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Shooting Creative Portraits With Props

Lesson 8 of 8

Shoot: Creative Collaboration with Your Subject

Joshua Kissi

Shooting Creative Portraits With Props

Joshua Kissi

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Lesson Info

8. Shoot: Creative Collaboration with Your Subject

Lesson Info

Shoot: Creative Collaboration with Your Subject

Yo I love your hair. That's what I was just looking at. And we could take the plant away. Oh, I was gonna use the plant. Oh you wanna use the plant, okay. It's totally cool. She's like, I wanted to use the plant. That's why I came up here. No. Actually, I was trying to do is a picture once, with a plant over my eye. Let's do it, let's try it. It didn't work out. See this is the part of it. No, no, no, we could try the plant over your eye. If it fails, everybody just sees it. Everyone would just see it. Yeah, it's cool. Way easier than me doing it by myself at home. Exactly. No this is great, okay. Yeah. Because it's just, you get the idea. Yeah, yeah. You want this on the other eye? No, you're good. Let me see, okay. Let me get a ... Maybe Ken can help. Just bring it down a little bit, Ken. Thanks Ken. Sure. Gonna move my knee, are you ready? Go for it. Okay. Yeah, perfect. So at least you could be free, yep. Yeah you can smile. Give me a nic...

e ... Yep, nice. Let me see. Yep, boom. This looks like an album cover. When's your single coming out? (laughter) I love how creative ... Probably not going. Or the other way? Model, I love it. Go off. (laughter) That's it, that's the album cover. (laughter) That's the album cover. Let's do a profile, so facing this way, yep. And a lot of my portraits, I do a lot of profile positions. I just like the sharpness of it, the contrast of it. And Ken, you can step to the left a little bit. Kind of left - Yeah yeah, but keep the plant there, but you actually step out. Exactly, perfect. Step back a little bit. Yep, perfect. Nice. See that's the album cover. Yeah. Don't you guys agree, that's the album cover? Oh I love it. (laughter) That's awesome. Anybody else wanna volunteer? Come on. Don't be scared, you're gonna look great. Absolutely. Thank you very much. Thank you so much. Did you want the plant? No. She's like, I don't care for the plant. Awesome. So Ken, let me get the reflector. Which one? The silver one please. Actually the gold, the gold reflector. How you doing, what's your name? Katie. Katie, nice to meet you Katie. You too. Awesome. Again, another example of the gold reflector. I just think it's really cool, because of the light that hits the rest of the reflector, so it gives you this contrast from her level, above, you kind of see, which is really cool. This is her album cover right here. It's ready to go. What will be your album cover name, if you had to? I'm just curious. I have no idea. You have no idea? That's the perfect title. I have no idea. Coming soon. This is great. Again, it kind of mimics a little bit that motion blur, because of the mirroring effect. So you kind of see that. Oh, nice. Oh. Perfect, let me get the silver one actually. Oh that's on the back as well, that's cool. That's fine. This will give way more of a cooler aspect, because of the silver metallic, sorry. Let's see, this is a little bit too bright there. Oh. Got all of her face. You wanna definitely get the subject. That's awesome. Awesome. Oh, all in her face. Let me get this without the junk, nice. So again, it's really important to take control of the prism, and make sure, based on the light source, and how much light you're getting, to make sure it doesn't overpower the subject, as you saw, as well. Like that. But an example of that, is that there's this whole layering effect, and some artists like that whole mystery, and they're like, that can be a different vibe. So even, the great thing about it is every photo could be usable, depending on what your end mission is, and what the creative brief is. Because sometimes you work with an artist who's like, I don't want my face out there, I just want some sort of semblance of who I am. So that's another way to go about it, which is interesting. I think you had a question. Yeah, I was just wondering ... Sorry. Do you, sorry- No that's cool. Do you ever shoot on location, or is it always in studio? A little bit of both. Mostly in studio, because I think they see my in studio work and assume that's what I only do, so I'll do a lot of portrait photography in studio. Majority for sure, the majority of my work is in studio. I'm wondering about your lighting setup. So your key light is soft, but it's also scurrying the skin, creating texture on it, so you can see more texture. Yeah. And also, your contrast is up, so you get to see more- Yeah. imperfections, some grooves and pimples. Do you ask your clients whether they want to leave them in place or edit them out? How do you approach that? When it comes to editing skin, I like to keep it as natural as possible, to be honest. I don't like to do too much working, where the person doesn't look like themselves. And yeah, that could be a whole other thing, so I try to make sure I meet the client's expectation, like, do you want heavy skin retouch? Do you just want minimal, such as certain blemishes? But most times, people are totally fine by the way the image comes out, with just a little bit of cleaning up, whether it's cropping, or background, or any specs, or anything on the subject, but for the most part, I don't like to do a lot of retouching, unless it's a super retouch, like a commercial job or something, but if I'm shooting lifestyle portraits, I like to keep it within that, to be honest, yeah. Do you always shoot handheld? Yes. I do not use, that's a good point, yeah. I don't normally use tripods. I just feel like, even as I'm sitting down right now, I'm like, oh my god, I just ... Usually I'm moving around a lot. I'll be here, here, here, all around, just kind of testing out different things, but this seat is very comfy, so I'm sitting. (laughter) But, I do not shoot tripod at all, unless I'm shooting video. For the most part, yeah. But I know a tripod is great for consistency. If you're looking for product shoot, or something that's like a look book shoot, where you kind of have to hit the same shot, over and over again, tripod would be beneficial in those scenarios, where you could just prop up your tripod. Put the camera on, get the setting, and just shoot over and over. But for me I like to get different angles. Low, high, medium, and just kind of play around with it. So I have a question. Yes. How much do you direct your clients? Because being here, I didn't really know where to look. Yeah, she's like what? I do very little ... Because I like to see how people react. Can you repeat the question? Repeat the question, okay. Because she doesn't have a microphone. Okay. So, she's asking me whether I like to give clients or subjects a lot of direction, because when she sat down, she was like a deer in headlights, which is normal. But basically I like to see peoples' comfort level behind the camera. Some people are confident. Some people aren't so confident, and that'll give me the indicators, whether to give them more direction. Like hey, maybe chin up, back straight. Maybe tilt your head this way, tilt your head that way. But for the most part, I don't want people to feel robotic. I still want you to feel like you did something. It wasn't like I did all the magic, and I have this image. I still want people to feel like, okay, I'm kind of getting the groove of it. But one thing I do love doing is showing people the first initial images, after I shoot them, because immediately people will be like, okay, I know what I need to do. They start adjusting themselves, you can see, once you show them the image, and that's pretty much like a good indicator to do that in a passive aggressive way. (laughter) Like hey, I'm not gonna be like, hey, so stop doing this, stop doing this. I'll just show you the image, and you make the right adjustments, and we'll keep going from there, but that's something I use a lot. I just show the subjects the image. In this case, they're tethered, so you could see them all around, but most people prop up a little bit, fix their collar, do whatever they feel is necessary, that they feel like they don't see in that initial image. It's a good question though, it's a really good question. Any more questions? No? I can continue. Is anybody else wanna volunteer themselves? Or I could point somebody out. Oh, come, yeah, the green, I like that. That's perfect. We've got a couple more backgrounds too, right? Mirror? Yeah, yeah. Sweet. Awesome. A lot of times what somebody's wearing is important, of course. People do normal black or white. If you do colors, just nice to go with the background. In this case, it just matches, it's just like this colorful playing field, which is great. Can I have the yellow flowers, Ken? Sorry. Got the flowers again. Her or yours? Yeah, her, sorry. Actually yeah, so put it up a little bit. You're gonna face profile, so go ... Yep, and put the flowers like this, like kind of laying down. Yeah, perfect. And I won't be getting ... Yeah, and chin up, perfect. Okay, give me a smile as well. Yeah, so you could kind of see here, color pops, green, yellow, blue. You could kind of get that going as well. And this is like, the prop is the flower, but you don't have to add anything if not necessary, if you're just looking for that clean image. So sometimes while I'm shooting, I'm just like okay, not many props in front of the camera. I'm just gonna be able to shoot the subject straight on. And that's beneficial. Can I have the gel as well, if I could get it? Yeah, that's cool. Thank you. This is gonna change the tint of the photo as well. Awesome. Oh I missed it. Right there, okay. The thing with this is like the more shapes, the better. You could be able to kind of play around with it. So you're pretty much seeing the image, before you take it. So it's a nice way to ... Let's see. Get creative. Let's see. Or you could put the gel on the lens, which will make the lighting look totally different. So it kind of gives it this overlay, depending on the subject and lighting. You could play around with it as well. Nice. Great. Give me a nice smile again, awesome. Chin up a little bit, yeah. Awesome. Again, this is just combining the gels with the floral. Can you hold it up? Face me, straight on. Yeah, and hold it up to like right here. Yeah. Perfect. Oh. It's a nice way to kind of get creative with it. Up close and personal. But really nice. Any questions? Yeah. Kind of play around with it that way as well. I like that streak coming in. Yeah, I just live for the little details that just pop in, and just gives the photo a little bit of some texture. Yes. I'm curious, I like how your process is very exploratory, Yeah. and you're kind of playing around. Do you ever have a client that you feel like isn't onboard with the process? Mm hm. Are you qualifying them ahead of time, of like, explaining how you work? Yeah, I'm letting them know there is a buffer of just creative time, where you just kind of figure out. And plus the subject has to get comfortable, so you could be having the right props, and different variables, but maybe the subject is not comfortable. So it's like, you need at least 30 minutes before people are like, okay, especially if it's one person. If you're only shooting one person, of course you wanna get that in the first five to 10, but if you're only shooting one person for maybe four hours, you wanna be able to get them to a certain comfort level. But most times they see the vision, so they're like, okay. They know that the problem's not me. No, but ... (laughter) No, but it's another way to just kind of troubleshoot, and see what's working and what's not working. Because sometimes the subject could be like, I don't feel comfortable because of the makeup. There's always something that you've gone and detailed, so you just kind of have to ask them, what could we be doing differently? Do you like this? I'm so open for feedback. For me it's always about a collaborative effort, so although I'm behind the lens, it takes more than me to just have a great shot. Sorry, follow up. No that's fine. So that's how you're handling it in the moment, Yeah. if you feel like that kind of tension of like- Absolutely, I just nip it in the butt right there. You're just asking them questions? Yeah, right there. Okay. Rather than justifying like, this process takes time. No, no, no, not like, just leave it for the art. No, no, no. Cool. We have to nip it in the butt if possible. Yeah. Drew, any questions online? No, I was just gonna say, I want you to feel free to move around, and kind of see. Oh absolutely. I'd love to see how you actually. Oh, okay. Like if you're in your studio, shooting. Yeah, I would definitely have some loud trap music. (laughter) Be moving around. Josh, do you wanna switch out backgrounds, or? Yes. Let's do the ... Actually let's keep her in the blue, and the next subject will use the next background. Okay. And there's also a mirror if you want it. Okay, awesome. So yeah, so if I'm standing up, moving around, you could pretty much put the gel over somebody's face, which is weird, it looks weird, but you could get a nice effect here. Let me get back a little bit. Again, now you could kind of see more of the gel itself, so it's less blurry. So it's more of a real contrast in texture to the image. So, could you give me one where you're looking this way at the light? Yeah. Chin up a little bit. Yes, straight up. Get that one. So again, as you move around, it gets a little bit more easier. And you could kind of get various different shots. Let me see. Might wanna do top down. Of course that changes the whole tint of the image. Again, now similar to the Big K.R.I.T. album cover. So that's what I was pretty much doing, holding this in front of him, and using these streaks to kind of show as like a portrait portal in a sense. It kind of encloses a little bit, with the streaks coming out from the left. Awesome. So I'll take one more, then we'll move to the next background. Yeah, again, as you stand up, you could just get more contrast with it, which I really like as well. So let's give a hand clap for her. That's great, thank you so much. (applause) We'll change to the next background. Anybody have any questions, as we change to the next one? Yeah. When you mentioned about playing loud trap music in your studio, right on. Absolutely, turn up. I struggle sometimes asking my clients, hey what kind of music do you wanna listen to, and sometimes that music is not of my preference. Yeah. So when you said, "I'm playing what I wanna hear," I'm curious if that's just how you roll, or ... It's definitely how I roll, because it's my studio. No, but ... (laughter) But I think for the most part, if I'm, most times I'm shooting people who are hip hop artists, so it kind of fits. Maybe I may play some classical or jazz, just to kind of calm out the mood. Because you would notice, as you're playing different types of music, you get a different energy from people. So they may be more adventurous as you play more upbeat. As you play something more jazzy and low tempo, they'll get a little bit more calm and collected. So, I think it just depends, but I try to go between jazz, a little bit of afrobeat, then some trap and some other stuff. So, music is a big part of how people live their lives, I feel, so you kind of wanna build that. Even when they walk in, you wanna have music playing, food. It's just a whole mood, so yeah, it's really important. Awesome. Any other questions? I think somebody else had a question before. Would you do a few more shots with the motion blur? Okay, absolutely, absolutely. I definitely will. And we're gonna change lens to the 135. When you're done, not ... It's no rush. What's the lens you're using? I'm using a 55 millimeter 1.8. It's a Zeiss lens. It's under $1,000 and is so, just like, it's literally the nifty 50. You just roll around with it. It's so light. I travel a lot. Recently I was just in Ghana and Ivory coast, and just take this out, and it's just really light. Because sometimes the bigger lenses could have a little weight there, so I like this one a lot. And it could get banged up, and still just be good. I've dropped it more than a few times. It's been able to survive, so it's good. The 135 that I'm putting on is big. A lot of glass, a lot of ... But I love that lens so much. It's probably my favorite lens to shoot with. Favorite portrait lens to shoot with. Get that. Trade. Yes. Looks very different from the 50 millimeter. A lot more intimidating for people, so I like to start out with the 55, because people are like, okay, this is a normal photo shoot. But if you come out with this, they're like, okay, what are we shooting? Where is this going, what campaign? So, it's nice to ... Can I have a silk, so I can just clean it off? Where is your silk? It should have been inside of the bag, but if it's not ... Or any eyeglass cleaner would be awesome. Thank you. Anybody else wanna volunteer? I'm gonna pick somebody, because I like this guy right here. Yeah him, yeah. (laughter) He's like, me? Yeah. Awesome, so you wanna see more of the motion blur. Okay, awesome. This is the perfect lens to do it. How's it going? Good man. Josh. Tanner, nice to meet you. Nice to meet you Tanner. I'd like to get the lens out. Can I do something with the ... Yeah, absolutely. You wanna like ... I don't know. I kind of wanna put it up to my eye. Let's do it. See this is like the creative bonding that you kind of hope for. Let's do something with the lens out. Like okay, cool. Like, you want it ... You can sit down real quick. I kind of wanna do something like ... Yeah, got you. And hold it up. And take out the ... Yeah, no you're good. Oh okay. Take off the back, yeah. You want me to take the back off? That's fine, yeah yeah. You're good. It'll survive, it'll survive. But, from the other way. No, like that way. Perfect, but put it up. Like to your eye, sort like it's the ... Exactly. Nice. Nice. Sometimes we have great people like him, that bring ideas. Like okay, cool, and I'm totally down with it, so ... I kind of wanna do the third eye, too. Third eye too, see exactly. (laughter) Then you have people that take it overboard, then you just keep it cool, and keep going. Put it a little bit up. If we could just suspend it, that'd be nice. Put it a little bit up in the center. Oh, a little bit up? Yeah, like literally right there. Okay. One hand, so I could see. Just take the other hand down. Yeah, perfect. A little bit higher so I can see your eyes. Yeah, like right here. Oh okay, I see I see. Yeah yeah. A little bit more, higher, boom, yeah. And straightened out towards me. Straight, can't see it. Yeah. No it's at an angle. (laughter) See, this is where the art direction comes into play. Alright boom. Just hold that. Let me see it. And this 135 is just a buttery, buttery lens. Very different from the 50. And do some without it, but it's great. Fine, awesome. Let me use some prisms with this. The only thing with the is of course you have to be at a distance, just because how cropped up it is. So if you wanna get ... Can you look up a little bit? Sort of like past me? Yeah, perfect. Nice. Awesome. I could do something with my necklace. Yeah, like, absolutely. Put it. I see everybody else doing it in the pictures that you had. Well they had chains, but we could do it with that. (laughter) My diamonds. We got you. We could get you some chains going. Awesome. Look up at me, just face, yeah. Hold on, let's see if that came in. So it's a nice way to add some graphic element, without you going into Photoshop. So, it's ... Got some motion blur there. Go profile, totally, so face that way. Perfect. I love taking profile images as well. Yeah. Again, change that up. Let me use this one. You need to do profile? Yeah, profile again, one more time. From that side. That's your better side? I don't know, we'll see. (laughter) Everybody has their favorite side, so it's like, hey. I feel like my left is my favorite side, but ... Kind of see the blur happening there. Some effect there as well. You think I could hold that right here maybe, like ... Oh, like yeah, let's do it. Yeah, hold that. Like right there. I like the creative aspect. I don't know, what do you think? No put it straight, just like boom. Straight? Yeah, boom. Oh that looks cool with that. It looks scary but cool. Because it looks like your eye is warped, but we can play around with it. Nice. Let me see. Hold that how it was. It's like you almost have ... This is your third eye dream right here, that you wanted. Turn a little bit this way. Boom, boom, boom, keep going, keep going, keep going. Keep going, keep going. That's good. Am I looking at you? You can look at the light itself. Yeah perfect. Chin up a little. This gets weird, but it's really cool in some ways. It's like, it's just kind of like this diamond. Let me try this one. Put this by your eye, literally. A lot of times I like to shoot from a low angle. It just depends, because everybody doesn't like their neck showing, and all that, so you kind of have to make sure they're neck is straight, back is straight. Because as soon as they're like this, you lose a lot of the extension that make people feel great. So, you don't want people to be slouching. So it's always a point. So yep, put it right there. Make sure. Nice. And use this little gel. Give me a profile again, your favorite side. Which side. Whatever side is your favorite side. Your best side. Which is both sides, but you know, we have our preferences. Okay, awesome. Yeah look at me again, where you're just ... Yeah. Awesome. Kind of see the orange coming in there a little bit. So again. Nice. See I like that one a lot. Just a nice little streak. Yep, look up like that. It's album cover vibes. Let me get that. So any other last questions that anybody wants to ask before we end this session? Awesome, yeah. I love that one. Sick, that's cool. It's emotional. I had a question about the selects that you send over to the client. Yeah. As you get more creative, do you try and tighten up what you send? [Joshua] Absolutely, yeah. Or do you give them more options? No I try to tighten it up. So maybe while we're shooting tethered, they've seen images they like. Of course you could star those, give it a five, or whatever the case is that you use to kind of categorize them. Then after that, once I'm doing selects, I try to at least look for functional errors, when it's, okay, that's not a good image, that's not a good image, but something interesting about it. So I have really good images. Then I have secondary really good images. Then third, which is like, there's something about that image. It's not necessarily a good image, but it can be used for something. I think that's really important, because sometimes it's just about the vision, and whether the image is blurry, or whatever the case is, there's an opportunity to tell the story, so I try to at least give them a lot of options when it comes to that. One more, you have a question, yeah. Can you talk a little about developing your style, and how did you- Oh man, yeah. come to the portraits you do. If you try different things, and you found something that you were good at, and you also liked, or what was your pathway? That's a great question. Well, so I'm from the Bronx, New York. Born and raised there, and I just started shooting friends. I was just like, I'm gonna just test it out on people, but I was also shooting landscape. I would go into the city, shoot buildings. I was just shooting a little bit of everything. And there was something about people that just felt very different from everything else, so that's when I was like, oh I want to go way more into portraiture, because you get to learn about people. You get to experiment with them. And it's just like this bonding and connection happens, so once I started doing more portraiture, I started focusing that. So I was, okay, within portraiture photography, how can I kind of increase my unique template when it comes to taking images? Because of course I didn't want my images to look like everybody else's, so I started looking at different editing styles, different styling props, different locations. Anything that will kind of give it a DNA. So I was like, everybody has their own ... If somebody comes up here and starts shooting, they would get a different image than I would get, and I think that's the important part of photography, so I just really started to develop my footprint within photography. So editing, as well as props, as well as just different composition styles. Looking in history books, going to libraries, just looking all over for references. And once I felt like I kind of keyed in to what I really liked, which was moody portraits, sort of like storytelling, almost film like but not really, I started to go right in that direction. So the more, and more, and more you get really sharp about what your perspective is, people know what to expect from you. So there's less room for error in other things, because they know, this is exactly what you do, and this is why they're hiring you. But if you're doing 1000 different things, they may hire you for 1000 different things, but you may not be an expert at 1000 different things, so that's kind of the issue there.

Class Description

Photographers are always looking for new and innovative ways to add a little spice to their portraits and stand out in a crowded field. But sometimes, all you really need is a well-chosen, well-placed prop to transform your image into something special. Photographer and entrepreneur Joshua Kissi will show you how to use props to create the mood, emotion, and texture you’re looking for.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Use props wisely without overdoing it.
  • Utilize prisms and reflectors to add special effects to your imagery.
  • Change the dynamic of your portrait by adding a vase of flowers or piece of furniture.

If you’ve been wanting to add more props to your shoots but weren’t sure how to do it, this course will help you incorporate them with style and impact.



I loved watching him in his element. Can't wait to put these ideas into practice. Please bring him back!


Good class. Bring him back for a class on his editing.

Whitney Welshimer