Style Cycle–Refine Case Studies


Finding, Defining, and Marketing Your Photographic Style


Lesson Info

Style Cycle–Refine Case Studies

Let's talk who has style. Ah, these are some of my favorite artists in the whole world. Who is this? Ben Shirk. This is called "A Wild Ride". One of my favorite images of him. I'm going to just take you through his work, he's from Wilton, Iowa. Ben is one of those double diamond people. He is one who also scored 100 on all four images in print competition. He is an amazing stylist, but I want you to see the threads through his work, so just go ahead and look at this. But I'm not gonna show it you as a body of work, okay? So you're gonna see each individual image by itself, and I'm doing this on purpose. I want you to see the technical components of the work. The mood, the emotion, what it makes you feel, where the lines are, what the subject matter is. How it's shot, is it horizontal, is it vertical. What are these style components that are consistent? He's a cool dude, too. This is called "Tamborine Man". This is one of his prints this year. So cool. And the cool thing is if you Faceb...

ook friend him, he like, talks about his process and how he created these. Ah, it's brilliant. Talk about BTS. Behind the scenes? And it draws you into his work even more. "The Wish Thief". You should know this was shot entirely in camera. (audience murmurs) It is not composited. "The Last Menagerie". Are you seeing a theme? Are you seeing any consistency? "Your Fortune Awaits". What do we see in his work that's so consistent? First of all, the circus theme. Very, very common in his work. He's literally known for it, okay? What else? Yell it out, this is fun. She's like "I wanna go in circles". He does have a lot of circles in his work. It's almost like a spotlighting on the subject. Yes, very much so. The circle encompasses the subject, yes. Pretty monochrome in a lot of images. Lot of monochrome. Not black and white monochrome, but consistent use of color throughout. Like, there's not a lot of color contrast. Yes? There's a lot of layers. A lot of layers. Oh, foreground, middle ground, background. Big time. That's why he's such a master. He can create a background, a foreground, and a middle ground like none other. And he's a photographer. I mean this is all done from photographs. Clearly it's composited. But he's not a painter, he's a digital artist, it's all done from photographs. Okay? What else? You wanna see his early work? 2010. The point is all artists change, and we all grow and learn. This was 2010, six years ago. We all grow and learn in our work and become better. And you can see as the technical skills improve, the style becomes, it happens automatically. It's like you can't help it. Okay? And honing our technical skills is something we all can do very easily. And training the eye to see. Ben is a master at knowing what works. Next? Maria Bernal. She is amazeballs. Sandy, Utah. She is incredible. I just love her work. Sofina Fine Portraiture, and she's just a hoot of a girl. And so fun. But let's look at her stuff as well. Isn't this fun? I just love looking at people's work. They send me all these images and I'm just sitting here like drooling. Going ah. What strikes you with her work? Very classical. For me it's classical and the expression. The expression of her subjects is all very serene. Very regal, in her work. Very Renaissance feeling. What else? There's something very raw and honest, I think. Yeah, I agree! Very raw. What makes that happen? It's a combination of, I mean part of its the expression, but the way that you light the expression, I feel like in the colors that she chose and the tones she chose, pulls it through. Yes. And the way she poses the subject? The way she asks them to dress. Or she dresses them. The color tones she uses, and the post-processing all give it a very raw feeling. Right? But yet, Renaissance-ish. Rembrandt-ish. You know that, kind of feeling. Yes, Gretchen? Sorry, I know Olivia has something else. In all of them, there's, well, there's the clothing or in summary there's that fold or that flow of the clothing, the curtains, the hair. See how the folds? Mm-hmm, folds in the fabric. In that one it's the hair, in the background it's that fold aspect to it. So it's like a flow. She's got a lot of flow in her work. Like the hair is almost smoke right here. It turns into smoke. Yet also, I mean hair is a huge component. Folds of fabric and hair are huge in her work. They're all almost not quite real. Yeah, it's almost not quite real is what Ronnie said. But that's why this photograph is beautiful. It's the post-processing. And you guys should know, remember that technical means post as well as in-camera. And a lot of times, great stylists get their style in post. So don't be afraid of that, it's perfectly okay to do post. This is Maria's work, 2009. Okay? But here's my question. You still see here there. You see her work there. And when you look back on it, you're like oh yeah, that was happening. This image, yes it's her older work, but you can see that it was happening for her. Her style was forming. And that's what I think is so powerful about looking at great stylists and their old work, because it allows you to see the progression. And my hope is that it gives you the confidence to know that you will get there too. But they would not get there had they not honed their technical skill and trained their eye, right? Never would've happened. That's the critical component of developing a good style. Now, this next one is probably one of my favorites. This man has been photographing for decades. His name is Mark Bryant, and he is one of my mentors. He is also a double diamond genius. He is from Missoula, Montana. This is called "Dektal StopBath Fixer". This is almost all composited, okay? His work you will see a consistent theme to, and style to. But I want you to take note of the elements, and just watch his imagery and kinda feel it out here. This is called "Blue Notes". "Bullseye Logging". "Fishing the Ligurian". Think that's what it's called, Ligurian. "Grandfather's Clock". "Rusted Unsustainable Logging". "Crime Scene". "Red Beard". Kay, what do you see in his work? Go for it, hon. I see a man and his craft in almost everything. Yes! It's that. What makes the man, the man. In each one, the different craft that it is was really compelling to me. Yeah, he's very much about the identity of his subject. And putting them in their own environment, right? He's also very cinematic. You notice the camera angle? He's famous for his camera angle. That one's a little out of place. But his camera angle's almost always low. Cinematic. From below, larger than life. Make that identity of that subject larger than life. That's his MO. Okay, you see that theme? If I hadn't picked it out, you probably wouldn't have noticed it. It's one of those technical components that you need to watch for, because it's so his style. He wants his subjects to be larger than life, cinematic. He almost always shoots horizontal, not always, but always in that cinematic feel and theme. Okay? Mark's work is absolutely incredible. He is a master, and if anybody has a chance to study under him, I strongly suggest you take it. Because you will learn more than your brain can possibly consume. Isn't that amazing? That's all, I think painted with light. Light painting, you guys have ever heard of that? So he plays with techniques, and he plays with different skill sets to improve himself, okay? You wanna see him in 1980? It's still there, isn't it? And he still had a command of light. He still understood how to light, and that is key. Light is his tool, and he uses it. Another piece of Mark's work, 1995. Another piece of Mark work in 1995. Kay? Totally different style, he changed over time. The final person that I wanna show you is Vicky Papas Vergara. This next image does have some figure study nudity in it, so if you have children watching and you don't want them to, uh, see it, please turn away, yes, Kenna? And on that note, Vicky is watching all the way from Australia live, so thanks for tuning in from Australia, Vicky. She sends her love. Oh my gosh, she's so cute. I don't even know this girl and I'm already in love with her because she's so rad. I mean we've never actually met, but I respect her work so much because I've seen it a lot in the last six months. Most notably because she friggin' won, like, every single award possible at WPPI, like we were all floored. It's like, Vicky Papas Vergara, Vicky Papas Vergara. They just kept announcing her name and she did this cute little Skype speech from Australia thanking everyone, and it was just, you know those kind of people where you see them like oh my gosh, I could totally be her friend, she's rad! So I don't even know Vicky but that's okay. She does amazing work, and this is one of my favorite, favorite images of hers, and you can see why. I mean, it's everything that I am drawn to. Fabric, flow, mystery. The posing, the lighting, the control. The tonality. I mean, everything is literally almost perfect. Yeah, doesn't her work, like, move you that much? I mean it literally, there's some tears. Vicky, you're making people cry. What's up with that? I almost cried when I saw this piece. I forget the name of it. She had titled it for competition, but to me, it's so moving. And it's the fabric over the face. She is a master at fabric. And of course, that's probably why I'm drawn to her, because I love things that flow, and she has that quality to her. But if it's any encouragement to you? This girl, she can correct me if I'm wrong in the chat room, she started photographing at 40. Yeah. Tell me about it. Another piece of her work. But you can see a very consistent style. It just screams her everywhere. She's all about elevated subjects, long lines, elevating the subject, elevating the camera, lowering the camera angle. She shoots, again, that larger than life mentality that Mark has, but in a totally different subject matter, a totally different line element. To her, it's almost sculptural in quality. Do you see that? And like, she tries to create sculptures, almost, out of her subjects. Which is so fascinating to me, and I still don't know her process and why she does things the way she does, but we as viewers can interpret it any way we want. Which is so cool, okay? Let's continue and see more of what she does here. Oop, I went too fast, sorry, we'll go back. But interesting use of fabric. I mean, that is cool. And the color? Why red. But the red is so her, do you see it? Like, there's this bold contrasty element to her work that gives you almost like a jolt. What does that make you feel? Come on, talk talk talk, talk talk talk. Let's talk. Microphone, pick up. My poor people who have the microphone in the front here, they're totally getting putting on the spot all the time. Talk to me, what does the work make you feel? What's, let's go back to lesson, previous lesson. Visual adjectives, emotional adjectives. Strength. Strength. Her work, yes, very strong. Strong women. Strong women. Yes. Lot of elegance. Line, elegance, right, what else? She uses line incredibly. It's fierce. Fierce? It's very fierce. I love that. Fierce but feminine. Yeah. Which is an interesting combination. What else? She's probably just giggling like crazy in Australia, going this is so interesting to see people break down my work. It is fascinating. More, more more more, come on. (snaps fingers) I almost get a sense of sort the inanimate as well, though, like sculpture, or a mannequin. Where it's not, it's the tone, and the color, and the posing, that gives it this feel of oh, is that a real woman, is that a sculpture, is it-- It's almost doll-like, isn't it? Yeah. Which gives you a feeling, doesn't it? What is that feeling? I was just gonna say, I see a lot of S shapes. Mm-hmm, tons. Throughout this, and then we have the muted tones, and the very muted background. With the splash of colors, especially on this one with the red, which is elegant and gorgeous. Just had a little, like a little boldness to it. A little surprise. Like a bullfighter. A bullfighter, ooh, fun! Yes? This photo speaks a lot of confidence to me. Mm-hmm, the pose is very confident. Like over her shoulder. Yeah, very much so. And she has a lot of shadows that show things hidden. There's something hidden in the shading and shadows. Concealing, a little bit. Strategically concealing in the right places for the right line. She uses light masterfully in that way. And Vicky is a fashion photographer. She sews and makes all this stuff. Good grief, isn't that awesome? Look at those lines! The S's, the curves, it's almost like you could make a letter out of her. And you're right, she looks almost fake. We know she's real, but it's so, for lack of a better word, contrived. And that's not really the right word that I wanted to use, because I don't want to use it in negative sense, but it's so contrived that you're like, is it a doll? Is it a mannequin, or is it real? Which gives you a feeling about her work, okay? Yes, Amy? It looks so perfect that I wonder how long did it take to get that exact thing? That wasn't by accident that the model just landed there with that thumb curving, her waist curving-- I know, it's pretty incredible, isn't it? Even that fabric that was falling on the image, the tall white sculpture-looking woman? The fabric looked so perfect, like, was it silk, or was it... I have no idea how she creates it, I would love to know. These are the things where we as artists go "How did they do that?" You know, that's where we kinda get in that mode. But sometimes it's a joy just to not know. Because that adds the element to the mystery. Again, that whole concept of marketing your work. That behind the scenes, how far do you go? You wanna show them, but you also don't. Do you know what I mean? There's a difference, yes, Bonnie? You said trust the process. Yes. So I'm looking at these, and it's one thing to figure out technically how it's done. There's a technique that's common in all of them, I'm kinda picking up on. So technically, I could probably figure it out. Where I'm lost is, if I trust your process, and I go through the whole system, and I wash, rinse, and repeat. Am I ever gonna land at a place where I see that in my head first and create it? Versus throwing some elements into a scene, and responding to what I get? Where I'm at the mercy of the elements, as opposed to the conductor of the whole thing? Because I don't know how they get these images in their head, without seeing something first. Almost every artist I've talked to have told me it's both. And I can attest to that myself. There are times where I pre-visualize an image, and I know exactly what I wanna do, and I go out and create it. And then there's other times where I'm just like, oh, I just wanna play with this piece of fabric. See what happens. And I'll create an amazing image. Then there's times when I have a pre-visualization in my head, I try to create it, I feel at the mercy of the elements and what's happening, and I let it go that direction. It's that moment when you fight it, that you are doing yourself the most disservice. If you get in a situation where you pre-visualize something, and you're like I wanna create this image, or I wanna be inspired by Vicky or whatever and go do it, but it's not turning out exactly like Vicky's image? That's where you have to let the tap on the shoulder and listen to it. Not fight that process. You are never going to be Vicky Vergara, ever. No one will be Vicky Vergara. But you can look at her work, take the element. This image here inspired me to do a different technique in my own work. I don't know if you remember the image of the pregnant mommy with the dandelions? She is so out of proportion, it's not even funny. What did I do? I put her on a box, put the fabric down, shot from a low camera angle, and tried to take the same technical components that Vicky does, and apply it to my own work. I felt it crumbling before my eyes! It crumbled before my eyes, but I did manage to save it and create a good image out of it, but I knew it was crumbling, and I thought just go with what you know, work calm, don't worry if it isn't exactly what Vicky did. It's okay. Let it go in the direction it's supposed to go. And we, sometimes as me, myself, control freaks, have a hard time letting that happen. So yes, it's all three of those things. There are times when you just wanna play with something and you get a great image. You're like oh, cool, pleasant surprise. Then there's times when you totally pre-visualize something, and you're like yes, this is it, I know it, perfect, create it, ow, bam, nailed it! Hash tag! Okay? Then there's times where you pre-visualize, you're like yes, I wanna do this, I love the way she did this, and I wanna try to learn that technique, and I'm gonna use that in my work, and it's not going the way you visualized it? Don't fight it, let it go where it's supposed to go. And it may fail miserably. That is okay. Do you know how many images I have on my hard drives that will never, ever, ever effing see the light of day. (students laugh) Every artist out there has junk on their hard drives. Not every image you create will work. And every artist will tell you that. So yes, I can tell you that following this formula and trusting the process will work. But I'm also telling you that you're gonna fail. A lot. And you have to be okay with that. That's the whole part of the realization phase. Once you get in the realization phase you realize oh, kind of a failure, it's not really me. Out of here. Be willing to edit. This is Vicky's early, early work, circa 2011. Okay? She's only been doing this for like five years, it's kind of a miracle she's amazing. All right, look. She, oh, you can already feel that she had that high sense of fashion in her work. This is literally six months later. Wow. Could you do that again? Wait, could you do that again? Yes! Kay? And I asked her, how on Earth did you go from this, which technically is pretty mediocre, I think she'll be okay with me saying that. To this, six months later, which all of a sudden technically is incredible, and she's starting to develop her style, and of course you've just seen her five years later. Okay? She took every class, honed every skill, shot every day, during this entire process. Ten thousand hours, baby. That's what she did. Determination, hard work, perseverance, and absolutely passionate about her craft. That is what will get your style growing the most. It's okay to evolve and change your style, guys. This happens to every artist. It happens naturally as your skill set improves, your eye becomes more sharp at seeing, and your life changes. Things happen in your life that are going to do that. The more you experience, the more refined your style will become. And if you need to refine your style, you are simply going to go back into this experimentation phase and discovery phase, until you feel that moment of yeah, this is me. And then you redefine, re-realize and redefine where you're going. Every artist is constantly on this circle. Constantly. In different areas of our work. So, your homework is collect 20 images as a body of your work. Ideally, I would like you to do this, each image from the Find It Formula. But since we just taught that, clearly you can't do that, so I want you take a body of work that you feel is truly you. And remember how I warned you that since you know what the outcome is, this is a little more challenging? But try to do it from your heart. Try to pick images that you think are really your best work, they're you, and they give you an emotional response. When you look at them you go oh, yes, that's me. Your happy place, okay? Write down adjectives to describe both visually and emotionally, and then connect visual and emotional words to write that artist statement.

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