Finding, Defining, and Marketing Your Photographic Style


Lesson Info

The Style Cycle: Experimentation

The first phase of the style cycle is experimentation. Okay? Experimentation is basically the copying phase. This is my little boy, by the way, with his lovey. You're learning those technical skills. Everything from composition in an image, lighting, color, mood, what subject matter you like to shoot, locations you love to shoot, what props. I mean, Leslie and I were talking about props earlier. Camera angle that you like to be consistently at. Focal length, aperture shutter, technique, just technique. Okay? Experimenting with all this, I mean you see the image I just showed you. First a closeup, in actuality it's a vertical. Because I'm experimenting with technique, I'm experimenting with line, where I'm placing the subject in the frame. All of those things impact the mood of the image. It was one image when I showed it to you first, and now it's a new image when I show it to you second. Okay? Shoot images for each element that you wanna learn, that you need to work on. You know where...

your weaknesses are, all of you people do. Right? Mm, I'm not very good at color. Mm, let's have a hard time getting things sharp. You know what your flaw is. Or flaws, for that matter. We all have 'em. I still have 'em to that day, we always will. You'll never perfect. You can master, but you'll never perfect. Okay? Try that element multiple times. So for example, say you're starting to be really drawn to negative space, okay? You're like, so, this is totally me so I can only relate to what I love, myself. To me, I look at this blank and I'm like ah, clean slate. Okay? To me, that totally turns me on. I love a clean slate, okay? So, I think about where I want to place subjects in the frame, because I love negative space. As you can clearly see, I love negative space. So in order to perfect where to put things in frame, I need to understand composition. I need to understand how composition influences the mind, what the psychology of it is. And by studying that for over a year, I have now learned where to put negative space in an image. Active and passive space, they call it in art. The active space is where the center of interest is, and the subject matter. The passive space is where there's not much going on in the image. So, in order to perfect the skill of using negative space, I need to understand composition and line and meaning, and what those things mean. So I better study it. And it doesn't necessarily mean just shooting a picture of something where I think it should go. I might have an intuition, like oh, it looks good there. But what's really gonna make me master it is to go buy books on composition and painting, learn what different things mean, talk to other artists who are better than me about why they place things in certain areas, and grow an arsenal of information in my brain so that I can easily say the reason I put him down here in the lower right third is because that is the tic-tac-toe power point, it's the place of rest in an image, it's the place of comfort and peace, and it's the finish. In Western world we all read from left to right and top to bottom, so my mind enters the image quickly here and immediately goes down to the bottom, which gives the child a small-like feeling. The sense of smallness and littleness and innocence, yet it's a restful place, because it's on the lower right finishing part of the frame. Okay? When you know why you're doing something, and you're giving it meaning in your art, then all of a sudden it's purposeful. And you've mastered an element. Does that make sense? So one element a time, whatever you're interested in, whatever floats your boat, you need to start studying like a master. Okay? And look outside the industry for that, look in the art world for that. We are creating art. We are not photographers, right, today. I do not want you to think of yourself as a photographer today. I want you to think of yourself as an artist. So study art. So passionate about this. Sorry, sometimes I get too passionate. It takes at least five to seven, and that's on the very low side of attempts to master an element. A technical element, okay? When you learn techniques you need to master, all of a sudden they become second nature. They become so ingrained in what you're doing that they actually become part of your style. Some of you who are more advanced in this stage probably know that. Like for example, for those of you who do newborns, posing a baby. You're so technically advanced at posing a baby that you understand hands need to be in a certain way to look good, but then you start playing around with where those could be, more relaxed, sending more of a message, and the reason you're doing that is because you've mastered how it's supposed to be. In other words, breaking the rules because you know what it's really supposed to be. Does that make sense? There are times to break the rules, but you don't break the rules unless you know them first. Okay? Vicky Papas Vergara is one of the classic examples of this. I'm gonna show you her work in the last segment today. The woman is unbelievable in the speed at which she acquired skill. She showed me work from 2011, four or five years ago, that's not that long. You could see her style in there, but the work was technically not great. I mean it was okay. But it had weaknesses, there were problems there. Within six months, holy crap. Her work all of a sudden technically went bazoom, and that style went bazoom with it. And now, today, the work she's producing is winning awards everywhere. And you look at one of her pieces, and you go that's a Vergara. I can spot her work a mile away. And it's so technically perfect, everything, but talking to her through instant message on Facebook, bless her heart, I'm like, you know those people you talk to and immediately want to meet? You're like, I wanna meet this person, they sound so cool. She said I took classes and studied everything I possibly could in six months. That's why I grew in six months. A six-month progression because she took classes, honed her skill, dug deep, and practiced every single day. She said she shoots every day. Every day, she's shooting a concept piece or some kind of work that she wants to do. That's what's gonna master you technically and where your style's gonna grow from, if you do it. At this phase in what you're doing, learning, copy your favorite artists. I have no problem with my students copying my images exactly. We have an example of Olivia's work, and one of my other students, Bree Chavez, and mine. We all photograph a naked baby. And it's funny because you look at it, and you're like, you see the influence from me, and those two could've been shot by me, and you kinda wonder, but it's wonderful because these are artists who are growing in their skill. I mean, she didn't look at my baby and go yeah, I'm gonna copy that. But it's the same feeling of work, and you can see that these people are influenced. And you know, newborn photography is so, I mean everybody's doing the same thing. It's a joke, almost, because we all do the same poses, and the same look, and the naked baby on a white blanket. I mean come on, that's pretty much everybody does it, right? But when you look at the three artists' work, you say to yourself, oh my gosh, they copied each other. I copied Olivia. Olivia copied Bree. Bree copied Olivia. I mean, who knows, who cares? The point is that you have to master the skill it takes to photograph on a white blanket, get your wrinkles out, get the pose correct, get the camera angle correct, get the lighting correct. All those things are components, technical elements of the image. So when you copy, you are mastering that skill set. Now, would I necessarily go copy a Vicky Papas Vergara image, and then put it out there and say oh, look at my great work? No. But what I will do, is I will take an element of what she does, go hmm, I wanna try that. And apply it to what I do, okay? Or, if I really wanna learn the skill, like when I was studying under Richard Sturdevant for Photoshop compositing, he literally had us copy him throughout the entire class. We all had the same elements, he would do it, we would do it, literally there were 30 images that were exactly the same. Granted they didn't all quite turn out the same, which I think is another fascinating fact in itself, but we all shot the same guy with a basketball ready to throw it in your face. We all did it. We copied to learn a technique and a skill, and I think that's incredibly important. Nobody ever knew I did that except those people in the class, right? Which is fine, I didn't put it out there and go oh, look at my work. Because that's Richard's work, essentially. But talk about learning skill, which I can then apply to anything that I do as an artist. All right? So don't be afraid to copy your favorite artists to learn a technical skill. Replicate that technique, because then when you learn it and master it, it's going to become so second-nature that you're gonna go oh, I wanna do that in this image of mine. That's how style begins to develop. Austin Kleon wrote the book "Steal Like an Artist", and he basically took Pablo Picasso's quote, which is good artists copy, great artists steal. So when you're learning to become good, you copy to learn technique. Skill. Technical craft. Then, as you start to master those crafts, you begin stealing. The trick is to figure out what's worth stealing. Okay? And the only things you wanna steal are the things that are worth stealing to you. Not to anybody else. Okay? The experimentation phase, guys, essentially is the copying phase.

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.



  • 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. :)
  • Wow - this may be my favorite Julia Kelleher class (and I own several). So much of what she talks about hits home with me, really speaking to where I am at in my photography journey and the struggles I grapple with every day. Lots of hard truths - the kind that remind us as to the necessity of good old fashioned hard work (really, really hard work) - the need to be truly technically proficient - the need to experiment - the need to practice every single day - repetition ("wash, rinse, repeat!") - and the need to continue learning all the time. I also really appreciate the fact that Julia touches on the PPA (Professional Photographer's of America) CPP (Certified Professional Photographer) process a bit. I just took my CPP exam and will be working my way through the image submission phase of the CPP process over the course of the next year; so it was nice to hear Julia's thoughts and experience in her own CPP journey. I NEEDED this course. Julia and Creative Live - thank you for bringing this to us. And Julia, thank you for diving deep into the hard realities that we need to hear and know in order to truly grow and evolve artistically and professionally.