Finding, Defining, and Marketing Your Photographic Style


Lesson Info


I wanna talk to some great amazing stylists who have agreed a couple months ago to be on our program here and of course the first one is Miss Lindsay Adler who does just fantastic work. Do we have Lindsay on the phone? We're good to go, awesome. So welcome Lindsay. It's so good to hear your voice and see you. How are you doing? Excellent and wonderful, how are you? Awesome, I'm not getting audio but that's okay. We'll go ahead and let's start letting you talk and ask you a bunch of fun questions and then hopefully we'll get audio as we roll through here. Okay, so, talk to me a little bit about... You have an amazing journey of finding your style. Give us an overview of what that looked like over the years. Sure, so when I started photography which was in my early teens I was doing it as a technician, I wasn't actually considering myself an artist in any way shape or form. So how I approached things was style wasn't a thing (chuckles) like that's how I started. So I learnt a basic...

lighting set up and could do that for families and I could do that for high school seniors and I just created images just to capture them and make money that I wasn't thinking of that as an artist. So anyway after six, seven, eight years I went to college and in college I took this class. It was a studio lighting class and I was shooting everything. I shot photo journalism and I shot weddings and I shot still life, I mean is shot, you name it whatever made me money and then I took this studio lighting class and I took this one photo and the photo that it is, is it's a girl and her face is really pale white and then she has these red and white spiral glasses on and I took the picture and all of a sudden it just felt right. Like all of a sudden it was that's me in a photo. Like this is different, it's not me copying somebody it's not me emulating someone else it's me taking my knowledge and what I am drawn to and putting it into a photograph. So that was kind of the first image of my style but of course I didn't really know it. It wasn't like, "oh yeah that's my style I'm gonna do this forever" and what actually ended up happening is I just continued shooting a little bit of everything and I shot... Kept doing photo journalism and portraiture and I kept seeing every once in a while an image that would really sing to me like the one that I was like that again this is me without me trying to copy someone. This is unique to me but it would pop up and felt like luck it just kind of happened. So that's where my style started. But I think that's a point that's so many of us as photographers get to is we take a few images here and there that seem like us and it makes our heart sing but how do you know when you've really got it? Like how did you know when you done it that this was an Adler image every time you took it? Well so in the beginning what ended up happening is I have these images that would really stand out. So they tended to be clean and they tended to be bold and they tended to be graphic and they tended to be fashion photography and really part of me knew like when I first took that photo like this is something special this is something different but it wasn't until I had several of these photographs several of them that were the clean bold graphic fashion which is that I looked at them and I loved these images and there were threads holding them together. There were underlying seams that wove them together and it was this subject matter, it was in the aesthetics it was in the way the images make you feel. And so it was actually... Part of it was when it touched my heart just knowing okay that image feels different, it feels me but then actually being analytical like actually taking a step back and saying, "you know what? There is something common between these photos that I am drawn to. Let me put an effort into cultivating this and growing a style and a portfolio utilizing these things". 'Cause I'm one those people whole likes to shoot everything and sometimes I wanted to shoot dreamy and soft and I would shoot it, but it didn't fit what my style was so I had to learn eventually that when I shoot it it's fine, you just don't show it but eventually there's ways to figure out what kind of weaves your style together and integrate it even when you try different techniques. I'm just gonna ask you, how important is technique in finding a style? It's interesting because it depends on the photographer. Your technique is the way in which you have control to express your underlying ideas. The technique is not generally what drives the style. Now there might be a certain lighting technique that holds it together but you typically get the more successful artists, they're not know necessarily just for that technique but what they're saying with it and that's the vehicle to express that. So for me, the reason that the technique is so important and the lighting and the lens choice and the retouching and all of that is because it helps me express that style in a variety of different ways and so the technique is never holding me back. That makes sense. What about skill set? I mean do you think you can have a style when your skill set isn't quite there yet or you need to improve on a certain few things? You know how when you're first starting out you know you have weakness like, "oh I just don't get every image sharp, I can't master my lighting technique all the time, it's inconsistent". Do you think someone can really build a style with a skill set that still needs work? I mean do you think the two can mold together? I actually do think that and what's interesting is I look at my work five years ago and I am so much of a better photographer than I was five years ago and I had already started to find my style then. You can have a concept of what you want to say as an artist and this style but not quite have the skills and techniques to express it the way you want. I'm bringing in another person but one of my best friends Brooke Shaden, when I see her early work if you go to Flickr and go to the very beginning, she had a style almost immediately. She didn't really have the photo and retouching stuff down quite yet, she eventually figured it out but her style was like three pictures into doing photography. So I've seen people do it. I think you're absolutely right. Well I'm showing some work, some early work of yours and some like 10 years span difference and I don't know if you remember sending it to me or not but it's the Christmas image (chuckles) red with the kids and then what you do with red today which I think is just as it's so amazing and inspiring to a lot of photographers to see where you've come. What do you see when you see that progression and what do you think of your work, like how does it...? I don't know I guess what I'm saying is there must be a certain element of pride in being able to find your style over time like that but what do you see in your progression? Well, what I think is interesting is on the left I knew what I was attracted to. I knew visual elements that felt part of me so it is colorful and it does have a... The weight of the composition is similar to the style that I would do today but my technique wasn't there. And then there's another thing, is taste level. There is an amazing little piece of bi hour glass and it's this whole thing about... In the beginning as you're growing you know what good is and you know you're not there you don't know quite how to get there and it's that struggle of developing your own taste level to get to the masters that you aspire to be. Now it doesn't mean that you're emulating these masters but it's that little bit of extra something that makes the image look finesse, refined, expensive, luxury whatever it is in the taste level that you're seeking. And so in my early work I didn't have the taste level of a fashion photographer. I knew kind of visual aesthetics but not how to put them all together to make something with impact that looks higher end. So that hour glass, I think it's hour glass taste. It's a really good motivating piece to listen to. And also training your eye. I mean just training your eye to see things and what works in art is so critical to developing that taste level. Talk to me a little bit about your... When we talked on the phone a few weeks ago we had talked about not sticking yourself into a formula and I was really fascinated by what you said about that and I was hoping maybe you could kind of share that with the rest of us here today. Absolutely. So I am one of those people that makes excuses sometimes, I feel like we all do. And when I was searching for my style and I couldn't figure it out 'cause I wanted to do everything and I was all over the place. My argument was, "no, no no, I don't want I style because I don't wanna look like every shoot is from the same thing like I don't want every shoot to look the same I don't want it to be formula, I love trying new lighting I love trying new location like I like to do new things and a style is going to hold me back". That was my excuse. But that's not what a style is about. A style is those underlying threads the ideas you're trying to express common visual aesthetics. And my shoots are drastically different. Sometimes out in location in a dessert, sometimes in a studio, sometimes with men, sometimes with women and I'll still have people say, "oh I could tell that was your image right away". And so for me it's actually a combination of variety of things. As I have developed as a photographer, it's things that aren't even conscious anymore. In the beginning it was conscious. In the beginning I knew that I wanted to have clean compositions because that was to be my style. No extra distractions, everything would have a purpose. I wanted to have bold use of posing or color. I didn't want anything to be subtle or soft or theorial everything had a lot of punch to it and I knew that I like fashion photography. So in the beginning what I would do is I would kind of cultivate this thing and theorize, "I'm doing this portrait shoot, what can I do to make it clean and graphic what can I do to integrate this style?" But the more that I shoot, the more that I have favorite focal lengths that I just tend to select through experience for a portrait or certain poses that I tend to because they're successful or certain balance like the compositional balance in my image. So my point is, in the beginning it was a little bit more of an effort and now even when my images are drastically different it's some of those underlying things I'm not even thinking about that still holds it together beyond color choice, beyond what I'm trying to say but even just the techniques that I now use so it's much more than just every shoot looks the same and that's what I was worried about, "ooh style means that I can't explore", and that's not the case at all. So how did you know when you say those things like bold color and clean composition you say, "I knew I wanted to use that" how did you know that was you? Okay, so in the beginning and I'm gonna say by in the beginning, eight years into shooting so don't think that I'm saying like, "oh right away", no. Eight years into shooting, I've been shooting so half of my photo career ago I took... There's two images in particular, one is the glasses with the spirals on it and then another with of my college roommate and I had her have kind of Victorian hair with red Gerbera daisies in it and it was on a white background and it was clean and as I was graduating and putting together my portfolio there were three or four images that just stood out and they had those elements holding it together. And so I made a conscious effort moving forward saying "okay I see that these are successful, here's why". Instead of just saying, "okay I hope I take more photos like this, let's make an effort, what made them successful what made them unique and how can I employ that in the future". I will say now when I shoot, I don't need to make such a conscious effort because now it's ingrained into the way that I shoot and that I plan but in the beginning I had to say, "okay what holds them together is their bold use of color, very clean compositions and they are a fashion, so moving forward I need to do more of that, even if I shoot other things, it's fine I'm just not going to show it, I'm going to make an effort to cultivate this style, shoot more of that, give myself assignments, personal projects". It makes sense. So, for folks, the common consensus here and not everywhere of course there's a bell curve of people in different levels of finding their style but for the most part there's a lot of people here who are right now just doubling in lots of different genres. They don't know where their style is they like to shoot everything. What advise would you give that person who asks "Lindsay, I don't know where my style is, I have five different genres that I love to shoot and I feel like they're all in totally different directions and I'm scattered, where do I go?" I've got a couple of different takes on this. One take is, what in the other one of those subject matters that you're shooting, what is also incorporating something else that you're passionate about? For example, you love children, maybe then that's going to be the specialty that you do or if you're a sports photographer, like finding something else that you're passionate about. For me part of what I loved about fashion and why I was drawn to that was not that I love clothing passe but I love the idea of working with other artists and bringing my art to another level. I liked that because a lot of times how I felt portrait photography was is they'd show up, I take their picture and it was just me in this vacuum. But now when I work with other people we build off of each other and I liked that team work. So it's kind of figuring out a little bit of lifestyle what you're also passionate about and I think what it comes down to is being analytical. You say, oh I love shooting this (mumbles). Yeah I like shooting soft and aestherial images but I am not continuously inspired and filled by it. So it could be building inspiration boards things that you're drawn to. What do you see in those inspiration boards like what are you seeing over and over again? If it's feeling force, like you're having to reach for inspiration maybe find something that's... You're hungry, you're hungry to seek out that imagining and do more instead of having to chase after ideas. That makes sense. So it's not easy and I literally did all at one time wedding photography, high school senior portraits, families maternity, events, photo journalism all at the same time and then I was developing my fashion photography because those others paid the bills. So I knew I could make money and they didn't really have a style in them, it's just people showed up and I took their picture and then I worked on the fashion side while the others helped pay the bills as I cultivated my business on the fashion side. What about applying a style to a brand? You have such a strong brand, your website is just so impactful and it just screams you. What kind of conscious effort did you make to go that route and why? Well I tried to use the words and this is... So I actually... There's a company called Agency Access and what they do is for fashion and commercial photographers they've got a database of all of these different art directors and editors of magazines and whatever. And so I was working with them when I was trying to build my fashion business just to figure out my brand a little bit more and my approach to marketing. Anyway the reason I'm saying this is we had an initial phone consultation and that's when they forced me to say, "give me three words to describe your brand and then one sentence to describe your brand. Don't use run on sentences like be specific of exactly what you want people to think and feel and connect with your brand, what makes you different. Do this in three words and then one sentence". And I was like, "oh crap" because at that time I wasn't quite sure where to go with these things. So anyway, once I made that decision, it kinda said it out loud like this is what my artist statement is basically, it's an artist statement but really for my brand and how... Then I could say with my artist statement well with what I want it's really my brand statement. How can I reflect that in a website, in a logo and so I made a conscious effort for my business cards to reflect it, my website to reflect it. What can I do to be clean, bold and graphic? Can I incorporate red and saturated colors? I originally had my own logo which wasn't so awesome and so I hired a company that went through and we had these entire consultations around my brand to figure out how I could express those visually. So it was definitely a process. If you looked at my website 10 years ago, or five years ago it looked nothing like it does now. It's taken me a while to eventually get to that cohesive feel. Do you think people who specialize... 'Cause another common problem or issue, not a problem but an issue with a lot of students is they have two different genres in their work. So for example they do weddings and they do high school seniors. You know not widely different but enough that it's different and they feel like they have a different style for each genre in their business. How do you incorporate the two styles into your brand? Do you do separate websites, do you try to tame it all together, should you focus on taking that style into one direction and one place with both genres what are your thoughts on that? Well, I'll just give you what I did. So you can't necessarily advice for each person but what I did is I merged the two specialties into one style. But just one was toned down a little more than the other. So for example, I absolutely still do portrait work and I get hired for average people to look and feel like a model. They get their fashion shoots. And so while I'm shooting a professional model I might go more avant-garde with their hair and makeup and more bizarre with the wardrobe and take all of those things and push them to an extreme. I still take those same ideas and apply it to the portrait work, it just might be toned down a little but I treat everybody the same. For me I do mood boards or vision boards. For every shoot that I do, whether it's a maternity session or it's an editorial for Elle magazine. So I'm planning it out and I'm preparing. So the way that I approach all my shoots is the same even if the subject matter is different and even if one might be a little more on the finer side and the other might be more on the portrait side. How important do you think it is finally I wanna not take too much of your time, you've been so generous. How important do you think it is to come from an authentic place in your work? And I know style is so much a part of us but it's hard to do and how do you overcome that insecurity of not...? It's not easy to put your authentic self out there in your style. Any ideas or tips to go there? So it's interesting because maybe I think it's probably three years ago. I decided maybe I wanna take my style a different direction. There's a particular look that's in right now that's making a lot of money and I'm gonna see if I can find a way to make my style look like that money making style and so I started grabbing images online and trying to figure out what was successful and see if I could do it. Technically I can do it, I'm very technically proficient I could emulate this style but I could always see that it felt flat. You could tell that it wasn't something that I could pour every ounce of my passion and heart and soul into. And so what I'm really trying to say with this is don't try to be what you think social media will like or necessarily what is in your community for a portrait style or don't try to be what you think people want you to be. When you figure out a style that's unique to you you'll be able to market it to people that will gravitate to that work already because when you're emulating what's already in or what you feel that you should do there's probably a lot of other people already doing it successfully and then it's a struggle to be inspired and it's a struggle to hold that style because it's not innate to your artistic sensibilities. So I guess that would be my suggestion to that is don't just do what you think makes money or people would like and don't pay so much attention to the likes on Instagram. Those things are not as important as you think because it might be the community you have doesn't like those particular images. But when you have that cohesive style you'll attract the community that does like that imaging. Lindsay, you're so awesome, thank you so much. You're just... This is so fun to talk to you and it's so interesting to talk to somebody from a completely different genre. I mean, I do babies and you do high fashion and it's just completely opposite but yet to see the same struggles going on in your brain with finding your style and in my own is actually so comforting (laughs). So thank you, I mean we all... I think it's good for the audience to see too we all go through this and it's a journey and a process and not something that just happens one day like this divine inspiration that I've got my style. How are you refini... Before we wrap up, how are you refining your style as you grow as an artist, 'cause you've been doing this a long time now and I know that style is an ever breathing living thing in an artist do you feel yourself, more fine yet? Do you know what direction you're gonna go? What's your style five, 10 years from now, do you see it? Well, so I can't tell you exactly what five 10 years from now will look like. What I find is, I don't ever have breaks in style. It's not like, oh my style all of a sudden I take it a totally different direction. What I do is I'm always experimenting and as I'm constantly shooting and challenging myself I'm always trying new things and sometimes I'll discover something in those experimentations that I know in my head I need to dive into deeper. Maybe it's the subject matter, maybe it's an aesthetic maybe it's a lighting technique. And so recently or what it was for me last year is I felt really drawn to beauty photography. Hair and makeup and I've been kind of drawn to particular styles of retouching, particular lighting techniques and purely it was from experimenting but then I went deeper in that direction as I would try something new. So I think that's what I would say for the future of my style is that it's ever evolving but it holds onto those fundamental threads and if it eventually kind of splits in a different path, it's not an immediate break that would completely alienate my audience or force me to abandon all things that I was previously attracted to, instead it's that gradual change as I explore myself as an artist more. So exciting I can't wait to see it (laughs) It's so fun. Lindsay thank you so much, you are amazing to talk to. Is there anything else that you wanna add to our audience about style or anything I forgot to ask? I think that the last piece that I would say about style really is what you've been articulating. You might have some images that stand out from the others but you're drawn to so many different things and I know that at some point it had to come down to discipline. Discipline knowing that, "man I really love these images that look nothing like my style and I want the whole world to see it", but guess what? That sends a mixed brand message and it's not helping me be memorable as an artist because it's side messing that message of what I have to offer. So it's the discipline of eventually knowing what is okay to give to that client or for that project but maybe not appropriate to put up on my website because I want cohesion. I want someone to visit that site, know what I'm all about instantly and as they flip through the photographs they see those threads that hold throughout. Awesome, Lindsay thank you. If students wanna find you and your education information online, where do they do that? Sure, so if you just go to my website and if you want any education click on the learn button and it will take you over to my tutorial. Awesome, thank you so much Lindsay. Let's clap, she's amazing. (Audience claps) Lindsay you're awesome. Thank you. Thank you so much. (Lindsay mumbles) Oh isn't she great. (Lindsay mumbles) We will, thank you. She's so awesome, what a great girl. I just thought of, it was probably a year ago at photo equine, she was getting her makeup done and I sat down, I must have talked to her for a good hour and she was kind to take (blows kiss) take that. She's so cute. Take that information and run with it. She's just an amazing educator. And what are the take aways from that, what did we see? I'm gonna show you some of her work here as we pop along but you can see the bold color and the striking graphic composition that she uses. She always does that strong, bold moment of color it's so easy to recognize. This must have been where she was talking about is recent beauty, beauty work. It's just stunning. So, facts, ideas about what she said, any comments? She said exactly what we were talking about yesterday which was, if you do find yourself being led in a slightly different direction, go at it slowly don't post it right away, take your time with it so that you go into it and slowly take your style in one direction that's not alienating your audience not diluting your brand, not breaking things up and making it confusing for the people that love your work. I love that idea of discipline that she said and actually like having the discipline to say no when it's not you and I think that's really hard when you are drawn to things but, yeah. Anything else? I think also the idea that it is ever evolving so even someone who has such a strong style established like Lindsay Adler or watching you experimenting in these new things and saying that it's okay to do that but like Olivia mentioned definitely keep it under wraps until you're ready. The temptation is to and adding on to the conversation Lindsay and I had a week ago when we were discussing this phone call style is... Some people do get stuck in a formula for their style and I don't wanna confuse you because I told you "find it through the find it formula". That's just a formulaic process of actually digging deep and exploring. What she was talking about was the formula you do the exact same thing every single shoot no matter what and that starts to become formulaic and you may have successful images in that realm but that formula starts to make you stale over time in your own heart and so even your work your work is still great but it's... You're gonna wanna find yourself wanting to experiment 'cause your heart is gonna go that direction and I think she nailed that on the head so well.

Class Description

How can you work successfully (and profitably) as an artist in a crowded, over-saturated market? You have to make your work and your brand stand out by creating your art from a deeply authentic place that is only YOU and yours alone. In other words, you must define your STYLE. By standing out uniquely, you can attract the kind of client who is willing to compensate you appropriately for what you bring to the table.

Join master business and photography educator, Julia Kelleher, for a class on finding, defining and applying your style to your work and your brand.

In this class you’ll discover how to:

  • Identify your style as an artist intentionally rather than by accident
  • Incorporate your style into your brand
  • Use your style to help gain financial benefits
Learn how an undeviating style can bring in your ideal client, make you stand out in a crowd, command top dollar and keep your competition at arms length.


Cesar Flores

Wow wow wow, as an artist on a beginner's stage this was an amazing presentation. Julia is a pro on teaching the psychology of the artist within ourselves. I will follow her from now on and start putting in practice her step by step techniques on finding my style as an artist. Thank you Creativelive and Thank You Julia, you are amazing


This course is amazeballs. Love love love love love love love. Just buy it. :)

a Creativelive Student

Great class. A step by step way of finding a artist style that is from your heart. Stop hoping the style fairy will randomly visit you some day. I view this in-depth system as a smart exploration component integrated with a gut check component. Julia has laid it all out smartly and easy to follow. The work itself will not be easy but the steps are beautifully explained. Brilliant! Buy the course. Yeah I will be using it for years. Shelle