Artistic Portrait Photography - Course Information

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Final demo image from the Artistic Portrait Photography course
Hey guys, it's been a while since my last blog post. A number of you have written in to ask for more details regarding the course I am teaching at Learn Squared. With a new mentorship class coming up, I thought it would be a good time as any to give a rundown and answer some of your most frequently asked questions. Hope those who are considering signing up will find this helpful! :D

Course Scope

There are 8 lessons in this course. I will cover a wide range of topics from the basics of photography, to putting a shoot together, photoshoot day, and my retouching process when doing one of my fine art portrait photos.

I focus a lot on the fundamentals and essentials that I find important to my photography. The idea is that after this course you will have a structured way of putting a shoot together, that you can do anything you wish to and it doesn’t have to apply to fine art portraits only.

Difficulty Level

I’d say photographers of all levels can learn from this course including those who have never touched a camera. However, I think most beneficial would probably be for beginners and intermediate photographers.

Beginner: It’s fine if you are completely new to photography. I go over the camera and lighting basics which would help you get started. When it comes to Photoshop, I may go over some basic functions rather quickly. But if you have any questions you can always post in the Learn Squared forums or chats, there are usually other students or staff around who are happy to answer.

Intermediate/Hobbyist: The course is probably most beneficial for those that find themselves falling within this bracket. I go over a lot of essential fundamentals that I find important in my photography workflow. So if you have already played around with a camera, Photoshop, and have some vague idea on what you want to do but don’t really know how to get started, this course will help you. The process will teach you learn how to structure, put a shoot together, and polish your final image.

Advanced/Professional: For advanced/professional photographers, I think the course is a good benchmark to check against for your own personal workflow. In general, my offline workshops are attended by professionals, but as there is no time limit for this online course, I've made it more detailed and covered more basics which I don’t usually teach in regular advanced classes.

Package Breakdown

The Learn Squared website sells 3 different packages for the course:

Basic: This include over 5 hours of video content and access to the private student community on Learn Squared.

Learn Squared: This includes over 20 hours of video content—video tutorials from the course, my homework review with my apprentice, Maciej Kuciara, as well as recordings with past mentorship students on their homework reviews and Q&As. 

Professional: This includes everything in the Learn Squared package plus weekly live mentorships sessions. This is where I will mentor and give feedback to students and answer questions individually. We take a small class for each batch, so everyone has the chance and time to have their questions answered and work reviewed.

Lesson Breakdown

1. Photography Basics

Lesson 1 - Photography Basics
We begin with fundamentals which spans across 2 lessons. In lesson 1, I cover equipment basics, camera basics, as well as key points of photography that I believe are the foundation to creating good photography and artwork.

Students are assigned to create images around design elements and principles:

Gilchan Oh, Lesson 1 Homework
Alena Kazakevich, Lesson 1 Homework
Alex Chua, Lesson 1 Homework

2. Equipment and Lighting

Lesson 2 - Equipment and Lighting

In lesson 2, I discuss a list of all the basic studio tools and lighting equipment that I use.

Lighting examples are also given for various modifiers, environments, ambient lighting, etc, in how they create different types of lights and moods:

Lesson 2 - Equipment and Lighting

Student homework was to execute on what was covered in the lesson, and experiment with various lighting modifiers:

Melvin Wong, Lesson 2 Homework
Zanelli Caldas, Lesson 2 Homework
Henrik Bengtsson, Lesson 2 Homework

3. Concepts and Casting

Lesson 3 - Concept and Casting
In the next two lessons, I cover the production process on how to come up with a concept and execute it. I decided to teach this by doing a walkthrough of how I produce an actual fine art portrait photoshoot myself. So two parts happen concurrently in these lessons: 1) the general framework and steps I follow when I put a shoot together, and 2) the details of how I apply all of it in practice depending on the situation.

For this lesson, I cover the initial concept creation process as well as how to cast and search for models. Students are taught how to put a concept board together and things to watch out for in casting:

Alex Chua, Lesson 3 Homework
Melvin Wong, Lesson 3 Homework

4. Team Building and Planning

Lesson 4 - Team Building and Planning
In part two of production, I talk about team-building and shoot planning.

I discuss what to do when things go wrong, break down the roles and what is expected of each member on a photoshoot crew, and how to plan your shoot day, schedule, and send out a call sheet. I also go into more details on a photographer's roles and responsibilities, so that you will be well-equipped and understand the expectations for your shoot day.

For this class, students are tasked with finding their crew, revising their concept board, doing a light test, and finalizing shoot details.

5. Photoshoot

Lesson 5 - Photoshoot
In this lesson, I cover the full process of a photoshoot day from beginning to end.

I start with the various workstation setups, both for the hair and makeup artists and for the photographer. Then, I cover the process in working with the model and team. This lesson goes into detail on each point because every factor is important.

6. Post-production

Lesson 6 - Post Production
The post-production process spans across the next two lessons. This first session is focused on workstation setups, image selection and color processing. It may be a bit dry compared to other lessons, especially after the big shoot, but this part of the process is one of the most vital and determining factors in producing a good final image.

Youssra Fawzy, Lesson 6 Homework

7. Retouching

Lesson 7 - Retouching
In part two of post-production I go over retouching. Here, I explain some essential tools and functions in Photoshop for those who are new to the program. I will also teach a basic and simplistic approach that I take to retouching without using filters, presets, and complicated plug-ins.

"Germaine III", retouched image from course demo.

8. Branding and Marketing

Lesson 8 - Marketing and Branding
Whether you take the course as enrichment for your existing photo career or as a hobby, I think every individual will benefit from having an awareness for building a strong personal brand. I decided to do a fine art course because I felt that to have a successful creative career, you have to focus on the fundamentals and your individual artistic vision to set you apart.

So while this course is more abstract than specific subjects such as fashion or beauty, I wanted to cover some avenues to follow up on what you have done. In this lesson, I go over some of the key points in branding and marketing, and I hope that you guys will find it useful.

Student Homework

Below are some images from students who have shared their final work:

Germaine Persinger, Final Work
Victoria Chan
Peter Phung, Final Work
Samantha Ong
Melvin Wong, Final Work
Alex Chua
Shadow Wong, Final Work

Student Experiences

". . . incredibly inspiring. I’ve made so many adjustments based on what you’ve shared and I will keep refining my process until I internalize at least a small portion of the effort and quality that you infuse all your work with. Thank you!" - Volen CK, Learn Squared Term 2 – Big Notes and Insights

"I really enjoyed this course by Jingna . . . This course helped me to refine my approach to artistic portrait photography." - Peter Phung, Lesson 7 Homework

"Thanks so much for sharing your workflow . . . watching the video on how you use photoshop tools and how it is being applied is very useful and broadened my knowledge on the functions." - Zantz Han, Lesson 7 Homework

Blog entry from my apprentice, Maciej Kuciara, on his experience doing his very first photoshoot:


This is going to sound trite, but one of the most rewarding part of doing this course has been watching everyone's progress. Even though I spent an average of over 40 hours putting each lesson together, I'll be the first to say that I don't think the pacing for the course is perfect—some parts may have been too advanced for beginners, and some parts may have been too basic for professionals—but being able to see a wide range of work from students of all levels, that's been incredibly inspiring and humbling. So to everyone who took the course despite these shortcomings, and especially to those who took the time to share some of the results of what they have done, thank you all so much. 

New Mentorship Sessions

Professional mentorship sessions are weekly live calls with students where I go over tips, critiques and answer any individual-specific questions.

New mentorship sessions will begin Friday September 9th. Sign up here.

Exhibition: Sound and Emotion

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Motherland Chronicles on show at Carnevale Gallery in Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas
Super excited to be showing a number large format prints from the Motherland Chronicles collection in Las Vegas this month. Visit Carnevale Gallery in Caesar's Palace to see them in person if you're in town! :D

Sound and Emotion
Feb 8th - March 31st, 2016
Carnevale Gallery 
(Appian Way, Caesar's Palace)
3570 S Las Vegas Blvd, Ste 20
Las Vegas, Nevada

Some pieces on show:



Sadness and Pain

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My grandma passed away on Boxing Day six years ago.

No one told me the news, even though she was the only one who raised me when I was a child. The way I found out was cruel in its offhandedness, the memory loops around in my head every year when the season comes around.

It hurts, so much so that I sometimes want to claw my chest out and rip my heart to pieces so the pain can stop.

It was the last time I celebrated a Christmas or New Year.

There are blocks of days in a year that are blacked out in my mind. These are days where I know I can’t function. I can't avoid the nightmares, I still mourn.

Sometimes I wonder if it will only end when the entire year is dipped in black, because then I would have no choice but to accept those days as the new norm and live.

Maybe I hold on to too much, maybe I am not as strong as others, maybe I can never become a person who doesn’t cry on days close to the death anniversaries of people I knew and cared about. But I think that's okay. It's a part of me, and has made me into who I am today.

Festive seasons make it hard to talk about pain. If you are hurting inside, you are not alone.

14 Tips for Photographers Who Want to go Pro

Friday, December 18, 2015

This is the sixth article in my Profoto Blog series

Hi everyone! In my last five articles for this series, I have covered the process of producing photoshoots, my favorite fashion photography lighting equipment, and tips on how to break into fashion photography. In this sixth and final piece, I would like to follow up on breaking into fashion photography and talk about how one develops into a professional photographer.

People arrive at their destinations through different paths, but many also share the same struggles, dilemmas, and pitfalls. I hope my thoughts will shed some light on what the path of going pro often entails. Let me know what you think at the end of the post!

1) Learn to be Prepared

This subject may sound silly, but for the most of us, we have no idea as to what we’re doing when we first start learning.

On the day I did my first shoot with my first camera, I took it out of its packaging, pressed the shutter, and was greeted with the message: “No Card”.

I’ve always been a more hands-on learner, and prefer jumping into things and learning on the go. However, I’ve learned that gaining a basic understanding of something new before diving in helps manage expectations and allow things to go much more smoothly. Google tips and how-to’s before you try something you haven’t done before, there is usually always some good advice out there, even amongst the seemingly bad ones.

2) Learn with What You Have

My first shoots were self-portraits, pictures of friends, and of my younger sister. If you can photograph normal people and create compelling images, you know you are on the right track in terms of aesthetics and skill-building. As you improve, you will find that people will want to work with you based on your ability to achieve good work with non-models.

My first purchase after my camera was a second-hand hot light, also known as a continuous light. I had endless questions about which strobes to buy or lenses to add to my collection. But at the end of the day, I learned that the 18-55mm kit lens was a decent range to work with as a new photographer, and that a hot light provided me with a good deal of room in terms of experimentation. I mastered shooting with one light, and many of my early works were shot with it alone in my family’s living room.

3) Be Genuine and Do Things Because You Want to

My first model agency test happened through someone I was assisting. The photographer was shooting portraits of elderly people, I was interested in his work and wanted to know what the shoots were like, so I volunteered. One day, he set up a shoot with an agency model and encouraged me to do something on my own. I was given time to set up after he was done. The model’s agency loved my pictures, and they have continued sending me girls ever since.

Do things that you are genuinely interested in. Don’t do things with mixed intentions, ulterior motives or expect reciprocal favors.

People will remember the person who genuinely wanted to be a part of something that they cared about. They will think of you when something perfect for you comes along. This is how opportunities happen.


New Course: Artistic Portrait Photography

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hi everyone! I am super excited to share that I will be offering my very first online photography course—Artistic Portrait Photography—on Learn Squared.

In this course, I will walk you through my process of crafting a unique, creative portrait photoshoot.

Beginning with the basics of photography, I will go through all the steps I take from production, lighting, retouching to post-production.

Limited places available for mentorships.

Check out the course page for more information. Hope to see you there! :D 


Top 10 Fashion Photography Lighting Tools

Monday, November 23, 2015

This is the fifth article in my Profoto Blog series

In my previous article on how to break into fashion photography, I mentioned a few lighting modifiers frequently used in the industry. In this piece, I would like to provide some examples of those modifiers used in my work and also share with you my thoughts on a range of other equipment that I favor in the studio. I hope you will find this article helpful!



After renting equipment in and out of studios for many years, when I set up my own home studio, I decided to get monolights. Each of these lights is a single unit, making it easy to carry, set up and pack away. The lower price point also makes them more affordable, thus allowing me to have more. So I got 4 of the D1 Air 500s.

Since I can shoot most of my standard fashion, beauty and portrait work with monolights, they are my go-to lights at any time. 


15 Tips on How to Break into Fashion Photography

Thursday, March 19, 2015

In my last three articles, I talked about producing commercial and personal photoshoots, and tips on how to improve one’s photography. In this guide, I want to share my thoughts on how to break into fashion photography.

Fashion photography is a highly exclusive and competitive industry. Getting in requires dedication, commitment, hard work, and often times, a dash of good luck and timing. There is no great secret or shortcut, it is going to be a tough journey, and you must be prepared for the long-haul.

1. Understand Fashion

Christian Dior Couture Fall 2008 Backstage

Just as a photographer should know how to operate a camera, a fashion photographer should possess a basic knowledge of fashion. A good understanding of the subject will go a long way towards helping your career, so I recommend studying the following:

– The history of fashion
– Fashion from different periods and eras
Designers, icons, and image-makers
– Fashion terminologies
– Hairstyles and makeup looks
– Fashion films and documentaries
– Current industry news

Many photographers try to shoot fashion without knowing what fashion is. It shows. Don’t let some reading hold you back from the possibility of producing better work. Most materials on these topics are readily available on the internet now, so there is really no excuse.

2. Read Magazines, Learn Who’s Who

Reading magazines is a great way to find inspirational images and ideas for new photographers. Take this time to curate the styles and work that you find yourself responding to. Identify traits in the photographs you like and explore those for your own shoots. Save the names of people whose styles you feel for, so you can work towards collaborating with them one day.

Also keep in mind that publications have different demographics and aesthetics from one another. Knowing who wants what will be very helpful in preparing an appropriate portfolio for the kinds of magazines that you want to shoot for in the future.


Elle Vietnam: Minh Hang

Monday, January 26, 2015

New cover and editorial for Elle Vietnam's Lunar New Year issue featuring Vietnamese singer/actress Minh Hang. Styling by Phuong My.

Minh Hang
Elle Vietnam, Janurary 2015

Photography: Zhang Jingna
Stylist: Phuong My

Model: Minh Hằng
Makeup: Minh Loc
Hair: SiNam Nguyen @ HairBar
Set Design: Zhang Jingna & Phuong My
Flowers by Padma de Fleur
Photographer's Assistants: Ernie Chang & Nguyen Phuong Thao
Stylist assistant: Thao Nguyen
Location: S3 Studios