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Seeing Moments Differently

Lesson 46 from: Editorial Portrait Photography for High School Seniors

Dan Brouillette

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Lesson Info

46. Seeing Moments Differently


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

Seeing Moments Differently

Well, the last thing I wanna talk about is kind of bringing this back to the creative side. And that's seeing differently. I know when I started off I said "Senior photos don't have to be that traditional aspect." Obviously we've shown that over the last several hours of working together and going over everything from the technical lighting, and taking those editorial looks and directing and bringing it into senior portraiture. And, the other thing is, there's more to it than just the lighting and directing. There's also things like composition, all the other aspects of embracing harsh light, shadows, natural light. Everything that I do, this is just a quick sample of photos that I pulled from my website that basically aren't your traditional senior photos, but these are what I show to my clients, these are what are on my social media feeds, these are what were on, literally on my website, that's where I grabbed them. And they show just how I do things a little bit differently in what ...

I show my clients, because these are photos that are either moments or compositions that I love that I wanna show them, so when they come in. So, you know something as simple as the top left one is using outdoor lighting on a beach. It was bright and sunny out, but that's on the beach, so we overpowered the sun. I shot standing up on a chair, up on a sand dune, so it's all sand behind her. Her mom's actually holding a bare bulb strobe, and we're overpowering the sun to create that dynamic, gritty black and white image that looks nothing like your typical beach shot. Below that is just a senior in her letter jacket sitting on the top bleacher at school, at the soccer field or football field, and, to me, when a lot of seniors, if they bring in a jacket like that, it can instantly get to that traditional senior photo. And we had such a great sky that night, and the lighting, so adding that lighting off to the left, and just creating something that had a different composition and a different mood, and it didn't feel like a senior sitting there in their letter jacket. So, the one below it on the bottom left, again, seeing that harsh shadow coming from the sun across the fence that was behind me, and embracing those lines and just kind of using that to create leading lines and triangles and all that type of stuff. It's just interesting composition. The bottom black and white one is more of a moment, of having her knowing that my light's coming from the right side, and this was done with the trees with flowers in spring, obviously. And then having her do the same thing we had the model do in studio, just move back and forth and letting that hair flip, and having her face end up towards the light, just to create something that's really pretty and a little more quiet but definitely directed. Bottom right, this was a senior guy. He was pretty well into it. He was one of the only guys we had last year. Had a great style. We were up on a parking garage and I also saw, again, this harsh line, and I thought how can we make something, that's, it's like almost the opposite if you look. The light on him, on the right, is so bright but then it's almost cut in half where his shadow is the dark part on the left. So it was kind of just creating weird compositions that are pleasing to me, they deal a lot with thirds and even more extreme than that. And then just catching quiet moments like this. This is also lit, the top right one with the pink flower tree. She was in total shade, so it was adding in just a little bit of soft light from off to the right, and capturing just the soft moment. So, again, it's just putting it all together and doing things that are different than what you normally expect from senior portraiture. So, for seeing differently, for me, the ways that I do it is by finding inspiration. Mixing it up, I never, that's why I use three lenses for almost every outfit, because you never know. I don't like to do the same thing over and over again. I like to try different things. 'Cause you never know. Sometimes the 7200 might be awesome, other times the 35 might give you the look you want. So, I like to mix it up and try new things. Also, shooting for you. And that doesn't necessarily mean on a client shoot, but being able to go out and shoot photos that you really enjoy, doing concept shoots, doing personal work, creating things that, for one, help you advance technically because it's on your own time, you can try new things and experiment. And then also creating content that, as a photographer, you probably got into photography for a reason, there's probably certain things that you enjoy looking at or that inspire you. So going out and creating new content that you're really proud of, even if it has nothing to do with clients. And I love doing that, going out and finding ideas. That's how I end up in a lot of the weird situations like photographing a guy in an old saw mill. I'd driven by that place 20 times and I thought, wow the texture and seeing that guy with his beard out walking around. And, finally, one day just going up and asking him and he was all about it. So I spent three hours there photographing him, and, again, taking all that stuff. He even let me set up the lights and the whole works. So, that was 100% for me. And people who have hired me for jobs later have referenced, "Oh, we really like the photos "of that guy sawing all the wood." And that was just something I did for fun. And something that I did. But I show the stuff that I do for fun, that I really love, because I want people to hire me for that work. So that's shooting for you. Again, inspiration, who inspires you and why? Again, we talked about this earlier, breaking down images to figure out, similar to how you're having your seniors send you images that they wish they were in, this is kind of images that I wish I had shot. It's who inspires me and why. Why did these images speak to me? Is it the color, is it the composition, is it the light, is it lens choice? Who knows, but breaking that down and understanding why something inspires you, and then going out and shooting something for yourself using that as inspiration. Looking outside your industry. Whether you're a senior photographer, an advertising photographer, anything. Looking outside your industry both within the photography realm and even other arts and other things that can inspire you. I know so many senior photographers where I'll be at conferences or workshops and I'll say "All right, who inspires you?" And they name five other senior photographers. And I'm like, okay, well then, all of your stuff's always gonna look like this. So why don't we expand that circle of inspiration, and figure out how you can do something more, and where you can gain inspiration that will really set you apart within your marketplace and within your industry. Because there's so much out there that is inspiring, and you can take little bits and pieces, even of things that have nothing to do with photography, they can still influence. Even how you might set up your studio, or anything like that, that adds to your creative space. And then how to use everything as inspiration. Like I said, breaking it down and figuring out what can you do that just makes that do it for you. Why is it working out the way it is? Mixing it up. This is back to that collage of senior photos I showed. It's how you shoot angles, heights, and ideas. You guys have seen me shoot around laying on the floor in here. In the video I'm laying on the beach filling my pockets with sand. Standing on stuff. I showed a lot of sample images where I'm standing on garbage cans in parks. I never want to shoot from this angle all the time, because all the work looks the same. It's how I see everything every day. So, being able to get down or stand up on things, you see a whole different perspective, the way lines come together, the way the composition sets up. I wanna be able to see all that before I get locked in on, "Oh, I'm just gonna walk up and take a picture of this." Because, that's the easy way. There's so many other things you can do. And even ideas, you know? It's thinking something that seniors might bring in the same thing day after day. You might have a group of, like I said, I had a dance company that I did photos of. And then I had a bunch of those seniors. So there was like seven dancers over the course of three weeks. They were all bringing almost the exact same stuff, because they were all together. But, in my head it was, "How can I make each one different?" Because they're all friends, I don't want them all going home and having the same picture. What can you do to mix it up? So then you start Googling, and figuring out things that inspire me with dance images, with other sports where I can take ideas from pictures of football players and bring them to dance. Whether it's the lighting or the composition. Anything like that. So I'm always trying to get new ideas. I have folders and bookmarked lists on my computer that are crazy long. Just of things that, there might have been one picture on this whole thing. Or screenshots, I have whole folders of screenshots that probably don't even make any sense to anybody. But when I open 'em, I'm like, "Oh yeah, that was for a dancer." And they're like, "Oh, that's a picture "of a bottle of soda." I don't know, I must've like something about it. So, I save everything I see that inspires me. Like I said, using different lenses. You don't need to go out and buy more stuff, I've had the same three lenses since I started, right after I started photography. That's why my 7200 cries every time it tries to focus, because it's so beat up. It is time to get a new one, but I haven't bought a new lens since probably 2006. And that's when I was still in college. So, that's 11 years ago. It's time to update, but I'm gonna get the same stuff, essentially. It's just using what you already have, and switching up between sessions. There's so many people who get in that rut of, I don't remember the last time I took my whatever lens off the camera. And that's something you need to do. Because you don't know how your perspective and view's gonna change by trying something different. Same with lighting. I use all those different lighting modifiers, and you see a lot of senior workshops or senior photographers that just throw on a softbox, and that's what they're comfortable with, and that's what they use for everything. But it's not until you go try a magnum reflector with a grid, or shooting through a silk, or bare bulb flash. Who would have thought that having Maggie come in yesterday with a leather jacket that I would just hold a flash above my camera, and you saw the results. So, it's just trying new things and being like, "Oh, that actually works." Or if it doesn't work, why doesn't this work and how can I make it work? And always use your meter. You saw the importance, because I didn't have to do any exposure adjustments, and that's one thing I'm pretty proud of. And then just mixing up the content that you're shooting. Whether it is test shooting with a bunch of seniors, for me, Nicole, my studio assistant, there's so many photos of her sitting in lighting tests. Her, with a mug of coffee, staring at her phone, looking up every five seconds when I'm ready to shoot. But I'll be experimenting with different lights, and just having someone that I can shoot. I don't even care to post those photos anywhere, it's mostly so I can get that experience of knowing, all right this light needs to be over here a little bit. Or, I need to soften this one up. So, it's creating different content for different things that I'm gonna do. And then, that way, once you expand what you're comfortable with, you can, if you're on a shoot and something goes wrong, you have more options. It's kind of, you're able to do more under pressure, because you practice it when there wasn't any pressure. And then, lastly, shooting for you. Why did you become a photographer? I became a photographer, as we all know, because I used to sit at Borders book store and browse magazines. So what did I like about that photography? I still remember all the photos, I probably still have folders of them, because I'm a little bit of a hoarder sometimes, and I had those photos that spoke to me. The reason why I loved it was taking environmental portraits of people and geeking out a little bit, and using lights. And that's what I still try and do every day. So that's why I became a photographer. So when it comes time to creating, I go back to those roots, and I go and create photos of the stuff that really inspires me. Because, even though I might be photographing seniors and attorneys and bankers and things like that, that's not always the most creative thing, I can go back and remember why I started, and create that type of content. And then it kind of reinvigorates you, and gives you new life, and when you go back to do the stuff you do every day you just see something new and have new approach. So I want to show just a couple other pictures. These are strictly personal work. There was nothing paid. That's my brother and his now wife in my dad's old Blazer. I had this idea of a cinematic-type shot of a couple that looks like it's based in 1988, and this was in 2014, sitting in this old car my dad had, 'cause he was getting ready to sell it. So I thought, I want to shoot in this thing before it's gone. And throwing a light in the back of the car with a red gel. That's what looks like the brake lights are, it's a strobe with a red gel. Making it look like it's lit by another car with their high beams on shining at them. Outside of the left, I just had a strobe with a seven inch reflector with a grid on it that's aiming right at them. And then directing them to be in this mood of, did they just get in a fight, are they secretly meeting, what's going on? 'Cause she's clearly sitting over on his side of the car. And just kind of directing them. And then me up on a retaining wall, shooting through a fence to create that depth. So, that's the story behind the shoot. It was just one night we're gonna go do this, and it'll take an hour, and I'll buy you guys ice cream or something, I don't know. And then this other stuff. I was house sitting for a guy in New York, the bottom left photo, outside of his window. I love composition and graphic lines. I was just watching cars come out of that tunnel, so I talked to him, I was like, "I need to bring over my camera." And I just sat, 'cause I could just picture a yellow, classic New York City Taxicab going with that arrow pointed right where it's going. So I went up there and made the photo. And things like that, that a lot of times you'll see it, and it's like, eh, that's cool. Another thing, playing with lines in a parking lot. And then the bottom right one was, I walked by this Chinese restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn every single day. It's actually right next to Victoria's apartment. I walked by it all the time, I always saw that neon light. That's the only table in the whole place. It's a one-table restaurant. It's mostly a to-go, takeout Chinese spot. But I thought, between that neon light and this gritty atmosphere, which was classic New York City Chinese restaurant. And this guy was a guy I knew from New York, he's a photo assistant who I worked with, and he was my neighbor. So I asked him, I was like, "I'll buy you Chinese down there "if you just sit for photos." He was like, all right. So setting up this shot, having his reflection in the window, and playing with the technical aspects. 'Cause there was actually a strobe just outside the window. Because, if he was just lit by the neon light, he would have this color cast that was just hideous. So I needed to match my light to that light, and shine it through. And kind of create that whole composition, where you wonder, what's he looking at, what's going on? What's he eating? And then catching his reflection in the other side of the frame, so it kind of mirrors itself. And then messing with exposure, and just practicing and creating something that I like. A few more shots, traveling. I go on a lot of road trips. Finding things that I like. I have an odd sense of humor sometimes. But something caught my eye about this gas sign, because it's actually stuck in between two prices. And, I don't know, it was just quirky to me. So I stopped and made a panoramic landscape of it. And it's like the numbers are stuck in between. So, I don't know, there was something unsettling about it. Same with the one in the middle, it's this signage for a gas station. But clearly it's been there so long the tree has now taken it over and nobody can see it. It was funny to me, like, that's really good branding there. So I took a photo of it. And this was another one. I found this old motel, and this was actually lit with a strobe off to the left, and this girl was someone who wanted to do photos. But I didn't really have much of a use. She has a belly button ring that is actually brass knuckles, so she kinda had a little bit of a hard edge to her. And I thought, she'll be perfect just to create this mood. So it's, again, putting someone and directing her. I don't remember what I had her thinking about, but she was basically, just started playing with her hair, and that gave me, I was like, keep doing that. And I just shot, and it's fully lit, but it was just creating something that had all these lines and everything. 100% for me. And then I had to take some photos that actually looked nice of her that she would like in trade. And then, lastly, sometimes I think of full projects. I had an idea to go to a rodeo in western Nebraska. It was the Buffalo Bill Rodeo. And I wanted to take portraits of bull riders and clowns, right after they got done riding, when they'd all kinda be a little bit sweaty and gritty. So I set up, I took a piece of seamless, I cut it, and taped it to a fence. This looks like it's in a studio. It's not, it's on dirt five feet from where the bulls are. There's a pullback, it's on my website, but immediately underneath these guys you can see the bottom of the seamless. That's the edge of a gate, and the bulls run directly behind them. My gear was so dirty after this. So these guys would ride a bull, you can see he looks like he is seeing stars or something. But they would come, they would take off whatever, get off the saddle, come over and sit. And I would be like, "I just need 30 seconds of your time." So I had already set up all the lighting I wanted. It was a little tricky with the cowboy hats, to kind of flag off light and use grids and all that. And I said, "I just want one photo of every person." And they would come on their way out and sit. I would take a photo, maybe two. And they would get up and leave. And that kind of turned into a whole project. I probably have 20 or 30 of these portraits, from sitting there over two days at the rodeo. The guy on the bottom left bringing his dog. We got the guy who's in charge of the rodeo. The clowns. It was kind of fun for me. Again, I wasn't being paid, but it was just an idea I had in my head that I had to go out and do it, just to do it. So, I wanna leave you guys on this, it's another quote. We started with a quote from William Eggleston. It's one more, and it's "I am at war with the obvious." Whether that's going against traditional senior photography, or doing something that you don't normally do, or pushing yourself out of your comfort zone; you always have to be at war with the obvious. The easy shot's always the one right in front of you, but how can you push it to create something that brings more creativity from you, and pushes you to do something more in the future. That's all I have again. If you want to follow me on social media, there's my Instagram. It's the same thing on Twitter, although it's not so exciting on Twitter. And, that's pretty much all I have. But thank you guys.

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