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Defining Your Style

Lesson 7 from: Find Your Niche and Build Your Family Photography Business

Julia Kelleher

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Lesson Info

7. Defining Your Style

Lesson Info

Defining Your Style

So, let's ask ourself, where does stye come from? So, look at yourself, who are you? Use all your senses. Find inspiration outside the industry. Okay, so let's dig into that further. What is outside the industry? Decor, design, movies, art, technology, music, nature, faith, personality, and mood. I'm moody sometimes, okay. Personal growth or a life story. Clearly, my mother's death is affecting my work. It has changed me a lot in the last month and a half. It's weird. Really weird. It's almost like I can't control it, okay? I just need to create in a specific way. And I, you know, the tortured artist... We've all heard the phrase, you know, the crazy psychopath who makes this crazy art, and they're brilliant, but their heads are like... It's true, your mind plays on you to find your style. So, this is where I get a lot of outside inspiration. Let's talk about the specific ones that really hit home for me. So, Decor. This is my studio, remodel. It's very Joanna. Joanna Gaines. She's my ...

spirit animal, I love her. (audience laughs) Okay, design, any kind of graphic design. Colors, muted colors, are very much me. Movies, do these have a theme? They're all kind of that, I mean... Diane Keaton's house in this movie. Do you remember the house, have you seen the movie? Oh my gosh! It's the cedar shake siding with the white trim. And it's like this beach house, and it's just like, ahhhh, Martha Stewart. It's like the Joanna Gaines cottage at the beach. It's like, so pretty. Out of Africa, it has that 1920's vintage kind of... Cary Grant. You know, just kind of that old retro, but still classy, thing going on. And the English Patient is very similar, that African theme. I say African theme, but European-African. Not like the way when the British went into Africa. Like that feeling of World War I and II. Like that vintage, but still elegant. I've pictured, you know... I shouldn't give up what my Christmas card's gonna be, but that chair freakin' makes me, my heart on fire. I'm like, can you imagine my husband in a tux and a cigar in his mouth, and a cocktail. And then, me in a formal dress. Like the whole, oooh. Like, that to me makes my heart sing, okay? Artist, Stanka Kordic, is one of my favorite artists, and she's given me permission to show her images. But I actually had he paint my son's portrait. To this day, I still love her work. And I'm actually making payments on another piece of hers 'cause I love it so much. Music, Ellie Goulding, Lorde, Norah Jones, Black Eyed Peas, little bit of uh, uh, in there, right? Cold Play, Death Cab for Cutie, Adele, U2, Lana Del Rey. Do you see a theme? They're different, very different. I mean, the Black Eyed Peas and Adele? Polar opposites when you look at 'em apart. But, when you look at 'em in the context of all this, you start to see a style, don't you? A feeling, a feeling to the music. A feeling to the art, a feeling to the work. Nature, you know, some of my most fun pieces are these paintings that I do. Which is a little bit outside my style these days, in terms of what I do for clients. But as far as my own personal work, I love these magical fairytale composites. The wind, don't get me started on the wind. Almost all of my images have a fan or something blowing, or fabric. Because I love the flow, wind incites change to me. Wind can be powerful and evil, and wind can be soft and lovely and bring in the essence of Heaven into your images. Like, it's this thing you can't see but you can feel. And it always ushers in change. I was a meteorologist for many years, and the wind, forecasting the wind was really challenging. 'Cause it all has to do with geography and typography and how the wind flows through. I mean, here in the Northwest it's crazy. Like the gorge, the gorge, oh yeah. That is a whole 'nother forecasting animal right there. But I loved the fact that the wind could influence things without even being able to see it. So, just a magical thing for me there. But you can see a style beginning to kind of come about by these outside influences. So, the important thing about style is what you ask yourself, okay? How does something make me feel? Is that feeling something I want reflected in my work? What elements of this make my heart sing? Specifically, what elements of this make my heart sing? Could I live with this day in and day out, forever? So, how do you know if you just like something? You're like, "Oh, it's nice, it's cool." Versus, when it's an element of your true style. Style will stick. You'll wanna do it again and again and again and again and again. You'll never get sick of it. Or at least it'll take a while. It will stand the test of time. Finding your style is an evolving process that takes time. And when you find yourself wanting to shoot elements over and over and over and over again, then, you realize it may be an integral part of your style. Here's the trick. Look at specific things and go, "Does that make my heart sing?" And then zoom out to the big picture. If you have this skill, you will be an amazing entrepreneur. Zoom in, zoom out. Let's look at the details. Okay, the details fit in the whole picture. Most people have a hard time with business because they can't see the big picture. They're so down here in the details, that they can't connect the dots by looking at everything as a whole and going, "Is this the picture I want to send out to the world?" Whether it be your brand, your work, the impression you give in your sales, your pricing, your communication, your strategy, everything. Marketing, everything in your business, always zoom out here. And go, "Okay, what does this look like overall?" And, "Are we going in the right direction?" "Is this taking me to my five year plan?" Do you know what I mean, do you see where I'm going? If you're buried in the details all the time, you're never gonna see the forest for the trees. Super, super important, and especially when it comes to finding your style. Shoot something, do you like it? Look at it compared to your body of work. Step out, change, fix, tweak, go back in. It's a constant, this, this. Then, what you'll find is over time. as you build this portfolio and body of work, you're gonna go, "Oh yeah, that's me." And the realization will hit you. But it won't happen unless you go through that process. You can't just magically go, "Oh, that's my style." It's not gonna work, you'll be willy-nilly if you do that. Homework, begin honing in on your family niche. Ask yourself, "What do you love to shoot?" Is it children, is it newborns, is it full families? What age of children do you like? How can you narrow that further than you already are? Think about products that would suit your niche and brand. And one of the best ways to do this, of course, is to go to some of the trade shows where they display some of the products. Sometimes, I'm running between laps with two different products going, "Oh, can I make one out of this?" Think creatively, you don't have to just take what the lab delivers to you, you can change it up. My museum mounts are a classic example of that. That is sourced from multiple different vendors to create a product that I made that's unique, that clients just can't go buy at Costco. So, what types of products would suit your niche and your brand? So, let's take some questions, if you do have any. Awesome, Amy. Fire away, my dear. You mentioned a couple times that your work, lately, has changed with the passing of your mom. And that you're noticing that on all your client shoots, and I was wondering, if and how you're communicating that to your clients? I've just started... That's a good question, I've just started communicating that, but the soulful sibling line literally came out of that process. I... Have gotten a little darker. I love black and white, now. I used to be all, like, neutral tone, soft, light, fresh, airy, and it really forced me to wanna do a more dramatic portrait. It was funny because when I read this morning that grief is just love facing its ultimate arch enemy, really hit home. Because it made me go, I'm creating a portrait line that is my grief, but really it's love. And to see a child for who they are, without the smile, I've always deep down loved that. Like, whenever I photograph my own son, I don't want him to smile. It's just a natural thing, but parents love the smile. So, I've been delivering that for parents, but now I'm like, why? For them? Why don't I do for me? The response to this portraiture has been unbelievable. And I'm just going, "Oh, maybe it's not the smile." And, again, here I am, 11 years in this business, learning. Don't give the client what they want. Give them what you create. And it's a minor thing, small thing, in the process. But, wow, what an impact. And so, what I'm really photographing is love. In a... soulful, still happy, but more dramatic way. Yes, I'm communicating it to my clients. It's a slow process, I mean, literally, it's a month old. But, I'm in love, and so, I know. You know how you just have that conviction? You just know something's gonna work, and you don't care if it doesn't? That's kind of the mentality that I'm in. I'm like, "I don't care if it's not gonna work, "because I'm doing this, and the world "can just either love it or not." You know what I mean? It's just something you have to do as an artist. So, you'll get there, you'll find these things. I can't tell you how rewarding it is to finally... And I've shot from my heart my career. But there's a difference between shooting from your heart and shooting from your soul. When my mother died I was there by her... I can't believe I'm telling this story, but I will. When I was there by her bedside, and I hadn't spoken to my mom, probably, in four years, or seen her. But when she was passing away I flew, literally, within eight hours I was on a plane. Flying down to California and that was on a Thursday and she died on Saturday, or Sunday morning, early. It's a long story, I won't tell the whole thing, but we knew she was going. The little monitor was on her, and her heart rate was going down. And the thing stopped reading, it had a question mark. So, it wasn't getting enough of a pulse to read her pulse. And, you know that intermittent breathing where someone... It's sad when someone dies, but it's very intermittent. I was holding her hand and it was the strangest thing. Some people are going to think I'm totally weird. I had this like, it felt like a ball of lava exploding in my chest, is literally what the feeling was. It was very molten, it was very slow. It was like (exhales deeply) through my, right underneath my breastbone. Not my heart, my heart's right here. It was right, the upper part of my stomach. And I can't replicate that feeling, and I knew without a doubt, that she was gone, at that moment. But her body was still expelling the last breath. It was still dying. But I knew she had left. And Jenny, my sister, she was there too, she did not experience that, but I told her. I'm like, "Jenny, she's gone." I'm like, "She's gone." And she goes, "She's still breathing." I'm like, "No, she's gone." And I've never felt something so convicted in my life. And honestly, no matter how any bad thing happens in your life, you know how emotional you get. You know how when you're like really emotional about something, like your heart is broken. I cannot replicate that feeling. I physically cannot do it, it's something I've never felt in my body before. A lot of people say, "Well, that's your heart chakra, "that was her soul communicating with yours." And I knew she was gone. And, you know, whatever you believe, it's all irrelevant. But in terms of, this is my story. And that... I did not like my mother, I really did not like my mother. She was a very challenging woman to live with. I didn't talk to her for a reason. It was a very strained relationship. But when that happened, the emotion I felt was like, wow, she knew I was there. And that was the most important thing. That she knew I was there when she left this earth. And who knows what happened to her. But that veil between life and death get so thin when you're sitting next to someone, so thin. And it changes you, it makes you go, okay. Sorry, I'm getting a little emotional. It makes you go, "Wow, what do I wanna do? "I'm 45 years old, what do I wanna do "with the next 40 years? What did she do, "and mistakes that she made, that I don't wanna repeat? "How can I change and be different?" Obviously, I'm asking that 'cause we didn't get along. I mean, if I had a mother, it was great, I'd wanna live like her, right? As an artist, it makes you just question what the heck you're doing. What impact do you wanna leave the world with? 'Cause, remember, it's the living who end up with the images behind, the art behind you. How do you want them to feel? How do you want them to feel? And to me, that portrait of my son, with his fingers and his toes and that expression... (exhales) That is my boy right there. And that's what I want, him and his grandparents-- If I leave this earth for some reason in the next 24 hours, who knows, God forbid. But, you know what I'm saying? That's what I'm going to leave them with. If he left the earth, God forbid. Oh, God forbid, if he left this earth? That's what I have left, and that is him. That's the little boy I see everyday, every morning looking up at me. Not that happy, laughing smile. I do see that, but that's my son. Do you see the difference, and I think that's why I think I'm compelled to make that. And why something like a traumatic event in your life, whether it's grief or not, changes you and changes the way you produce art. Not always positive, but always growing. And that's, I think, the key thing is to always grow. I have a question about clothing. First, do you provide clothes for your clients? If not, how will you suggest them when you give them the pre-consultation and advise them to wear, what they really are, instead of grandma's flower or big Gap logo in front of the sweater? So, yeah-- I work hard on clothing because clothing is actually a clients' big pain point. They do not wanna dress for the part. They have a hard time with this. And this is like the big decision they have to make. And it's always stressful, no matter what. Melissa Jenkins' family are coming in today, and she's a photographer, and she's been stressing about the clothes. I mean, she knows this process and she was stressing about the clothes. I told her, "Just bring a suitcase, you'll be fine." And so, that calmed her down. She's like, "Oh, okay, I'll just bring a suitcase." You know, like, we'll just bring lots of options. And then I can let her pick. And, oftentimes, I will say that to a client. I'll say, "Oh, just bring a suitcase." My clients do all the time. Don't feel stupid bringing a suitcase. It's great, because then I have options. And it is great because then they let me take control of the artistry of the clothing, in terms of the session. If a client is heck bent on doing their own thing? Then I do advise them on clothing, I always say neutral. Which is kind of the cant response, but they understand that, they know what that means. And I always say, "But not matchy-matchy." I do not want everyone in khaki pants and button down shirts, like we all did in the 80's. That is so has-been, like, no. One person can be in khakis, one person can be in jeans. One person can be in a white long-sleeved shirt, one person can be in a boat neck. One person can be in a V neck, one person can be in a button down. One person can be in a white dress. Jean skirt with a white shirt, or a white skirt with a jean jacket. You know, like, mix it up. I say, layer all the clothes on your bed. Would they look good on one person? If so, you nailed it. Do you see what I'm saying? Obviously, we're not gonna put five shirts on one person. But my point is, if you look at all the clothes and go, "Oh yeah, that would kind of look good on one person." Just color, tonality, texture-wise. It's all different, but still coordinating. Then they start to go, "Oh, okay, I get that." My clients will literally text or email us pictures of their outfits lying out on their bed and go, "Hey, is this okay?" And I'll say, "Oh, that pattern's a little bright." You know, high-contrast stuff, and that's the worst. When one member of the family's wearing black and the other one's wearing bright white. Oh great, how am I going to tell them the camera can only see five steps of value... They don't understand that language. But by telling them everybody neutral, but not matchy-matchy, that kind of helps. I tell them usually to stick with either all warm neutrals, or all cool neutrals. What does that mean? That means browns, warmth, oatmeal, taupe. Greige. (laughter) Greige is kinda one of my favorite colors. Or cool neutrals, white, heather gray. I'll send examples, and then our clothing and style guide is also a great reference. And what we do there is show them, here's the outfit, here's the image. And then, I've even gone so far as to actually show them on the wall in the space. So, I say to them, if we're shooting for your living room, what color's in the living room? We need to dress like the living room. You know, we need to dress in the same tones and feeling that the living room provides. Now, I have to be a little bit careful with that, because some people will have really whacked out style. And it's not me, so, I'll say, "Yeah, your living room is really mountain, "cabin, okay, yeah, we got animal heads "on the walls and a bear rug." Not me, okay, let's just go brown and we'll keep it clean and neutral. I wanna see their style and where they're gonna hang the portrait. For some reason they're drawn to me. Even if they love bear rugs and antlers on the walls. Which is so not me, but you get my point. For some reason they were attracted to me. I'm still gonna kind of match the room, but it won't be in the animal style, if that makes sense. It's all about communication and pre-consultation. Where are we putting the image? Where's it gonna hang? What style of portrait are we after? How are we gonna display it? What quote or word wall are we gonna put with it? What frame is gonna happen on that? People in my area love this barn wood type frame. It's very popular in my region, so, usually that kind of is the way people go. But not always, sometimes it's simple, black, clean, whatever. So, having these questions answered in the beginning, helps to make them understand the big picture of what to wear. Really, it's communication and showing them examples. Clients cannot imagine, don't even try. You have to shove it in their face, and more than once. Like five times, really, for them to get it. I am a broken record. People are always like, "How do you "talk so great to clients?" And, "You always know what to say." It's 'cause I said it like 10 million times. You have to say things over and over again. Beat them over the head with a baseball bat. Listen, listen, listen, get this, get this. Here it is in writing, here it is in audio, here it is on the phone, here it is in video. Oh, we're gonna talk about it in the session, too. You must tell them over and over again. It's about specifically logos, but I wanna make it a little more general. How much can you change once you create a brand, create a logo, create your colors? How much can you change and how fast should that change happen? I don't think there's a set hard and fast rule. I'll give you an example of my own experience. I've had three logos in my career, eleven years. The first one lasted three months, really it was two. So, I had an older, more classic logo for... I changed it, when was bootcamp? I changed it two years ago? Okay. Thank you. So, I changed it right before bootcamp. So, that was what, eight years, seven years into it. Here's kind of a hard and fast rule. The minute you're sick of your logo, your clients are just getting to know it. So, don't you dare change when you're sick of it. You have to be downright vomiting when you see it for you to change it. When you're first starting and you're building a logo, it's hard. Because you haven't identified who you are completely, yet. And we're gonna talk about identity in the marketing-branding segment. But, my advice is to try your best to come up with a logo that seems like you. Always hire a designer. I know it's expensive, but if you try to do this on your own, it's gonna be a hot mess. Just spend the money and do it. It takes money to operate a business. No one wants to hear that, but it's true. If you do it right out of the gate, you won't regret it. Secondly, do your best to try to get a logo that identifies with you. The colors, the fonts you use, those kinds of things can still, it's like... Chelsea, stand up, come here. This gorgeous girl, here. Okay, she has this beautiful face, right? And this killer hair, right? If she chopped her hair to here, you'd still know it's Chelsea, right? She says she wears this teal-blue color all the time. Everyday. Everyday. Even your bracelets' turquoise, teal-blue. So, she loves this color, so it's kind of like her personal brand, right? Her braids are her personal brand. I hope you don't mind me being in your bubble. No, you're fine. If it bothers you, let me know, I'm a bubble person, so... You're sweet. This is still a signature look for her, right? I'm assuming you do this all the time, right? Mm, okay, we'll just pretend she does this all the time. But if she chopped her hair, we'd still think it was Chelsea. If she wore a different color, like red, we'd still know it was Chelsea, right? That's because her overall appearance and look, her face, is still the same. But if she did plastic surgery or wore a mask and we couldn't identify her, and she still wore the same thing, we'd go, "Oh, is that Chelsea? "I think that's Chelsea, I'm not sure "but it might be Chelsea." But if she changed her face, changed her look, wore a skirt, and did all different things, you'd be like, "Oh, whoa, is that Chelsea? That's not Chelsea." Do you see my point? Thank you, sweetie. You're welcome. Do you see my point? It's the same thing with a company, your logo is your face. So, if you start messing with it too much. Now, does that mean you can't change it? No, of course not. Businesses grow, and get older, and have wrinkles, and wear different makeup, we do change over time. So, only change your logo when it really, really, really, really doesn't feel right. I sat on my old logo for three years before I changed it. I wanted to change it for three years before I finally did. So, even if you hate your logo, stick with it for at least another year. And go, okay, ughhh... Now, if you're at the very, very beginning of your business, and no one really knows who you are yet, it's safe to kind of go, "Okay, I'm gonna change this," and finally change it, for good. That's kinda what I did in the beginning. I was only in the business for like three or four months, and was like, this is so not me, I was on drugs when I did this logo, I need to do something else. And I went to a more classic, traditional style, which was me for many, many years. But, if you're in business, people know who you are, they know your brand, or at least have some semblance, you have a customer base, be very careful about changing that all willy-nilly and sit on it for a while before you do. And when you go through the process of change, make sure you marinate on that change. It took me six months to decide on the logo. It really was a long process, and now I'm happy with it. If you make a snap decision, you might end up regretting it.

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Ratings and Reviews

Courtney Ranck-Copher

I own I think all of Julia's classes. This is probably my favorite. I will say that it's because its exactly the type of photography I have been wanting to focus on. So the information was extremely valuable to me. But I do love all of Julia's classes and you can learn so much from her as a mentor regardless of the type of portraits you shoot. Thanks Julia for a wonderful class I have watched it multiple times!


As always, Julia never disappoints! It has been so awesome to watch her work with such incredible intention, from concept to session to sales. Her energy and strategy are so motivational and very, very creative! This class rocks from start to finish, and is a perfect addition to my Creative Live business arsenal! Five stars all the way!!!!!

Amy Vaughn

My favorite part was seeing how Julia's business evolved over time and transformed into what it is today. Good tips for finding inspiration to develop a niche and practical marketing advice. I'm glad I took this alongside Tamara's business class - the two photographers had very different approaches to their business and shooting family photography in many ways, but it really illustrators how there's no one way to do everything. I learned so much from both of them.

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