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Artistic Vision and Inspiration

Lesson 2 from: Fine Art Conceptual Photography from Shoot through Post-Processing

Bella Kotak, Pratik Naik

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Lesson Info

2. Artistic Vision and Inspiration

Next Lesson: Personal Projects


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Artistic Vision and Inspiration


Personal Projects


Creative Motivation and Defining Your Story


Organizing Your Inspiration


Building A Character


Creating Wardrobe and Props


Location Scouting


Lesson Info

Artistic Vision and Inspiration

Let's start off by talking about artistic vision and inspiration. I'm gonna share a little bit of my journey because I think it's important to know, I guess, that you don't have to be great. Well, actually, you know what, from the beginning because you don't have to be good at photography to make good photographs. That's a journey that'll continue. So I started out with Flickr, who started out with Flickr or am I the only one? Aw, yay! So quite a few of you, brilliant. So, my journey, actually began because I wanted to learn Photoshop. It wasn't actually so much about wanting to learn photography. I was studying architecture at the time, and I wanted to learn Photoshop so that I could go into school and be like, "guys, look what I can do in this program", and just wow everybody with my skills in Photoshop. I came across Flickr and at that time everybody on Flickr was, not everybody, but a vast majority of people on Flickr were doing a 365 project. I got intrigued and I started doing th...

at. And I thought, if I take a photo every day, I took a photo of myself every day mainly because I was so camera shy, that I thought if I take a photo of myself, I'm in control of who sees that picture, A, me, and B, I'll hopefully become better at being in front of the camera, like when I'm taking photos of friends, and C, I can learn to be better at Photoshop. So these first two pictures were taken, I think in the first hundred days of that project, and the reason why I'm showing this to you guys is because when I look at this now, in hindsight, this looks really messy to me. The colors are all over the place, the composition for some of those pictures just doesn't really work, I'm still finding my feet a little bit, it looks a little bit over the top, I guess. But the roots of things that I'm attracted to are here. Clearly color, even back then I was obsessed with it because you can see it's just a whole crazy thing happening. Having people in nature, I'm shooting myself in flowers and foliage and so there's definitely that natural element there already right from the very beginning. And then just stuff like composition as well, I'm thinking about the composition but not really, mostly the insight that I have right now when I look at this is my interest in nature and colors, and that was there from the beginning. After that I carried on doing it, I think I only got up to day 220, I dunno how people do it for years. After day two, I think after day 150 or something like that, I started to notice that my images were getting a big tighter, so you can really see that here now where I'm thinking about composition, I'm bringing in elements from different photos to make a composite piece, for example, that picture over there with the leaves. My interest in nature and whimsical is still there, and at this point I started to work with models as well. Basically experimenting. So this project, this 365, turned from something that was me wanting to learn just about Photoshop into me wanting to learn about photography. I bought a camera, my first DSLR and that's how that grew. I guess with everybody who starts out with photography, you start out with a hobby, right? I wanted to show you this, which is a photo that I took in for my first ever photo shoot. And then this is a photo that I took in 2015, and this is the same model, and we're still shooting in natural light, we're still shooting in nature, all the elements are still there and we're still playing dress up (giggles) six years later. But everything's become sharper. And all that happened within six years. The first photo is taken in a friend's garden. I was thinking about lights but when I look at it now you can see that her face is a little bit in shadow but then there's dapple light on her chest. Now I would think that the green behind her is way too distracting, like the two tones of green, it just doesn't really work so much. And then the stuff like the mask around her eyes is interrupting her eyes as well. So now I can, with hindsight I had the insight to pick the image apart and really analyze it and see what works and what doesn't work. And that was edited with iPhoto, on my Mac, so starting just by moving the dials around. And then the photo below it was taken in by the side of the road, in a bush, but everything had come together at this point where I was consciously very much aware of light, pose, facial expression, my composite skills had become a lot tighter, and then this picture actually went on to win an award and has been in an exhibition in London as well. A lot can happen in six years, so if you are feeling that, oh, your images aren't quite there yet, you don't know where you're gonna be in like a year or two year's time. You're here, you're learning, you're soaking in all this knowledge. I'm gonna talk to you guys about personal project and personal growth. I honestly think doing that first 365 was really interesting because that was my first personal project. I didn't realize it at the time that it was a personal project, but it was. 'Cause I was shooting for myself, essentially, and that is what a personal project is. You are shooting for yourself to fulfill, I guess, something within you, rather than something for other people. I, at this point, when in between this time, while during 2009 and 2015 I was still taking photographs. I was actually still working as an architect, 'cause that's what I trained in, I was training in architecture, went and worked as an architect, and the whole time I was taking photos. Like semi-professionally for myself, all kinds of stuff like that. I was shooting weddings, I was shooting families, I was shooting babies, no, I can't shoot babies. I don't know, hands up to everybody who shoots weddings and babies. Yeah, I was shooting children, anything that came my way I said yes, because I didn't really know what direction I wanted to go into. I knew I wanted to be a photographer, I just didn't know what kind of photographer I wanted to be. And I wasn't happy. I wasn't happy in my job, I wasn't happy with some of the jobs I was taking on, like, yeah they were bringing a bit of extra money, but my heart wasn't feeling 100% satisfied, and that's okay. You know, some days you find your calling and it's in wedding photography and you go for it, and if that makes your heart sing, keep doing it. But mine wasn't, I was just feeling overwhelmed by a lot of things. So 2013 happened and I had the opportunity go to go Bali. And I honestly feel this is when everything changed. I have personal work, and personal projects to thank for this. I had the opportunity to go to Bali, a friend of mine was holding a creative retreat, she just invited photographers to join her and share a villa with her for a month, and I was like, yeah, please please take me with you! So I went, and I decided to make it a mission to capture a portrait of all my friends, the girls that were there with me, and there was about I think 15-20 of us. Yeah, I think it was 15-20 of us, yeah. And it was a personal mission of mine to take a portrait of everybody. And I kind of thought that, okay, if I'm gonna take a portrait of somebody, I'm gonna be really selfish and I'm gonna do it my way. Because we're here to have fun. This isn't a big deal, if this picture doesn't work out, it doesn't matter I'll just take another one of them tomorrow. And I thought more deeply about it, I was like, okay, in that case, then lemme get to know, I got to know everyone a lot more, found out what they liked, didn't like, and I thought I would try to incorporate some of their interests in this portrait. And so it's like a portrait that's really true to them. So in this case this is my friend, Ash, and she can't swim. So I thought, great, I'm gonna put her in water. (laughs) Yeah, good luck, Ash. So what you can't actually see is that we have another friend of ours actually under, we'll see this actually in the next one actually, this is the behind the scenes. What you can't see is that we have a friend just on this side of the frame, and she's got her hands and we're holding Ash up, because Ash is like "I'm so scared, I'm gonna drown!" And she's clinging onto the side for dear life, 'cause she just didn't trust herself to float. But this is where I learned something as well. So I learned how to, not how to, but I learned how far I could push a composite picture. So this photo, as you can see, is very different to the one before it, which is how it turned out. We had Ash held up, she was by the side of the pool, the frame of the pool, the edge of the pool was right here, so I had to figure out how to get rid of that, so I just made sure that I took photos when she was out of the water, as well as when she was in the water. I also noticed, when I was bending down, trying to straighten up all the leaves and stuff in her hair, which kept going every which way, my hair, which is quite long, was in the water so when I stood up and leaning over her, I was dripping like droplets into the water. And as I did that, I noticed that they were creating really beautiful shapes, so, I made sure I got the portrait of Ash, got her out of the pool, and then spent some time making my hair wet, (woman laughing offscreen) standing over there and letting water just drop, and grabbing shots of that. And then in post production, I added all those elements together. I added the extra shots of the water that I took, I got rid of the edge of the pool, and I learnt how far I could push myself in terms of composite. And this is the first photo I took when I was there and I was really impressed with it, so I was like, right, we're gonna keep going! We're gonna see how I can do, and I thought, I'm gonna make each picture a challenge in that case. So the challenge in this one was trying to create a studio-like lighting. And I thought about how to do that. So I decided to shoot, we shot Mayumi twice, but this one I loved it the most because the lights happened to be perfect. The sun had just set, or it was just at the edge of setting, so it was so soft and diffuse, and it was coming from in front of her as well. And then I was very conscious of how I positioned her so that I had her head tilted up so that she could catch the last of that sun's rays. Ad then I was thinking about color as well. We had some lotus behind her, and I thought I'll just add a bit of pink or purple to her hair to connect her to the background. We consciously chose a white dress in that, we went through her wardrobe and we got that dress out, because I liked the patterns of it, and I felt like the textures worked with the background I had in mind. And then the lotus, empty lotus shell, I think it's called, or stem, that she's holding, connects her to the flowers behind her as well. So the lesson here was just about connecting what the model has got on to the background. After that I just carried on, so the challenge here was shooting in water, I'd never shot in water before. So I thought, why not. And this is basically what this personal project was about. It was just about challenges. Obviously in a very hard location, 'cause, you know, Bali's so difficult to shoot there, but no, no. The challenge was shooting underwater for the first time, and I made sure that we shot at noon, so we were shooting around lunchtime 'cause the sun was at its highest and I'd read somewhere online that if you're gonna shoot underwater that's the best time, so that the light's hitting the pool really dramatically. I had my camera in an underwater bag, thank god it didn't flood, it was just like a cheap thing off Amazon, no lie. So we tested it with loads of tissue beforehand, before I put my camera in there. And then I was just kind of holding my breath, staying underwater, and telling Cat, jump. So this was actually a tiny pool. I had to do some Photoshop work afterwards where I was getting rid of a bench that was over here, and the tiles as well. So luckily she didn't smack her head, but she was crazy, so. She was like, "let's go again!" And what I also learned was, I guess, leading lines. So the flowers here, I actually shot these ones separately, 'cause I loved the way they float from her hands as she was letting them go as she jumped, and I thought if I had some flowers here, it would lead the viewer into the picture. So it's all very, like, I don't know, I guess at that point I was starting to think about leading the viewer's eye and being very conscious of that. Everything else was darkened and I really lightened that as well in post, so that you could really feel the impact of that splash as she hits the water. This is a self portrait going back to my roots where I was taking a portrait of myself. I still do this from time to time. I'll be honest, I still don't like doing them. And that's why I do them. If you don't like doing something but you know you should do it, do it. Because the only person seeing it is you. You have nothing to lose, truly. I took that, it turned out great, so woohoo! But that's when I was adding stuff to my hair and I kind of just shot against a bush and then I guess my goal for this was to, I guess take myself out of my comfort zone, A, B, play with color again. And I guess I used this whole series as an experiment in color toning as well, making things as lush as possible, 'cause I was really thinking about the colors I was seeing in front of me, they were very lush, vibrant, it's a tropical paradise really at the end of the day, and if I had these in black and white, what separates it from maybe shooting it in a back garden in Texas? Right, so, which is also tropical. I thought, yeah, I wanted to bring out the lushness of it and that's my experimentation with color toning. The last photo I wanna show you from this personal series, the challenge here was shooting in sunlight and this is something I never do, hardly ever, unless I'm shooting, like, a wedding and then you've got no choice but to plow on through. But the challenge was shooting in sunlight, and I put my friend Savanna at the edge of the pool. I was standing on a wall above her shooting from below, 'cause, I don't know, I seem to love those, you know, shooting up, birds eye view shots. (giggles) And I have Savanna laying across the dappled sunlight and this was in the afternoon. She's in a white dress and I quite liked it because it was not distracting. I think if she had a black dress on it wouldn't have worked as well because it would just detract, I think, whereas in the white she gives off this air of innocence and I guess she's in holiday mode as well, and freedom and just all those good feelings. So we had her in white. And then the dapple sunlight across the leaves that we kind of let go here and there, turned out to be really beautiful. So what I did was, we played around with the leaves and then later in post production, I grabbed leaves from different photos and brought them in to make one photo. And I liked the line leading up again, and that's something that I was, all of these lessons that I was learning with each photo shoot, was coming into play. So her pose, her position of the hand, how her head was tilted, giving myself options, as well as then taking the viewer on a journey with where I wanted their eye go to first and how I led them to the photo. And again, also with the light and shadow as well. So what's in the light and what's in the shadow.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Practice PSD File - Sleeping Beauty
Pratik Naik Retouching Actions
The Royal Collection - Fine Art Actions
Practice PSD File - Location Shoot (~700mb)
Practice PSD File - In Studio Shoot (~1.3gb)

Ratings and Reviews


Great class and great instructors. Genuine and informative. Practical tips to create stunning images. Seeing them work through the process from shoot to finished image was great and I loved that they shared the thought processes behind the creative decisions. Definitely recommended!


Truly a remarkable duo. Bella is so down-to-earth and humble for a photographer with such a strong beautiful and ethereal voice. Her explanations of her process really inspired me--I was sketching concepts throughout the class. Pratik's process really opened my eyes to "smart" retouching--understanding what can be done in fewer brush strokes and slimmer PS files. All in all a really unique and inspiring class that makes me excited to realize my next conceptual shoot. They're also adorable together!

Mai Her

I've gained sooooo much from this I can't even contain my appreciation and excitement! So much inspiration and so much generous advice and tips to help me! Thank you so much Bella and Pratik and Creative Live!

Student Work