Behind the scenes at CreativeLive

One of my greatest achievements so far this year has to be being invited to teach a photography class on CreativeLive. For this, I teamed up with my talented partner, Pratik Naik from Solstice Retouch, and together we designed a two day course covering how I pull together and create my storytelling images. We included a location, a studio photoshoot, followed with a full day focused just on the post production and retouching. 

The opportunity for this came about last year while I was in New York with Pratik. Of course once it was offered I said yes immediately! It's CreativeLive after all! I remember watching their classes when I was first starting out in my journey, the calm voices of photographers leading in their fields generously sharing their knowledge, motivated and helped me build up my confidence to put myself out there, to shoot, make mistakes, find my own voice, chase jobs, and eventually turn my passion into a career. 

It was an honour being asked and I did not want to hold back. I want to be that kind of influence for other photographers who are starting out, struggling to find their voice, or who just want to be better at their craft. 

Pre production

Pre production took some time, months of weekly meetings, brainstorming and finessing ideas. Our producer, Kathy was an absolute gem at keeping us focused and making the process super easy. 

For the shooting segments I reached out to a couple of designers whose pieces I felt would suit the concepts I had in mind. Jo Fleming, a UK based designer, sent over two dresses, one white and one red (I'd previously shot with this before and already knew how striking it was)


Jo Ellen from Firefly Path, based out in California, sent over a unicorn dress make of a sequinned material that looked like a fusion of rainbow and water. She also included a unicorn headpiece which contributed to the concept I wanted to capture.

Kathy connected me with Kristina Grohs, the hair and makeup artist I'd get to know over the few days. I sent over some moodboards for the looks which helped communicate my vision when it came to the shoots.

I was also connected with Tania, who was in charge of realising my vision for the flower wall. She kept us updated on the run up to the live shoot with pictures and videos.

Fern wall inspiration for the live shoot

Fern wall inspiration for the live shoot

Creative Live Week

Soon May 6th came around and before I knew it we were on a plane to Seattle. My first time visiting the pacific north west. 

On our first full day we spent some time location scouting. I had a rough idea for what I was looking for but hadn't quite spotted it yet. It was on our way back to the car when I spotted a splash of red tucked among the green that seems intriguing. I followed the rough path and came across a scene that blew my mind with its potential! Don't you love it when that happens !

BTS images by Ken Yu

I'd heard so much about Seattle's floral beauty in the springtime from Kathy (which is why we planned our show for this time of year), but seeing it first hand was an experience. We quickly nailed down a couple of locations and were back there a couple of days later to shoot the preshoot segment of the show. This is when my nerves kicked in!

It was the first time I'd ever had a camera team follow me about and I have to admit, it was really disconcerting! I tried to imagine them all as my students, not sure if it worked but after a while I got into the flow. The team were wonderfully professional and great at putting me at ease.

Here are the final images that we created on location.  

bella kotak photography

If you want to learn how I colour toned these images, as well as the though process behind them, check out the full course here -

The Live Show

5am Thursday morning, the 10th of May, a couple of days had passed since our preshoot. Here was the day we had spent month preparing for. Standing in the studio, in the front of the students I could barely think let alone speak. I'd been practicing my opening line in the mirror any chance I got, and of course once the cameras started rolling and the countdown began all thought fled form my mind. 

Let me tell you, practicing in front of the mirror works! Words left my mouth, and suddenly all the experiences I had leading up to this point, the workshops I'd taught, the talks I'd given over the last couple of years came to help me get over those initial nerves. I felt calm, confident, and more importantly, I felt like this was going to be fun! 

For the live shoot segment we collaborated with Phase One to demonstrate the difference between a full frame and medium format camera. Thank you Phase One for sending us not one, but two cameras! 

I'm so thrilled with how the images we created during our live shoot segment in the studio turned out. I wanted share a concept that was different to the floral heavy location shoot. however as a nature loving photographer, I wanted to include some greenery and some fairytale magic in there too! 

We actually edited two pictures on day two, going through our individual processes as well as sharing tips on our workflow. I also spent time sharing my colour toning process as this is something I get asked about all the time.

Big thank you to Arlene, Kathy, Jake, and the whole team at CreativeLive who worked so hard on creating a course that I'm so proud to share with you all. Thank you for making the whole process easy and just really fun!

Thank you also to Ken Yu, for being a magnificent assistant over the course of the show. Having the extra set of capable hands was such a help! Ken, I wish I could steal you away as my personal assistant!

Thank you so much if you tuned in or purchased the class! Your support is greatly appreciated.

And if you haven't already, here's the link if you're interested in checking it out! -

Bonus Materials with class 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)

Bella Kotak

Bella Kotak is a fine art and fashion photographer currently based in Oxford & London, England. An art lover from a young age she always knew that she would work within the creative industry. Photography changed her life when she picked up a camera and began a 365 project. From that moment she was hooked by this medium that translates thoughts and imagination into tangible form and has since been featured in several magazines around the world.