbal communication, to have that individual emote, and to give me the opportunity to make several frames that showcase that emotion. I've never met these folks before, so this will be really, really interesting, and this will show you just what it's like for me every day. So who do we have lined up first? Jen. Jack? Jen. Jen, okay, Jen. This is exciting. Bring on Jen. Hey, Jen. Hello. Hi. Hey, I'm Stacy. I'm Jen. Jen, very nice to meet you. Nice to meet you. You too. Come on. Thanks. So we've got this little stool set up. Okay. You can just have a seat for me for a moment. How you doing? Good, how are you? Welcome to the set. Thank you. These are my best friends. (laughter) And they're along this journey with the both of us. Okay, Jen. Are you from Seattle originally? I'm not, I grew up in Sacramento. California. So, you're still a West Coaster, though. Mostly, yeah, yeah. I was born in Michigan, but mostly grew up in Sacramento. Oh, you glazed over that part. What part of Michigan? I was there for two years of my life, when I was a little baby. Traverse City. My dad lives in Traverse City. Oh nice. Yeah, Cherry Capital. Have you been back? I have a couple times, when I was really young. It's beautiful up there, especially in the summer. But, yeah. Ever make it to Mackinac Island? I have before. Probably when I was 15 or something. But still old enough to remember. Yeah. Okay. It was cool. And what brought your family to Sacramento? I think my mom and dad just literally got in a car when I was two and drove south and west, and they were like, oh let's just try Arizona, and my mom wasn't having it 'cause there were no trees, and then they drove up the coast, and finally they got to Sacramento, and she was like, there are trees here, let's stop, let's just live here. So that's what happened. Okay, so I don't know California all that well, I haven't spent a whole lot of time, but Sacramento, that's basically where the big Sequoia trees are? No, it's more of a valley, think more like Steinbeck, like creeks and kind of oaks, lots of oak trees, and in the summer, it gets really, really hot, and dry, and so a lot of the grasses turn yellow and die off, so it's really pretty in the spring, and then in the fall, but in the summer it's just super hot and dry. But it's also very much like a farming area, lots of a farming towards the west, and then north and south. And it was a cool place, it was a cool place to grow up. I won't be able to visit very often anymore, just 'cause I don't have much family there. Where is your family now then? My mom lives in Idaho. Okay. Her husband is about 13 years older than her, and very Republican, and he was like, I'd like to retire in a Red state. It was like, okay, so. Okay. They're in a beautiful place in Coeur d'Alene, it's beautiful, it's a really nice place, and the people are really nice, and they're happy, so that's good. So your step-dad then is very conservative, and you said it like your mother isn't, and she's just along for the ride? She is, too. Why do you say that with such trepidation? I don't, 'cause sometimes I feel like she, I feel like she has instincts that are not necessarily super Conservative, and yeah. She's a cool person, I don't think she realizes how powerful and strong she is, and I think progressive, too. I think of her as my main parent, of the people that raised me, she was single mom for the most part, and my sister's getting married in August, and it was kind of this hard thing, my dad is going through a rough time right now, and hasn't always been in the picture, not a very good dad, and he asked if she could, he was gonna walk her down the aisle, and she was like, I'm sorry, I don't feel like that's what's gonna happen. And then my mom was like, is your step-dad gonna walk you down? And she was like, I don't wanna hurt dad's feelings by having my step, you know what I mean? Just like, you're really the parent of us, so she was like, I wanna honor that. It's kind of sad, and kind of, but that's our family, you know? It takes all kinds. Yeah, and what about you? Do you have a family of your own? Nope. I have a boyfriend that I really like, and maybe, some day. Boyfriend, if you're watching. Maybe, some day. Yeah. Oh he, he knows. No pressure, though, just saying. Cool. What brought you to Seattle, was it work? No, I graduated college, and it was going to be a temporary thing. I got in my car and met up with a girlfriend that wanted to just live here for the summer, and eleven years later, it turned into home. Were you up here backpacking, sleeping on the street? No, no, we subletted a student's housing near the university area, and it was just gonna be for those three months, during the summer, and then those three months were up, and we just found other apartments on Craigslist. We both stayed. And then it just eventually kept finding jobs, and... Did you go to school after all? Yeah, UC Davis. I graduated from, which is just west of Sacramento. Okay, so did you do that before you made your pilgrimage to Seattle? Uh-huh. I see, okay. And you were graduating, you were like, well, let's go on this little adventure. Yeah. Okay, that takes a lot of courage, to just go out and try a new place. Yeah. I didn't think it at the time, 'cause I guess I didn't know it was gonna be forever. But yeah, I just got in my car and drove up here. You were just like ba-ba-ba! Duh-duh-duh, this isn't scary at all, nothing bad can happen. I'm here. Cool. Should I sit up. Just relax. You got it. You're doing everything I need you to do. So tell me about this boyfriend of yours. How'd you meet? Mr. Maybe One Day. We met in improv class last year. So you're an actress? Yeah, I have a degree in theater. Oh, this could be fun. Could be fun. Could be very fun. Great. You have a very classic Hollywood look about you. Has anyone ever told you that? Mmhmm. Okay, well. Thank you, you've confirmed it, thank you. Yay. I'm gonna have you come around this way for me. Good, keep coming, right there. Alright, too much, come back. And this way, and that, and now we're dancing, I'm only kidding, okay. Can you turn this way? Too much. And now turn this way. Good. (light audience laughter) Did you think this would ever happen at work before? I've modeled for a few of our classes. But it has never been like this. How do you mean? What does that mean? I think, it's a good thing. I've never been interviewed about who I am or what I'm from or, yeah. Really, in all the people that photographed you, they never talked? Isn't that something? To be fair, I'm not sure that's what the... What the premise of the class was? Yeah, that wasn't the thing being taught at the time. I see. I don't know, it'd be weird, like here, sit here, don't say anything. Yeah. Just sit there and be pretty, why not? Okay. So you met at improv class. Who's better? (audience laughter) He would say that I am, but he would say that, too, so I don't feel bad saying it. Saying that you're better? I don't think he likes it. Well then, what the heck was he doing there? He was trying to pick up chicks. He was a drummer, and he hurt his wrist. So he was trying to find other things to do. Fill the space? Yeah, find another hobby. I see. And he really likes comedy, so he thought improv, and, I don't think he likes it as much as he thought he would. Do you think that you have the ability to let go and be somebody else for a moment, as a control, you think? Like he doesn't like to control? Maybe. You know, I don't know. I think he prefers being himself, so maybe that is part of it. He did take a stand-up class here, and he did great. I thought he did a great job. Of course, the topic of his set was me. Oh, so naturally it brought the best in him. Yeah, it was really sweet. Like, the first time he told me he loved me, it was like in this recital set. It was really sweet. The first time he told you he loved you, he was faking it? No, no, no! It was a stand-up routine, so it was like, you share a bit of your life, it's more of like, you know. And he was like, I say I love you to everybody, and I haven't told my girlfriend, and what if she dies, was like the whole premise. And so the whole thing was like, here are the awful ways she could die, and I haven't told her, and it's giving me a lot of anxiety, and it was really sweet. (audience laughter) Right, it's funny, like yeah. Okay, interesting. When is your sister getting married? August, August 18. And where does she live right now? She's is Sacramento. Oh so she stayed? She did stay. I don't know if she'll stay there forever, but, yeah. I'll be visiting her in July. I don't get down there that much, so I'm excited to... What I'd like you to do is look toward that gentleman who's kind of squirreling around on the floor over there, and give me your best improv, boss man of the studio. I'm like, I don't know what that means. I'm only kidding! (audience laughter) Is that what she really looks like? She used to be my boss. Okay, I'm gonna have you just relax for a second. How's your relationship with your sister? Good, yeah. It's like, getting better every year that passes. How close in age are you? Six years, so she's younger than me. Oh wow. So did you have to take on sort of a motherly hen role? Yes, but really reluctantly. I really hung onto that only child rule real hard. Why is that you think? I'm selfish? You think you're selfish? Well, yeah. Huh, that's pretty candid. I've never had anybody reveal that stuff about themselves. I think that most people don't like to think of themselves as selfish. I don't think it's necessarily, it can be a bad thing, but I think there's a level of it you need to have in order to help other people, I guess. Just relax. Okay. You're doing good. Don't over think it, we're just having a conversation. And so your mother lives in Idaho with her make America great man. Mmhmm. Okay. And he is great. He's a Vietnam vet, retired. He's a good person. Of course he is. I wonder if there's any feeling that you're, you're sort of in, is Seattle considered more of a liberal city? Do you consider yourself more of a liberal-minded woman? I think so. Is that what you have kind of conflict with about how your beliefs versus your mom's, or how your perceive your mom to be? Yeah, I think that does happen. Okay. And where does your sister stand on all of this? She's pretty mutable. But I know she's her own person. I think she doesn't care much about politics, and... Think she's just focused on trying to live her life and survive, which is fair. Mmkay. So she's six years younger. Can I ask how old you are? I'm 35. Darcy, she's 35. Time to put this one out to pasture. Dang it, Darcy, what? She's past her prime. It's true, I mean, yeah. Just make me invisible now. Should we all just have bags over our heads that just says our age after a certain, like you don't have to look at this, it's fine. (audience laughter) Tell me about your relationship with your dad, do you maintain any kind of connection? Yeah, we do. We were really close when I was a kid. He came out to my mom when I was eight, and we moved away a year later, and then he contracted HIV, and so we moved back to Sacramento, and then he moved away a few years later, so from the age of 13, we were apart, and so he was more of like a Christmas card, summer, once a year kind of dad. Lately it's been a little rough. He admitted to me several months ago that he had been addicted to meth and was seeking treatment, and it was kind of a shock, but also not so surprising. He's been a little bit distant the last five years. But I think he's doing better, but still, it's been a little hard. How are you coping? I think I'm okay. I think my strategy has just been to stay super busy, and that time is coming to an end, so maybe I'm gonna have to feel some things. It's really sad to see someone you love struggle like that. And... It's also hard to say, hey, your absence has really affected me in this way, 'cause that person's also really sensitive to it, and it just exacerbates how badly they're feeling. And it's like a no-win situation. I think what you just said there seems completely opposite of how you described yourself, because that seems wholly unselfish to me. It's really thoughtful of you. Here's my take on it. Here's how I think it's selfish. I think it would be harder for me if he did something like, took his own life, or was feeling so bad that he wouldn't help himself, and so my way to like manipulate the situation to protect myself is to try and make sure that he has what he needs emotionally to keep going. And I've said as such to him. I've been like, the only think you can do for me now is to get through this. (camera clicking) What do you do to lift yourself up? Um... Dance. I've been swing dancing since high school. So not only do you have the old world look about you, but you actually know the moves, too? Seriously? It's a lot of fun. I like love hate you right now. (laughter) Rotate to your left a little bit. Good, just relaxed forward, actually, like you were. Perfect, 'kay. Go ahead, all the way down. That's good, perfect. Bring your chin back this way a bit. Good, tilt. Oh I'm sorry, I just like stabbed you. You don't need that, do you? Tilt. Eyes right about here, bring your chin up just about right there. Eyes. Ah, ah, ah, ah. Just kidding, no. I'm just messing with you, sorry. If you could say one special wish to your sister on her wedding day, what is it gonna be? I hope it's the best day of her life. And what about Mr. Maybe One Day? I feel like it's Mr. Done Deal Day. He's pretty great, so, he has said like, if you wanna get married, I'm okay with that. Like, cool, yeah, let's do that. Do you have any cats or dogs? I have a cat. Sorry! Safe space, right, it's okay to like cats, okay. It's everybody has a cat here. Yeah. Okay, thank you so much. Thank you. Really, we're gonna shake hands? Oh no! We've been through so much together. Thank you. Even Charlie says he needs a hug, too. Oh, Charlie. Isn't he the best? He's so cute You are absolutely amazing. Thank you. Thank you for allowing me into your personal space and sharing those stories. It really means a lot. Thank you, it was so nice to meet you. It was an honor. I think I need another hug. Thank you so much. Everybody give her a hand please. (applause) If we can get the lights up, please. Flip these off. She's amazing, right? Were you all bawling? Let's talk about that from start to finish. What did you feel when she first came into the room? (audience murmuring) Bubbly. Do you think that she could have maintained that? Do you think that was a projection, a safety net? (audience murmuring) How long did it take to break through that? A few minutes. What tactics and what techniques, what approaches did I use to help calm that anxiety, that nervous bubbliness? Touching the hair. Touching hair. Complimenting. Just digging deeper questions. Continuing dialog. Genuine dialog, not superficial how was the weather today. Any other things that you took of note? You started with a high note. You did like the background at the beginning as the high note, and then you found the deeper what's going on, then you turned that off and put that aside, and continued on with the Rembrandt. The mood of the light changed as her mood changed, did you see that? So let's look at that together. I'm going to pull up the grid over here. Squeak! Do I need sound effects? Okay. We're gonna scroll all the way down to the top. Now I also started a little looser, as well. So I gave her a visual space to animate, and to sort of release that energy that she has sort of pent up from anxiety. I gave her the space she needed. You notice, when she came in, I knew she had that anxious energy, and so I didn't have my camera up right away. I gave her physical space. Did you see me hanging in her space at all initially? No, I gave her a little bit more space, and sort of non-verbally asked permission to come forward and come forward. And Kenna and I talked about this, that that's also a technique to gradually work one's way into personal bubbles in a slow and methodical way. So I gave her the opportunity to do what she likes to do, which is improv and just kind of shake off that energy. It was a way to vent, let a little steam out of the pot. Let her do something that she likes. And what was great was, did I really drill down and ask her to be so revealing? What did I do that helped open that floodgate? (audience murmuring) I used these and not this. So when I allowed space, non-verbal gestures came through, she communicated through her face and her body and her energy, but not only that, I allowed her the time and the space to share her story willingly without forcing that. That takes a lot of trust and a lot of faith, and so I'm always very, very thankful that people have that trust and faith in me. So again, it's being mindful, the story's about them, not about me, and making sure that I allow that to happen. What do you think about the light choices? I feel like it represents her, because she has a kind of vintage style, and so that's why you chose to go with that light. You think I went with Rembrandt 'cause of classic? Yeah. So I tossed all the mood out the window. Well... Would frontal lighting have worked in this particular emotion? No. And I knew this was coming. Once we get more attuned to body language and energy and personality, we're gonna know that that barrier's gonna break down. It's not just gonna break down, it's gonna crumble, and it's gonna be fast. You won't have time to transition your lights to airy and bubbly and high-key, to the more dramatic. 'Cause I knew that this was gonna be the picture, I saw it in a fleeting glimpse. So I need to be six, eight steps ahead if possible. That one. (light laughter) So for me, the moment was right before Kenna gave me time, which was actually really great timing. I like that moment. I like when she's looking up, because even when she had some challenging things she's dealing with, she seemed really optimistic about all of it. What was it about her body language that gave you that clue? Well, she kept looking up. Yeah, she was looking up. Thinking about the possibilities, like what could be. She was looking up to the left, meaning that she was kind of recalling good memories, good times, information that was already in her data bank. She was looking at the past, to better project the future, her chin is up, and inviting, and she's thinking, and she's hopeful, right? But then she also looked down a lot, too, and closed her eyes a lot. Yeah, and what does that mean? Well, it seemed to me like she needed to pause as she moved forward, so she was really in the emotional moment. What does closing the eyes do, though? Well, it's a separation. It blocks, right. When an individual closes their eyes, they're blocking themselves from the conversation and the emotion that's happening. They're basically saying, okay, that's enough of that for a minute. Taking a breath and then coming back to it. So all of those things, and I embrace when one closes their eyes, 'cause that's an emotional outlet. So all of these things were really, really beautiful. And again, what do you think about the final picture? (audience murmuring) She's beautiful, right? Inside and out.

Class Description

Over fifty-five percent of communication is done through non-verbal gestures. It’s essential for photographers to understand the fundamentals of body language in order to better communicate with their clients. In this class, award-winning photographer Stacy Pearsall teaches how to make solid first impressions with your subject through the use of body language.

With her honest and straightforward teaching style, you will learn how to:

  • Observe and decipher non-verbal cues
  • Use light and shadow to convey emotion and create a mood
  • Utilize appropriate lighting for specific personalities
  • Use body language techniques to capture authentic expressions from your subject

During live photo shoots, Stacy will explain and demonstrate from start to finish how to connect with subjects through positive body language, maintain connection by touch and energy, and capture their true likeness with gesture and light. By the end of this class, you will have the tools and confidence to photograph your clients to show their authentic personalities.


Julie V

I had the chance to sit in the audience and absolutely loved this class! First of all, Stacy is very funny and is really good at explaining and showing examples of the body language. I loved learning about how to read people faces and body to know more about them. And recommended the class to my husband who is a therapist for this reason. The other part of the class was so awakening, I never really thought about how having the wrong lighting for someone's personality would bring something off on the picture. Once again, Stacy was amazing at explaining why this lighting would work with one person and not another by showing us examples. If you want to bring your subject personality into life on photos, I highly recommend this class!

a Creativelive Student

This class is amazing! Stacy is an awesome person and listening to her teach and review the class concepts was so easy and fun and entertaining! It is jam packed with information on how to connect with talent and clients. Plus you get to see Stacy in action with subjects in the Demo and Shoot videos. I highly recommend this class! I learned so much and feel so much more comfortable and confident working with a variety of people now.

Jovi Jhash

wow, what an amazing class to learn from. you covered all from body language to storytelling and to reveal almost the true souls of the subjects through portraits. Amazing work and thank you so much, Stacy and creative live team. Stay blessed