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Introduction to Direction

Lesson 22 from: Editorial Portrait Photography for High School Seniors

Dan Brouillette

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Lesson Info

22. Introduction to Direction


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


How to Make Senior Photos Stand Out


What is Lighting in Layers?


Build a Lighting Foundation


Layer One: Main Light


Layer Two: Fill Light


Layer Three: Accent Light


Layer Four: Additional Light


Lesson Info

Introduction to Direction

All right, so we've already covered the foundation of lighting. We've covered outdoor lighting, and then we've put all that lighting into use in the studio with our model, Cooper, in the last segment. We went over everything from placement, lighting placements, one light, two lights, using a reflector as fill, accent lights and all that. Now, what we're gonna do is bring it all together with actually working with our model and adding direction into it, so for me direction is important when working with models, seniors, anybody who you're working with in front of your camera because that's where you get your personality. It can be a soft, subtle look, but it's where you get somebody to get into their comfort zone. It doesn't have to be someone yelling into the camera and acting. It depends on their personality, so for me that's where being able to read the subject and figure out what you want them to feel, how you want their personality to match the lighting, the mood, everything like t...

hat, bringing it all together. So, we're gonna talk about direction, how I direct seniors, models, and anybody else to get what I want and the feel that I see within the photo. Here's a couple examples we'll go through just to start. This was from a shoot. She was a senior. This was a couple of years ago. It was again something where it was light and airy. We had this great outdoor light, back lit, and the outfit she was wearing just seemed like a California, something that was more uplifting and upbeat, so I just had her spinning in place. And, I'll show you how I direct people to get a look that's flattering because you can spin in place and not look good. Also, reading where your light's coming from and getting the model into a position where they're always gonna look flattered within the shot. So, we'll talk about that. This is almost the opposite. We had something that's more candid direction before. This is someone who, this is a look that was specific to the sport he was playing. We're in basketball, we're on the court. Again going with what I said earlier, I love the composition and designing the shot beforehand, so I saw the lines on the basketball court. I had actually seen a Gatorade ad or something that had a similar perspective, so similar to what I ended up doing. I stood on an upside down garbage can. This was two lights. One light off to the right which was our main light on him, and then another light which as an accent light up in the left corner, you can't see it. There were two beauty dishes that was giving him that little bit of edge light. You can really see it on his sweatpants, and then I just told him. We picked a spot, and I said, "All right, you're just driving to the hoop, "and here's where I'm gonna take the shot." And, he just did it over and over until we got to a spot where he's looking up at the basket towards that main light. So, it was all set up technically, and then I just let him do his thing over and over, but as far as direction he wasn't so comfortable with spinning in place. It didn't fit. It didn't fit the model or the scenario, so for me it's reading the situation and knowing this guy's comfortable. He brought a basketball. He's a basketball player. Let's put him in his comfort zone, so he's not so worried about the photo, and I'll get him doing something that's natural to him, and I'll just document it in a way that fits my vision. This is again the exact opposite. This is more of a quiet moment. This was at a shoot last year. We were in this old house. Again from a technical standpoint, I see this image as a horizontal as a shot, but when I was setting it up I thought we have this. All the color palette is soft and light and airy, and we have this quiet moment. For me setting this up there was a mirror in the room that wasn't there, but I thought all right, this is just asking to be in the photo as a nice reflection, so figuring out how to implement depth. I almost want it to be like I was a fly on the wall. This chair was not in there. I actually put that in there to add a little bit of depth to the shot, so you're looking through something. And, also sitting at a low angle so the table's coming into the shot, capturing the bottom of the table just to not cut it off, and then putting her right in the middle of the frame with her reflection. And, then as far as direction we were pretending that she was Cinderella in her own little world looking out the window, wondering what could be out there. And, as she was doing that she was messing with her hands, so I was like, "All right, keep doing that. "Just run your fingers up and down your forearm" just to get this quiet moment where it's not so much of dribbling a basketball to the hoop, but something that's a bit more subtle, flattering, keeping her face, knowing that the light's coming in that window. So, all right we want to keep short lighting. You're either gonna look down at your wrist or out the window, so I could control the light. And, all these things are thought about in the making of the shot, and then it all comes together once we can interact. So, that's the story behind that. Over this segment we're gonna cover the basic idea of direction in portraits, the non-posing aspect. There is a little bit of posing involved as far as getting flattering photos 'cause the goal with any of my photos if it's of an old guy on a racetrack or a model in studio I want everyone to be able to look at the photo and be like, "I look pretty good." So, I want to be able to create flattering photos of anybody. I want them to see the photo and like it and want to share it. I want to get people into that mode where they know that these photos are gonna be a good photo of them, so the direction that I'm showing them will lead them to having a flattering photo. How to make a connection, so we're gonna go over how I connect with seniors, models, anybody 'cause the key to any photo shoot is having a connection with the subject whether it's just the fact that they trust you to make a good photo or knowing more about their story, so you can tell that within the photo. With every photo shoot I do with seniors we do a photo booth warm up. Every person's been in a photo booth or are at least familiar if you've been to a wedding. I know growing up as a kid there was a photo booth outside of the movie theater, so it was the old one where you put in a dollar, and you got the four pictures on the film. And, everybody knows you have two seconds to determine what goofy face you're gonna make in a photo booth. So, I make my seniors do that to start every shoot. Sometimes they want me to do it first. So, it's just an icebreaker where you let loose, get rid of the nerves, get rid of that stiffness that everybody has when they're about to have a photo shoot especially if they're not a model and they're not used to having a photo shoot. I don't do the photo booth with the law firm shoots or the bankers, but that's another story, but for seniors the photo booth works, and it's a fun way to start all the shoots. And, then again even with the photo booth or any shoot catching the moments between the moments, and we'll talk about that more in-depth when we get to that slide. Let's start with direction. So, genuine expression to me is almost the key to any photo. You can go to a photo competition, like a PPA run competition or a photo competition within a magazine, any of those type of things, and I always feel that one of the things that's missing from a judging panel is the score for genuine expression. There's always composition, all the technical things, lighting, color, retouching, all that, but I feel like a lot of them miss that genuine expression, the emotion that you get from an image. And, to me and a lot of people that's one of the most important aspects. I know a while back I had a meeting. It was with a photo editor in New York, and she had shown me some of the favorite images from my portfolio and then some other ones that they had ran recently within their magazine, and there was one that she showed me, and I had noticed it before when I look at the magazine. It was out of focus just a touch, you know. The general population might not notice, but as a photographer you look at it, and you're like that's not even sharp. And, she was sure to point that out to me as well when I was in the meeting, and she said, "The reason why I picked this is that mood, "the emotion that that'll bring from our reader "and that came out of that image is worth way more "than the technical aspect of if that were perfectly sharp "and it didn't have that emotion." That spoke to me, and that's something I always remember too. I try an create sharp images, but the expression and that emotion is key because that's something that'll keep you looking at a photo and remembering it. Also, keeping the direction simple and natural. A lot of people hear the word direction, and they're thinking Martin Scorcese or something like that. We're not creating a feature film here. We're just trying to get frames of real people who look like themselves that would capture that personality and it's genuine and authentic, so you don't need to reinvent the wheel. It might be something of just as simple as telling them where to look or key words that get them to give the look you want or the look that you feel fits the scene, and I'll show you some of the things that I do to get those looks and some of them are really subtle. And, then using scenarios. These can be a little more grand in scale as far as actual direction, and I'll have a few samples of that where I'll show you some photos that I've done where we gave actual scenarios to people and they act those out. They get more in the moment of acting or living out that scenario and almost forget that the camera is on them, but it's set up still to create a flattering photo. And, it's a fun way to really interact if you have seniors who are involved in different activities, sports, anything like that. To take what they're comfortable and good at which is those activities and get them involved in those and you just capture it, it sets you up for success because they're gonna look like themselves because they're doing what they naturally do. You're just there to capture it and make sure all the technical details are in line beforehand. All right, continuing on. Again, understanding what is flattering and why. You know, even something as simple as which foot you stand on can be more flattering. You know, a lot of times when I'm photographing people it's like, "All right, keep your weight on your back foot" just to keep hips away from the camera because as photographers we know anything closer to the camera is gonna look larger, and most people don't want their hips looking larger. Little tips that I can educate my client on beforehand so they naturally fall in line, I'll do that. Again, as photographers it's understanding why those things are flattering because then when you're shooting you can make sure that your subject, senior, whoever looks their best even if they don't actually understand why you can give them those little tips. And, we'll go over a few of those as well. Keeping things moving. There's nothing that kills the mood more than you having to look at your camera, as I said before, not knowing all the technical stuff beforehand. So, being able to keep things moving and keep your attention on them even if it's moving from pose to pose and creating a little bit of flow so that they're not standing their stagnant and having that time to think like, "Am I doing something wrong?" Or, getting bored. That's the worst, so anything that you can do to keep things moving and keep them going is key because then you'll keep that personality showing. Also, educating your seniors. That goes with what's flattering. A lot of times to start a session and even before the session we'll go over everything from clothing selection to little posing tips to how they could do for hair and makeup, things like that that ensure that the day is gonna go as smooth as possible and they're gonna like the photos because there's nothing worse than you give somebody all their photos and you don't get the reaction you want. They're like, "Oh, okay." It might not necessarily be your fault, but even something as simple as, "Well, I don't really like my hair in these." Yeah, that's not your fault as a photographer, but it's something you can address beforehand to make sure they know what's gonna work best. I remember one story in particular. I had a girl a couple of years ago who beforehand decided that she was gonna go to a hair salon and basically do something crazy with her hair that she doesn't normally do, but it was also a windy day. Things got out of hand. A couple of pins got moved. She had never done her hair that way. The hairstylist was at the shop, so she didn't know how to fix it. So, the whole shoot she was uncomfortable. Her hair looked great if you ask me, but on the back end her expression was never genuine because she was so worried about her hair the whole time. So, now I tell the seniors at a pre-session consult don't do anything that you don't normally do unless you're bringing the stylist along because if you don't know how to fix it you're gonna be worried about that, and that's gonna show in your expression and your personality because anytime you're worried about something other people might not be able to know, but when you look at those pictures even if you look great you're gonna be remember, "Oh, but my hair wasn't how I wanted." Something as simple as that, so I try and educate everybody beforehand how to look their best and how to get rid of the worries, so that way we can make sure that on the backend they love the images even if it's something that's out of your control. All right, how to make a connection. Getting to know your client. A lot of times every session that we do we have a pre-session consultation, so this can be, you know, you can do it over the phone. I like to do it in person because I like to see who I'm working with. I like to be able to see their face. I like to be able to see their personality. Are they really outgoing? Are they someone who's shy that I know I'm not gonna be able to pull as much out of or I'm gonna have to work harder? Are they someone who is involved in different activities at school that they want to show that off? It gives me a chance to talk face to face, see where they're at. Another thing I do is we have a questionnaire that we send out with all of our info beforehand. It's something as simple as where do they shop, what kind of music do they like, what do they like to drink? This can enhance the experience that you're giving them as far as providing things that they like, but it also lets you know if you have someone that likes to shop at Urban Outfitters and stores like that you know they might have a little more edge, a little more of that style, whereas if you have someone who's more on the reserved side. We have some country-ish stores in our area where if they're going there I'm thinking, okay, I know which direction this is gonna go even as much as the lighting because you can tell by the style. So, it just helps you get a little more knowledge of your client. The other thing I like to do is we talked about that at the pre-session consult is I like to have them bring in a sample of clothing. So, it's what are you thinking, where do you want to go? Because as a photographer, similar to knowing where they shop, seeing some of the stuff they bring in you'll get an idea of colors. You'll get an idea of general styles. And, I always like to go over locations at that time too, so I can start thinking about where we're gonna go. I know earlier we spoke about having a library of locations in my head, but if they have something they want to do or if it's something specific that we actually need to plan for I want to know all that stuff at the consultation 'cause that's typically two weeks before the session, so I have a little time to prep and make sure that we're on the same page and we're fully prepared to give them the full experience that they want. And, that way they're not throwing it at me the day of. So, this would be an example. I talked about the photo booth. This is an example of this senior. To give you a little context of the story, before she came in her mom told me, "We really love the editorial, magazine images "that are candid. "We want something black and white, "and I just want it to be candid." Well, this girl came in and she's awesome, but she was, like a lot of the girls we have come in for the first time who aren't used to being on camera, she was stiff. So, you know, it's like how do you break the ice? So, this is an example. I do that photo booth thing. It's not because I want to get a picture of someone making a kissy face to the camera or throwing up a peace sign. I want to capture the moments that happen in between when you start laughing because you're acting ridiculous or because things happen. I don't even remember what she did, but I just keep shooting. So, let's say the photo booth thing is go, go, go, go, and we get six to eight different images I keep shooting in between because these are the shots that happen when they're laughing in between the photo booth stuff, and then this is what they ultimately bought to put on the wall which is cool to me because it's this candid look, it's this pretty black and what that I like, and it's a real expression. And, that's what the mom wanted, so we delivered on that. And, I had to do a little bit more to pull it out of her as far as the shoot goes, but again it was one of those things where at the backend when that was the image that they selected I was pretty happy because it wasn't your typical just staring at the camera head and shoulders shot. It was something that was an actual moment that was caught, that was her personality coming through. Her mom saw it, and was like, "That's her," so that was good. Again, that leads us into moments between moments, so I'm always shooting. That's why a typical two hour session has 800, 900 shots because you never know what expression's gonna pop out in-between the moments, and if you're creating these scenarios and things for people to do it's getting their mind off of the photo shoot and onto other things, and that's when real expression comes out. You just need to keep shooting, and I'm gonna show you another example of that. The direction you give will lead to these moments, so this next one I'm just gonna get. Pay attention to natural tendencies. I know earlier I showed you the shot, it's actually the one on the homepage, of the kid sitting in front of the trailer. You know, how he sat that was his comfort zone of sitting with one knee up, slouching down, hands together. He was messing with his fingers. That was a natural tendency, and that was just a moment 'cause it looked real 'cause it was. That was actually him. And, then using your resources. A lot of people, whether you're shooting on location or if you have people who brought in props, whether it's the ball that Cooper brought in last segment, anything from activities, even clothing alone, use those to your advantage because they're things that they can play with naturally. I know you'll see in the pre-shoot video we had both of the seniors, they brought in different clothing. Anything from adjusting sleeves to messing with rings to zipping up jackets to tying shoes, any of those things that you can use to your advantage that they naturally do, that you can give them a task, and then photograph that. By paying attention to the natural tendencies you can get those moments, and the other thing is when you are directing pay attention to little things. This was a shot where she was also kind of shy. I had her, basically she had to look straight at me. So, to go to the technical side of it, the light is coming from our left. There's a wall right here, so she's looking out towards the light, so she's short lit, looking over her shoulder. So, I knew the light was flattering. It was a little bit windy. I just had her keep looking back, going like this, looking over her shoulder, so she would always be in the flattering light. And, I am shooting in the 50's, so I'm two feet from her face which is kind of uncomfortable. She started smiling because it was funny. I don't even know what I was saying. But, she started off serious, and slowly the expression got more and more real. And, we probably shot 80 shots of her doing this which is ridiculous, but then this was able to be put together into a four image collage or something like that which it captures a full range of a soft moment, something going on with the hair, a genuine smile, and then another soft moment. It captured the full gamut of her personality in four shots. I took way more than that, but it was also every shot was flattering because the posing and all the technical stuff was thought out beforehand, and then on the backend knowing this light and airy mood with the back lighting, we toned it that way. So, it's a little bit grainy, a little warm, and has the yellow toning going on. So, it's just a nice, warm shot. Okay, so now into a couple of moments that I can tell you that are more scenario based. This was shot a couple of years ago. This was a senior. Her name is Summer. She was super outgoing, she is super outgoing, one of those people who is just high energy. She really wanted to do whatever, jump around, someone who is not shy, and I got that within the first two minutes that I met her. I thought, all right, this is gonna be a good one because not only is she photogenic, she also is high energy, so she put on this dress, and I don't remember the exact situation. We were talking about prom, and this was not the exact prom dress. It doesn't look like a prom dress. It looks like a cocktail dress, but I said, "All right, well you are the sassy one "who's going to prom in this." And, the story behind this was, from a technical standpoint, I saw the coolness. I don't know, this is how my brain works. I saw these lines and perspective of the green bushes. I saw the cool concrete and the cool sky above, so I just wanted to sandwich is all together and create that perspective. The problem was there was this dappled light because the sun is up off to our left coming through another tree, and anybody who's shot under a tree with the sun coming through you know you get a splotch of light right here, one right here, shadow. You can see it on the bushes. That was happening. So, I thought all right well we're gonna have to light this to bring it all together, so I took the bigger soft lighter umbrella, the 46 inch, and it's just outside of the frame to the left 'cause I wanted to give a wide area of light, and we shot that right here, so it was up high coming back. And, what we did is we took a leaf and put it on the ground right here. And, one thing that we'll go over tomorrow, and I'll go over right now, is anytime you're having somebody walk, this goes to educating your client and getting flattering shots, the most flattering part of any walk is when that front foot is down and that back heel is coming off the ground. Right here. If you look up images from Fashion Week or whatever, you'll see all these shots from the end of a runway, and they're all of the same point. That front foot is down, and that back heel is coming up, so that's what's going on here. I told her we're gonna put this leaf down here, and similar to keeping your hips away from the camera I wanted that front leg across 'cause it's more flattering, so you're gonna stomp that right foot on this leaf every time you come in. That also happened to be where the sweet spot of the light was set up, so in her mind she's just thinking, "All right, I'm gonna walk and hit this leaf," and every time we get there I'm gonna take a picture because that's the most flattering spot. Then to take it to the next level, she wasn't quite giving the attitude we wanted. So, I was like, "All right, Summer. "You're at prom, and your dates being a total jerk. "All you girls are leaving, and your guy's sitting back "on the steps begging you to come back." It was just fun because she had this attitude, so this is her look back to her dude who's sitting back at the door begging her to come back, and she just starts strutting and walking, so that's how we got this full attitude of the shot. And, it was all set up beforehand because I saw this area, lit it, put down that leaf, so she would know where to step, and then put her in a mindset to give this attitude. So, that's why she's looking away from camera. It's just a fun shot, and that's a story behind creating a scenario, and 99% of the time we're not getting that in-depth into something. That was because we had time, had somebody who was willing to do that, and she had her own ideas of what she wanted to do. It just ends up being a flattering shot of her where everything came together as far as composition, perspective, lighting. Everything that could work out did, and that's not always the case. This is another one. This was from a senior conference. This girl had not as much attitude, but we were talking about Beyonce. This is the same girl earlier who was in that car, and that was the car, the guy we borrowed his car, so I was paparazzi which is why I went with the on camera flash look. And, we were talking about celebrities and how they get mobbed by the paparazzi, so her thing was you're gonna storm out of this car and just basically run me over. I had the on camera flash. I was down low backing up like I was some paparazzi guy, and she didn't even make eye-contact. It was just too good for the camera and didn't have time for me, so we did that over and over, and that was the one where it came together with legs looking flattering, shutting the door, the attitude in her face, so the whole thing just worked out. But, it was another one where I put her in a situation, a scenario to think about, and she was like okay, I like this, and just acted it out. My job was just to make sure all the technical parts were together, so we got a flattering image. This is the guy who was sitting on the trailer again. I told you, he was more of a funny guy, more into the comedy stuff. We went inside that trailer which was a little bit of a danger zone, and in there there was a sock. I didn't touch it, he did, and there was an iron. So, what we did just to go with his personality of being silly and goofy, I was like, "All right, you're getting ready for the morning, "and you need to iron your sock." So, he was just going, acting like it was his job, and that was this look. It almost looks like Ryan Reynolds or something, giving me this why you judging me, or am I doing this right, or what are you doing? So, it was one of those things. That's using the resources. You're not usually gonna use an iron and an old sock in a trailer, but that's what was in there, and he was willing to do it, and he thought it was funny, and his personality fit, so it was one of those shots. Then from a technical aspect it's only lit from that window. There was no lighting here. It was just, let's use the lighting. We're reflecting it off the silver countertop, and there wasn't any other room because there was a wall directly next to me, so it was tight quarters. So, it was one of those ones where it's nice, warm light. The door to the camper that he was sitting on before was right here, so that's giving us the etched in fill light, and I was probably shooting with a 35 millimeter 'cause it was tight quarters. Another one that has a story behind it, giving him something to do, and we probably shot 50 images of him doing this, and that was the one time where he gave me that look. When I'm looking through all the images, all of a sudden it's that one, and I'm like, "That's it," then we don't need to look any further. So, again we're not gonna be ironing any socks today, so don't worry, but we will be doing other stuff in here that's a little more studio contained. Some inspiration. There's a lot of photographers out there, especially editorial, not so much seniors, that I get ideas from or that use this type of direction over and over. I look outside the industry, so either whether it's Instagram, whether it's looking at people's websites, or in my case going and looking at a lot of magazines and just seeing who shoots what. One of the people that I go to over and over is a photographer out of California. Her name's Peggy Sirota. She shoots for GQ a lot. I mean, that's the main magazine I see a lot of her work in, but it's always with this wider lens that you wouldn't normally think to use, a 24 to 70 shot down at 24, something that's wide, people running around like crazy doing silly stuff. You can just tell that she has a lot of fun, high energy, and shoots a lot of frames. If you go to her website, the opening of her website is a video that's five minutes long of just pure chaos happening on all these different photo sets, and it's one of those things where you just want to be there and be a part of it. And, I highly suggest watching that because it's just when you think you're doing something crazy on set, go watch that, and you're like, "Okay, we can push it "a little bit further." And, it's really entertaining. I've seen the video probably 10 times, and I would watch it again. Another guy is Peter Yang. He has a real subtle humor to his work. He's the one who I took the workshop from several years ago in Santa Fe. Just subtle humor, but a good direction. He's real calming and makes people feel comfortable, but he also has a great sense of humor and technical know-how of photography. Where Peggy gets a lot of the crazy, over the top, animated humor, some of the stuff Peter does and gets people to do is more subtle, but it's equally as entertaining and interesting. It brings out that emotion from the viewer and the subject. And then, Jeff Lipsky. He's more lifestyle celebrity photographer. It's a lot more flattering, pretty type of photos. There's not that humor aspect, but it's again, getting people to do stuff on camera that looks good. Clearly there's good direction given, and it's just somebody who I like to look at for inspiration, and then obviously Victoria who I work with because I sit with her on a million photo shoots and see the amount of energy that spews out of her. I'm like, I don't have all that, so it's just fun to watch and see how she directs people because we'll be on the same shoot for days and get totally different stuff out of people. But, seeing that amount of energy and the direction that she gives, she's way less into the technical part than I am, but she also is way more into getting that connection and really good at it, so I've learned a lot from her and her work. Once you look at it you know why. And, then just a quote real quick before we get started. "I think art is all about control. "The encounter between control and the uncontrollable." So, there's all these things that we try and control, but a lot of times the uncontrollable is where you get those genuine moments and get that emotion.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials

Lighting Gear List

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Lighting Terms Guide

Ratings and Reviews

pete hopkins

awesome teacher and awesome technique. after soooo many webinars, it's really great to see someone break it down to the bare bones of lighting with exceptional quality results. i can listen to Dan all day. no pretense, no over the top emotional pleas, no drama! did i say awesome!!!! Plus, I'm a huge fan of the B! and B2 systems. Freedom is key. Now I can shoot anywhere, anytime. Thanks Dan.


This is by far the best class on senior photography I have found on creativelive. Dan explains the technical aspects in an easy to understand format. He does a great job going through studio shots, outdoor shots, editing and marketing. He's given me some great ideas and inspired me to be more creative. I am going to rewatch the lighting set up for the "hero shot". It's super cool!

Tristanne Endrina

Dan was great. His class was very comprehensive but easy to follow. The slides he used weren't flashy. Instead, they were simple and he went at a good pace. I left feeling like I could really pull off the lighting techniques he taught. I'm excited to put what I learned into my photography. :) Thanks, Dan.

Student Work