The Style Cycle: Overview


Finding, Defining, and Marketing Your Photographic Style


Lesson Info

The Style Cycle: Overview

We're talking about finding your style and defining it and then, of course, marketing it really effectively in your studio. And this segment is gonna be all about taking a really in-depth look at the style cycle itself. I mentioned this briefly in the last segment, but I now want you to focus on it. Where are you in the Style Cycle phase? Creativity. What is it? Essentially it's just taking parts and pieces that everyone else has access to, right, and combining them in ways that no one else has thought of. (laughs) That's overwhelming. Right? Combining it in ways that no one else has thought of, okay? But really what it comes down to as you guys all know and love, or you know that I love, is Austin Kleon's 'Steal Like an Artist' book. He says Picasso, Pablo Picasso the great Cubist painter, said good artists copy, great artists steal. And it truly is the case. Creativity is just stealing elements from other people's work, combining elements that everyone has access to, and putting it i...

nto something new. It doesn't have to be something that no one else has thought of. It just has to be something new. New for you, okay? Style is combining them in ways that are you. I always say creativity is the soul's voice. Style is it's vocabulary. Creativity is the soul's voice. We have to create. Our souls want to create. Every single person in the universe is creative. It is the way God gave us to express our souls, in my opinion, okay? But I like that thought. That everybody has creativity. It's not something that's bestowed up on you by some outer being out there, and some people get it and some people don't. Creativity is in us all. Style is in us all. It's simply a matter of letting it come out. Creativity is something that can be fostered and learned and grow. Creativity is one of those things that if you don't practice it every day, it'll be rusty. But if you practice it every day, it will become flexible, moldable, and very good at coming up with new things from elements that everyone else has. Your style is simply the vocabulary that your soul uses to express itself. So, we are in the Style Cycle. We're gonna talk heavily about what it is, give an overview of it. I want you to think and focus very much on where you are in the process of discovering your style, and that's exactly what this whole cycle is. It's the process of self-discovery and the methodology for finding your style. It starts at the very top with experimentation. This is the place that everyone who's starting in their art begins. You experiment. You see things you like, you experiment. Discovery is different. Discovery is experimentation with knowing. Do you see the difference? Experimentation is trying things 'cause you just like it and you wanna play with it. Discovery is trying things with intention. I'm discovering something. So it's... The discovery process is the one that most of you are going to be deeply entrenched in, and let me tell you this is not a one time thing. You will find a style, like someone like Olivia who has a style. Sorry I keep singling you out. But then you're gonna wanna refine it. You have gone through this cycle already whether you know it or not, but now, and I'm in that same process too with my family work. Oh, must change. Need to change. My heart wants to change, right? So, when that happens, you get shoved back in this whole cycle again. The experimentation and discover phase all over again. This is... If you stay with your art, this is going to happen to you all the time. Every artist's style is constantly changing because you change as a person. You grow and learn and love and become and age. Have different life experiences and it forces your art to go with you. So every once in a while, even if you've found your style, you'll find yourself going, "Ah, that little... "Must change. Must change." Or the biggest thing I get from students is, "I do wedding and seniors and they're so different." That's okay. What wrong with that? You don't have a style problem. You have a marketing problem. You know your style when it comes to this genre. I know my style when it comes to my fine artwork. The wind, all that. You'll see it later. But you know what I'm talking about. My fine art stuff, the competition work I do, the custom commissioned pieces I do, that's totally different than my everyday family and newborn work. That's okay. There's nothing wrong with that. But if you find yourself going, "Oh my God, I need to go in one direction. I'm scattered," you may not be scattered. You just may have a marketing problem You don't know how to market it. You don't know how to separate brand out and make each 'line', product line, stand out and message it in ways that affect those consumers based on your style, okay? So be thinking about the fact that it may not be the style that's the problem. It's the fact that you don't know how to message it. Right now in this segment, we're gonna be going over the Style Cycle and kinda taking a little bit of an in-depth look and where I want you focused on is where you are in this process. Then, in the next two lessons this afternoon, we are going to go heavily into the discovery phase and the 4 Step Find It Formula. This process, you will circle back here, and be doing this over and over and over and over again. It's a very important process. You have to go through it. And what every artist kind of frets about is the fact that they feel like they can't find themselves 'cause they're stuck here. That's when you need to go into realization. Forty-thousand feet. Go back out forty-thousand feet. We're gonna do the body of work study where we try to realize what our style is and analyze things from that big pictures point of view, and that can be really hard to do for some people because you have to find the common threads in your work, but once you know it and define it, it's like, "Ahh." All of a sudden, you could start creating work that is in that style all the time, and when you're cognizant of it, all of a sudden you begin to make it better. Does that resonate? Follow? Then we're gonna go into actually defining it with words. This is where the linguistics get challenging. 'Cause it's one thing to be able to feel a style. "Oh I like my work to feel fresh and soft." But it's another thing to be able to actually define it into valuable adjectives that you can use for marketing. My own style journey. This is embarrassing. I will warn you, this is embarrassing. Okay, this is me in 2008. I started my business late 2006, early 2007. Whoa. (laughs) Different. I was trying to get a handle on light. I was trying to technically improve. And there are some... You can see the beginnings of it. I was starting to understand short light and kicker lights. I was beginning to understand expression and mood. You can see I'm experiencing with kicker lights here. Window light there, but oh my gosh. Don't ever shoot a baby with a light coming from above. From the below like ghoul lighting. What was I thinking? I mean, come on. That's terrible. Ghoul lighting up the nose? Just didn't have technical command of what I was doing. This was one of my favorite images. This little boy was a Celebrating Adoption boy. He was adopted from Ethiopia and when I first took this, I fell in love with it because I was able to handle dark and light skin tones in the same image. So that was a proud moment, but again, I'm still discovering technical ability. This image over here on the right, I was trying to understand direction of light, but you can see it's just hollow eyes. I didn't use any fill to help brighten those eyes. So again, another Celebrating Adoption baby, cute little expression, good line, interesting composition, depth of field, but not quite there. Black and white, the blacks are black and the whites are hot. It just doesn't have the tonal range that it should. Same here, experimenting with backlighting. Used a reflector, was beginning to grasp a hold of okay, dark background is needed when I do backlighting in order to not blow out skies and things like that. But still, it's just posing. Trying to get the pose as a senior. But the color, I mean. Come on, what was I thinking? Green shirt? Good grief. So, we learn, we do, we analyze, and we improve. Today, my work is completely different. Much more stylized as you can see. These are all images taken this year, I believe. Yes, basically in the last six months. And it's much softer, ethereal, the color tonality, muted tones is my M.O. I love muted color. I mean, for Pete's sake, I wear muted color. Neutral, muted tones. My family work all has a very strong feeling to it. Natural posing, but still contrived. So I want it to look somewhat natural, but it's all very much planned. It's not lifestyle or journalistic. It's definitely making an image, not taking it. But you can see a pattern to my work. The triangles and threes that I love. I love ones, threes, and fives. Circular motion in imagery I love. When the composition allows you to circle back. Circle back. Circle back. Circle back. There's all these lines. The circles and lines and organic quality to it is huge in my work everywhere. Of course color. Clean backgrounds. I mean, I go through seamless paper like no tomorrow. Let's see. I think I have one more... One more set of images here to show you. Again, even my outdoor work has a very soft, muted color tone feeling to it, but now I'm starting to experiment more with frivolity and child-like quirkiness. As you see some of the images come through, like the little lubby launching, you know, that little surprise, that little thing come in is becoming more joy. It's totally a component of the fact that my son, he's five. My life experience is getting into the whole, 'No I'm not gonna listen to you' temper tantrum phase, and so I'm embracing that in my work. You see what I'm saying? You progress, and I'm sure by the time my son's a high school senior, I'll be doing seniors. (audience laughs) It's gonna happen, you know. It's just, that's the phase of my life that I'm in. So are there questions from the internet, Kenna? Yeah, I had a question from Stephanie Baxter with a number of votes that came in earlier which was do I have to wait to start trying to get paid clients until I have found my style or is it acceptable to be paid for work even when we're still not quite... Still near the beginning of finding a style? And I ask this because you were showing us your work in 2008 that you were getting paid for based to where you are now. So what's your thoughts on that? It's a really tough question to answer because as an experienced person now, I look back and I say don't do it. Really? But, I did it. I'm a hypocrite saying that. But I think the better answer to her question is don't charge unless you're technically proficient. And when you're technically proficient, you will start to see your style evolve. Now you look at that work, there was a style to it. I mean it was a dark, moody... There was definitely a style to it. It wasn't technically as strong, but you could see common thread elements through it, couldn't you? Nowadays, yeah. Work is much more technically strong. And you definitely see common threads through the work. It's much more defined. Does that follow? So I'm not saying don't ever get paid for what you do, but if you are going to call yourself a professional, you must know your craft. A professional is someone who can get consistent, repeatable results every time no matter what the situation. Mt. Vesuvius could be exploding with you at the base of it, and you could still get a dang good image, okay? Your camera can fall apart. Okay, story time. Story time. Happened last Friday. My sister's shooting a wedding. Both her camera and her backup bomb. She has no camera. Middle of a wedding. She's frickin' flipping out. We got a panicked phone call. I'm like, "Oh my God, we gotta help her. "How do we help her? Holy crap, we gotta help her." Her D750 froze, gave her error message. Her D3 which she's had for... When it first came out, Nikon D3 was what? Six year go? Seven years ago? That's an old... It's got like 400 thousand actuations. She's replaced the shutter already once. You know, this is an old camera. The battery only held a charge for 10 minutes. But she brought it thinking, "Oh I need a backup." So she calls us in a panic, and of course, all the dang camera stores these days are shut down 'cause of the economy. You know, it's all B&H and online now, and you gotta wait 48 hours or overnight to get your camera. That is not gonna help her in the middle of a wedding. But the professional that she is, she calls me. Yes, of course she's panicked. She found a solution to her problem. She got a camera from a rental store I think a half an hour away. Her husband came in. A camera she's never used before. She went in, frickin' finished the wedding, and nailed it with images that are awesome. The exact same she would've done with her D750. That's a professional. No matter what the hang-up, no matter what the light, no matter what the situation, no matter what the client, no matter how much they're paying you, you can go in and produce the same damn image every single time. That's a professional. So you need to be so technically proficient that you can do that and there is no hesitation. Not... (gasps) Trust me, I still feel it every once in a while, but if you are not confident going into a sessions, and you don't know that you can get good images every time, then you need to question whether or not you should be doing that are of expertise. You need to practice and do portfolio work or don't charge for it right now until you are technically proficient. What is that the ten thousand rule? Ten thousand hour. Ten thousand hours rule, yeah. Okay, now granted, am I a total hypocrite telling you this? Yes. Totally. I charged for my work when I wasn't technically proficient. Now, believe it or not, Beth doesn't want me to say this, but I'm gonna say it anyway, those images I showed you are what passed the CPP exam. I got my CPP designation from PPA eight years ago by putting in that body of work. So my peers told me that I was proficient enough to be a professional so I believed it. Nowadays... But that's to tell you, again, in the industry, that's amazing to me that technical proficiency can improve so much overall in an industry as a whole. That would never pass today. No way would that pass today. So my point is the industry as a whole is improving technically which is awesome, but one of the ways to determine if you are technically proficient is to do things like get your credentials from WPPI or from PPA and put that stamp next to your name where another group of industry peers has evaluated your work and tells you, "Yes, you know light. You know composition. "You know technical qualities of your camera. "You can do it." So a long answer to a short question is, I did it. I'm a hypocrite up here telling you to wait. But now that I know what I know, if I had believed someone who is telling me what I'm telling you now, I would've progressed 10 times faster. So yes I am a hypocrite telling you you should wait, but I'm also telling it with you with 10 years of experience and saying if you get your technical skills down, number one, you'll be confident what you're doing, and you'll be able to charge and produce results for clients no matter what the situation. Number two, your style will come that much faster anyway because you're improving technically. So it's going to be this evolution that will happen automatically just by you improving your craft. So if you wait until that moment when you know you can produce an image no matter what the circumstance, then you will have the confidence. You'll know you can do it, and you will have an easier time marketing your work, you'll become more reliant to your clients, your customer service will better, you can focus more on them rather than actually getting an image correct. The goal nowadays for me is all about expression, mood, line. It's all about the art component of it. Not whether or not I can get an image. Does that make sense? It's automatic now. It's so automatic that if I have to think about it, I'm like, "Oh, well I just turn that." I mean, you know what it's like. You know what I'm saying? Like I know my aperture and shutter speed. You know how you get a camera that's not your and you're like... (gasps) It doesn't work the way it's supposed to work. It's the same camera, but it doesn't work. You know, you start to get mad at it 'cause the settings are all changed. 'Cause your artist's brush is so fine tuned to your hand that it's automatic. That's what I want your camera to become to you. So I guess that's what I'm saying.

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