Photographer Brandon Woelfel Shares the Shooting and Editing Secrets That Gained Him 3 Million Followers

Photographer Brandon Woelfel Shares the Shooting and Editing Secrets That Gained Him 3 Million Followers

With over 3 million Instagram followers, and a client base that includes Apple and Nikon, Brandon Woelfel is doing something right. Now, in his new Skillshare Original online class, the photographer is sharing not only the secrets behind his shooting and editing techniques, but how he achieved his successes.

Photographic Style

Based out of Long Island, NY, Woelfel never intended to be a photographer. Starting out in college, he was studying computer graphics. In the years since, he has carved out a thriving career, cementing himself as one of the most widely-known photographers in the industry, due largely to his recognizable signature style. Openly shooting with both his digital camera and iPhone, he has paid attention to what his followers do and don’t respond to, and attributes much of his success to opening conversations with his audience, and actively engaging with their opinions.

Woelfel says that consistency is key to furthering your social media presence. Regardless of whether your shooting style is niche or more generalized, he says that being thorough in the work you’re putting out is essential. As for his own work, he prefers having a notable aesthetic. It stems from his time at school, where he was urged to pick a niche and stick with it. Woelfel almost exclusively shoots either at golden hour, or at night time. Conveniently, the two “fall into each other,” but give completely different effects. A standard shoot for Woelfel would involve himself and his model taking several outfits, first shooting during golden hour before changing it up and shooting in the dark. He tells Fstoppers: “It’s all about getting as much as you can out of a shoot and having variety. [The photos] look so different, but were shot within the same hour."

Having a certain aesthetic can get you recognized, instead of blending into the crowd.

Woelfel shoots at night in the Skillshare Original videos.

Amongst the millions whose eye Woelfel’s work has caught is Skillshare. An online learning community for creators with more than 8 million members around the globe, the company has been collaborating with him for the past 18 months. As someone who used to search online for tutorials as a way to learn, Woelfel aims for his class to be a resource that his followers – many of whom are beginners who would benefit from being able to learn from home – can gain insight from. Utilising the Instagram Stories’ ‘Swipe Up’ feature to plug their previous collaborations, Woelfel says many of his followers eventually signed up to the site, and wanted to see lessons from him. Now, the inevitable has occurred, and the two have partnered on his first Skillshare Original. “We finally came together and did a whole process start to finish of what I do.”

Sharing Secrets

As a photographer myself that has spent the best part of a decade crafting (and constantly changing) his own post-processing workflow, I was keen to know if Woelfel felt apprehensive, even vulnerable, about sharing his editing secrets. After all, posting before and after shots is a bold move that opens oneself up to public criticism. Making public the intricate processes used to transform a photo from its original state leaves any photographer in a vulnerable position. Although he admits the idea of revealing his Photoshop workflow was definitely weird at first, Woelfel is no stranger to speaking openly on how we does what he does. A keen YouTuber, it’s not unusual to find him offering insight to the behind-the-scenes goings on of his shoots, and he often provides links for his followers to purchase the same lighting or props that he himself uses. However, by his own admission, YouTube didn’t feel like the right platform to share editing workflows. Thus, his Skillshare class was born.

I’ve always wanted people to get an insight into how I edit, but I wanted to do it the right way.

Woelfel shares his editing techniques in the Skillshare Original videos.

I asked him straight up: What would be your response to someone who said you rely too much on editing, or that it’s “wrong” to purposely underexpose your images, even if you’re doing so tactically? Woelfel says it all comes back to how he learnt his craft. In school, the approach was to shoot one certain thing “with the intention to later composite that into a final image,” a process he says is now engrained into him. He makes the valid point that he is always open about the fact his images have been edited, and his willingness to post before and after sets is proof of that. He makes the comparison of how a movie is perceived differently by each member of its audience, and can be enjoyed despite the use of CGI or green screen. After all, it’s still enjoyable even if it isn’t true to real life. And the same stands for photography.

Everyone’s not the same as you so you can’t attack someone for, you know, going about [editing a photo] in a way that you wouldn’t have.

Having Personality

As well as shooting and editing tips, viewers of the Skillshare class will also learn how to build their following. An imperative part of appealing to your audience falls on writing an engaging caption. So just how important is it to establish an identity, and a personality that your viewers can relate to? As a photographer, should our work speak for itself, or should those that take the time to follow our photos also know what we look like, and a bit about ourselves? It’s crucial, if you ask Woelfel. Makes sense, given that such a huge part of his brand is the open forum that his Instagram has become. He says that in a world saturated with photography and social media, where your nearest competitor is “just a scroll away,” it’s imperative to have a face.

Many of his posts invite his audience to share their opinion. “Which edit do you prefer!?” reads one caption; “If you were to edit this image, would you leave the light fixtures in?” says another. Woelfel is no stranger to posting different edits of the same picture, too – a move some photographers would consider terrifying. These different edits often showcase one of his most utilized tools: selective color.


Captions are a great way of getting people engaged. Of course I was apprehensive [to invite opinion] at first, as you don’t want someone to not like your edit, but I’ve gotten used to comments like ‘I preferred the before.’ It’s a way of opening up a conversation.

Behind-the-Scenes

Similarly, one aspect of his feed that Woelfel’s followers have grown accustomed to is his willingness to share behind-the-scenes content. With the world of BTS stills and footage very much a phenomenon in its own right, Woelfel quite frequently has someone with him on set to capture everything going on. He prefers to keep the crew numbers down, favoring just himself, the subject, and the behind-the-scenes shooter present. “People enjoy seeing the behind-the-scenes content just as much as the final picture itself,” he laughs. Sharing such an insight also helps with audience engagement. After all, many of his followers are surprised to learn that a number of his best-received images on Instagram were shot in either his or the model’s bedroom.

Woelfel reveals some of his DIY techniques for achieving great images in his Skillshare Original videos.

Through a camera you only see one frame, and you never know what was put into creating that image. [Behind-the-scenes content] gets people inspired and shows them that anyone can go about doing this.

So, how exactly does acquiring three million followers change the way you shoot, and what you choose to share? Naturally, it makes you more conscious of what you produce, and Woelfel openly admits that, to some extent, the comments people leave on his Instagram have inspired him to go down certain routes. “I want to shoot for myself, but I also think about what people like and how they might perceive it. It’s a battle between the two,” he explains. Scrolling through his feed, he says he can spot his development, but that his work has always stayed within his own style guidelines.

Brandon Woelfel’s Skillshare class covers everything from shoot prep and the best equipment and settings to use, to demonstrations on his own post-processing techniques, and how best to share content to Instagram in order to boost your following. He joins other photography influencers on the platform including Justin Bridges, Marte Marie Forsberg, and Chris Burkard. Watch it here

The first 100 Fstoppers readers who sign up to Skillshare using this link will get two months free membership.

See more of Brandon’s work at his website, Twitter, or his Instagram.

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78 Comments

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

So only shooting and editing? Nothing else? Then I can expect 3 mill of followers too.

Juan Garcia's picture

Yes that simple. Give it a go.

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

I tried and only gain 3000 unfollowers. Must have been some mistake in editing..

davidlovephotog's picture

Why do they call it natural lighting? Shoot everything at f1.0 and then dodge the hell out of the pic to save it, is that natural? A speedlight, strobe or even a reflector could save a lot of post work with these kind of pics but I don't see many doing it. The other people around me shooting modeling and cosplay all shoot this way and all their pics look the same. I don't see a style here as much as shoot without equipment and then post work like crazy to save the image.

Irene Rudnyk's picture

there are always positives and negatives to any technique. yes you can save maybe a few minutes in editing, but you will have to invest more time at the shoot to set up the lights, carry them and maybe even hire an assistant.
Didn't see Brandon "dodge and burn to hell" in any of the example before and afters. It's more of the color work that he does, which is his personal style. Looks awesome, well deserved the following that he has.

davidlovephotog's picture

Color work? The majority of the pics in his videos are blurry and shot in the dark, which is what that 1.4 does for you. The rest is just slapping presets or actions and trying to make the image not dark and grainy. Seems to be a trend.

Irene Rudnyk's picture

so what? why are you so pressed about something that other photographer does. Clearly it works for him.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Probably your thought process should be different.

Not his way to produce these eye-catching photos, but how his photos, which are good enough for Instagram, help him grow his followers base, making him better as influencer and helping to sell more tutorials.

Juan Garcia's picture

I thought it was because there is no flash. It doesn't quite roll of the tongue saying no flash photography. Also seems just the same reason not everyone uses a Nikon camera, Lightroom or Flickr, to each his own? Does it really matter knowing how you get there, rather than just seeing the photo.

Robert Altman's picture

Hype begetting hype for the most part...a lot of IG is decidedly NOT quality driven - but great marketing!!

Paul Farace's picture

That was a very long ad lol.

Johnny Rico's picture

Who?

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Guy from Profoto ad.

Joe Vahling's picture

Key is consistency, frequency, and individual engagement. Nobody ever follows dead or random accounts.

stuartcarver's picture

Ill stick to being random thanks, with my 280 followers, bollocks to restricting my photography to one 'style'

Jordan McChesney's picture

I’m the same. When it comes to individuals I follow, I gravitate towards quality over quantity. An ability to excel in different styles rather than one, is a bonus.

Ivan Lantsov's picture

and he cant get nice clothes?

Indy Thomas's picture

Sorry to sound like a cynic, but when we stand back and look at the business model it is this: Find pretty model (female only) pose here and there in the same light use backlight, flare, and the odd gizmo at night. Then beat hell out of file in post.
This is not a business model that would work anywhere except on IG where the product is made by a hobbyist and sold to hobbyists.
It is fine, he makes a living and is not a jerk but this is what passes for "pro" these days for most people.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

So, it is normal marketing to photographers...

Juan Garcia's picture

That sounds easy, if anyone can do it let me try it.

Indy Thomas's picture

My point is: Who is buying this type of photo? I suppose Maxim or other mags might bite on that sort of photo but in the real world not so much. My contention is that the subject and style is selected to populate an IG feed that gets followers and thus revenue. His pictures are fine and many cannot make them but that is not my point.
This hobby is filled largely with males who will gladly follow this guy as opposed to someone else solely because of the subject.

davidlovephotog's picture

And now days you basically just re-create every popular shot you see and pawn it off as your own idea. Use the same presets as popular people and pawn those off as your own and people are never the wiser. Then of course sell luts, presets and actions that you bought and rebranded as your own. Easy money. Oh, don't forget to buy likes!

Juan Garcia's picture

I get what you are saying, I really do. My point is, this business model you are suggesting isn't simply put that way. Im not saying you are wrong, but I disagree with your conclusion. Now folks like David here is also saying just do these little things like a formula, and you will be successful. Life doesn't work that way. There are no easy steps here, bottom line..... If you like the end result of a photo, then folks will like what they like sans comments and assumptions. That trumps anything said in this post.

Indy Thomas's picture

That is exactly my point. "Liking" is what the currency of IG is and thus the business model of any aspiring "influencer". I am not suggesting it is evil, unethical or seedy. I tis a product created for generating likes with the corresponding metrics analyzed to death to optimize engagement.
In fact it is what drives clickbait of every sort.
Thus we have reduced the IG photographer business model to a clickbait monkey that uses whatever means to amass volume.
Interesting niche. Good for him but scarcely what most pros are actually doing.

timgallo's picture

i am afraid i will never understand the generation of photographers who look at lcd while shooting. also, 3 mil followers does not make you exceptional in photography, but exceptional in branding maybe. like mcdonalds food - its amount sold does not means its "great food".

this guy branding is good. every average girl wants to look like pictures of his models, no?

also skillshare is exactly the place for this guy.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

I do look at LCD. And I find it more convenient in many cases. Less back pain, at least :)

And some old generation photographers looked at some screen :)

timgallo's picture

Yeah. I prefer glass to a monitor. I am romantic that way. Also you say "old generation" looked at some screen as if this camera or manual cameras are thing of the past. People still use them.

also, back pain is not essentially bad thing. every job has some consequences for a body/
Michelangelo had one all his life.

Btw, I am strictly talking about portrait photography...

stuartcarver's picture

"back pain is not essentially bad thing"

said nobody who has ever actually done a days work in their life.

timgallo's picture

lol. i should have phrased it better.
are there any job that has no impact on a body?

Scott Mason's picture

People get used to point & shoot, or their cell phones. When they finally move to a pro camera, they can't break the habit.

There is one advantage to LCD shooting however, aside from the back pain and angle flexibility: focus. You can dial it in very accurately with zoom, if the camera is at least steady enough.

Deleted Account's picture

Pandering to the lowest common denominator.

I haven't seen his instagram profile but I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that he has images where a girl is holding Christmas lights.

Update! He did not disappoint.

Dave F's picture

Right, because Point Reyes and Yosemite are the bastion of originality.

stuartcarver's picture

At least he is showing some photo's on his profile.

Deleted Account's picture

You are absolutely correct Dave. I guess I should just accept my fate and go buy some Christmas lights. Shooting locations like Yosemite and Point Reyes is totally the same creative process.

Do you have any recommendations for the kind that models like to lay on top of? I'd especially like to find the ones that feel good and people like to caress their skin with. Like one does normally. Thanks in advance.

Dave F's picture

Ohhh, I see, you feel like the OBJECTS he's using have been shot to death, and that's completely different from shooting a LOCATION to death. I get it now. My apologies, carry on.

Deleted Account's picture

Maybe not at the basic level but what do I know? There's no real point in discussing what's original anymore because everything has been done or "shot to death" as you say. It all started with looking at the few image examples in this article and then predicting that he shoots models wrapped up in Christmas lights.

If that style of shooting and creativity is what you aspire to then more power to you. I hope you gain millions of social followers.

Josh Spradley's picture

I'm pretty sure he wasn't the first to ever do that but he was one of the ones who popularized the whole fairy light thing and a bajillion other instatographer's have been riding his coattails ever since. I enjoy Woelfel's work and he seems like a legitimately awesome guy it is rather unfortunate that his style has become a meme though but that's the interwebs for ya...

Dave F's picture

I don't really have strong feelings about his style but there's a difference between that and what most of the a**clowns on here are saying. You people are actually offended by someone you don't even know finding a way to make a living doing what they enjoy. Seriously? That's the definition of needing to comment less and focus more energy on your own work.

Pretty much anybody who's found success as a photographer says the same thing, over and over again: be consistent and find a niche. That's exactly what he's done. Are you people even paying attention?

Every professional photographer: "it's less about gear and skill and more about marketing"

Jealous amateurs every time there's an article about somebody else who made it: "he's just tricking everybody with marketing!"

Wake up already. Worry about yourselves. That's the only way you're going to make it. And I guarantee that once you do, you're not going to be on blogs b*tching about other people making it. If anything, here's your sign. If that's what you're doing right now, you've got a lot more work to do. Shut up and do it.

It's always interesting to me that so many photographers hold this idea in their heads that the ultimate professional is this button-pushing technical wizard who can craft light with thousands of dollars of equipment and bring to life somebody else's vision. Sure, there's great skill in that and in some areas that's what's required for success. But it isn't the end-all-be-all.

When was the last time you thought: "man, those studio musicians are great. I love their stuff." Probably only if you're a studio musician yourself. Otherwise, you listen to, and know, the artists. Not the session guitarist, not the sound engineer, not the guy who mastered the album. Why are you so afraid of there being a corollary in photography? Does it undermine your delicate sensibilities?

If nothing else, be thankful that he's one less person interested in whatever niche you're interested in, if any.

Irene Rudnyk's picture

couldn't say it better myself! Completely agree

Marco Ribbe's picture

my thoughts exactly.

Jeff Walsh's picture

People, especially this community, thrive on hate. They want to put down any success that isn't theirs, and crap on any style they don't like. Woefel, regardless of opinions, has carved out a career in photography. He works with top brands, who in turn have huge budgets, and does the basic job of a commercial photographer: shoot what the clients, and the public, want to see. The market he's placed himself in want exactly what he's doing, and that's the foundational point of any photography business.

All this hate, it's so typical of insecure artists. I've purchased Woefel's books to study his style, see what attracts people to his work. Am I a fan? No, I don't actually care for his art style. Can he teach me things about becoming a professional photographer? Hell EFFIN yes.

Deleted Account's picture

"I don't really have strong feelings about his style but there's a difference between that and what most of the a**clowns on here are saying. You people are actually offended by someone you don't even know finding a way to make a living doing what they enjoy. Seriously? That's the definition of needing to comment less and focus more energy on your own work."

Easy does it friend...

I think you're missing the point that most of us are making. It's not his success that (I guess I can only speak for myself) that's silly. I'm happy for him. I'm sure he's a super nice guy who's driven to be successful. It's the fact that this style (often shot by every other IG photographer who shoots other IG models) is what the audience wants to see more of. I also shoot things that are inspired by photographers I look up to – and who doesn't? But

He has a following that you'd think would put him in world class art but much like how McDonalds isn't known for it's quality, it's making a hell of a lot more money than your local artisan establishment. Mass appeal does not automatically equal quality product.

Going back to success. I couldn't be more impressed that he has that many followers and hope he's capitalizing on the opportunity to make a dump trucks load of cash while he still can. I'm also more impressed by his ability to do business more than his ability to create a photograph.

"Don't hate the player, hate the game" Ice-T?

Irene Rudnyk's picture

don't try to diminish Brandon's work just because it's a popular style. I see this happening in every art scene. "Oh pop music is garbage, I only listen to new age synth 80s electronica, anything else is garbage for normies"
"I only shoot pinhole cameras, black and white and i capture the humanity in homeless people "

Just because something is popular, doesn't mean is automatically bad. Many people enjoy his work, he puts a lot of time and effort in what he does.
Don't like it, move on, but don't act like you are somehow better!

Deleted Account's picture

Just because something is popular, doesn't mean is automatically good.

Side note. IMO, your work is better than his by leaps and bounds.

Irene Rudnyk's picture

Wow, so many butthurt people in the comments. Brandon is VERY successful and that is a fact! If you don't like his work fine! But there is no need for snarky comments, you look very pressed.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Success always tows envy in its wake. People tend to react to that envy in one of two ways: by being inspired to work harder and achieve or by becoming toxic and trying to tear down.

Comments sections tend to be a breeding ground for the latter. ;)

Alex Yakimov's picture

At current size of following I see Brendon as a brand, which ought to maintain certain level of sincerity to its base. Because visual imagery is an infinite variation on familiar and new there is now way in universe to appropriate and patent it, besides it would be counterproductive. Everything published immediately start becoming obsolete the moment after release, so no risk of sharing certain aspects. It helps to propagate his signature style and to solidify a mindshare of his work. So selling on the SkShare is a double win. Is it worth it, I don’t know. Would I spend money on it, probably not yet. I would be more curious to see Brandon stepping out his comfort zone and that would be something unlikely.

Ben Bezuidenhout's picture

Nothing special, move along.

Jeff Walsh's picture

at least you admit you contribute absolutely nothing, and that people should ignore your existence. The next step is for you to just keep your useless mouth shut.

Juan Garcia's picture

Get off my lawn!!! Grrrrrr.......Snarks crumudgity old men.

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