Finding Your Style
Finding your style. This is a big one. I remember when someone first told me, when I was starting out in photography, they said just point blank, "You've really gotta figure out your style, "you're all over the place." And that was such a confusing thing to hear. I was like what does that mean, can I get that at the camera store? Like I really had no context for where they were going with that. But again, an easy way to think about it is, these days especially, there are so many photographers, everybody has a camera, pretty much everyone can light really well. When I started out, I was decent at lighting and that was enough, like you're of tremendous value. You have a camera and you seem like a motivated person and you're decent at lighting. I was very much learning on the job. I don't know how easy it is to learn on the job anymore these days, because it's so competitive. But we could do a course for three weeks and I could teach you everything I know and you'd figure out pretty quick...
ly like, oh what John likes to eat for lunch. I mean you could study whatever I do as much as possible, but the one thing that you can never replicate is my decision making process and who I am. Why did he wear that shirt today instead of the other one? He had that brown dress on the model and he changed it out for the blue, the brown dress looked perfectly fine. Those are the kind of things where those decisions that are just purely who you are, doesn't mean it's the best decision or the right decision, but it's your decision. You know, why did you wanna eat Mexican food for dinner and why did you turn down hamburgers? Whatever it was, it's like that's my mood, that's who I am. Those are the kind of things that you've gotta figure out for yourself. Figure out who you are and start learning how to make those kinds of decisions in your photography. And if you can make decisions on dressing yourself and what to eat, you can make those same decisions in your photography. It's just kind of relearning it and allowing yourself to have the freedom to make choices and move forward with it. Again, clients like to have someone who's an expert at something. It's not a bad thing to be known for this one particular thing. And if you're gonna be known for something, be known for being you. Don't be known for trying to emulate someone else. 'Cause you just won't do a very good job of it. And again, remember this takes time. I think it's really important, but it's important to get it right. Don't beat yourself up because you don't get it overnight. It's something that I'm constantly evolving and learning more about myself. I watch documentaries on other artists and there's always at least a line or quote or two, as you've seen here, that I take away and it's like ahhh. Even if it's just like a new way of saying something I already knew, that informs me and allows me to better understand myself. And again, I had something to say early on in my career, but I did not know what that was. I was doing weddings and I knew I wanted to do something else. I had no idea what that something else was and it took a long time to get there. And then I got there and I knew I was on the track, but I still didn't even know what I wanted to say. I think it boiled down to, I didn't know who I was as a person. This is an exercise that I've kind of developed and feel really strongly about. And I would encourage you guys to think about this for yourselves as we move on from here as well. These are examples of words that I deeply identify with. And these words have changed. Like someone could say to me, well you just created an image and it's different from those words. Well maybe I've changed. I think if we can all acknowledge that we all change over the course of our lives, then it's fair to say that this list, probably should be changing also. But it should be reflective of where you're at in that particular moment. So for me, my list is bold, timeless, confident, imaginative. That's one that I've recently changed. I had a different word in there and I felt like this is more representative. Genuine, simplistic, greatness. Now there's like deep meaning for each of these words in here. Like when I say greatness, I'm not saying I'm great, I'm not saying my work's great, I strive to be great and I also am a perfectionist, which is also why I felt like throwing up last night before this course, because I'm so terrified. I want it to be perfect, I don't wanna make mistakes in front of people. My expectation is to do four photo shoots that will be the best photo shoots I've ever done and they'll go straight in my portfolio. And my expectation for this course is that you guys will leave and forget about Netflix and be like, I'm so glad that I deleted my account. You know, like, Creative Live is all I need. It's ridiculous, but that's really like the expectations that I put on myself and so understanding that about myself is really important. And again, that is actually a really bad trait. Again, in my personal relationships with my kids and my wife, that's something that I need to be aware of for that reason, because I don't want that coming up in those relationships. But, if I'm being honest, wherever it came from, you know, my environment, my upbringing, whatever it is, like, it's a part of me, I am a perfectionist. I have this need to be great and so I acknowledge that in my work and I let it come through. Bold and simple, those are ideas, again, they can be dangerous if you don't have an understanding for them. When my wife and I first got married and we bought a house, none of us understood style for ourselves personally or any sense. And so all of a sudden we're in a situation where we can decorate a house. And I just felt like simple, like that word resonated with me. And I found a picture at like Pottery Barn or something and at the time, it was just like stark white. And I was just like that's it, that's what I want. And Nichelle's response was like, "I don't wanna live in a sterile lab "and I wanna feel at home." I got so upset and we had this huge argument. But now I've learned, like simple, I say less is more all the time, being simple is really important to me, but I had to figure out like what does that mean and in what ways is it important? And so for me, it's like a lot of my work, if you break it down, it's just people on a wall. Now that wall might look different at times. And again, that might sound like I'm limiting myself, but I think that's a good thing. I do one thing very specifically, I tend to photograph portraits of people in very simple environments. I like to show as little environment as possible. I dress monochromatically, that's something that I feel really strongly about and I tend to dress my subjects that way. Those are simple, you could say it's bold or it's bold in the sense that it's all one thing. It's also simple. So all those words, as you start to understand yourself, you'll realize like, they should be incorporated in your life and your style. Your style, basically, should be you. So these are my words. I would encourage you guys to take time to write down, I think seven words is good. Try to come up with seven words that describe who you are. And again, just free-flow. You may come back and be like ah that's not right or whatever. But take the time to really figure it out. And then, eventually, as you get these words written down and you start to kind of experiment, these words should be reflected in your work. If you create an image and you can't hold it up to these words, then maybe you're on the wrong track. Like if these words truly are you, then the work should also mesh in with these as well. Take time, it's gonna take a lot of time, it's probably gonna get messy. Therapy, that's like one of the best things for this process specifically. And that's kinda where this came from for me, I started seeing a therapist several years ago. Not because I wanted to figure out my style, but it was like for personal reasons. But I can't stress enough, if you have the right therapist, like how important that is, because the better you understand yourself and your relationships with others and why you're driven the way you're driven and why you make the choices you make, that will help you to be a better artist. Without struggling with I think I wanna do that but I'm not really sure. You start to have a clear picture of this is what I wanna do and you learn to communicate that with others and it makes the whole process so much easier.
You spoke earlier about having a crew or whatnot, is that after you are like commissioned for an editorial type thing? Or if it's something that you've done with like, your personal work? Because it's kind of hard to find enough people to say hey, you know I'll come in and participate in your idea if you're not paying them in a sense.
Right, well, we are gonna talk about that specifically, so I will kind of defer that. But it just depends, is the answer. Like, you know, the easy answer would be like you guys are in a room here of 20 photographers who are all hopefully having at least some similar common interests. Get together and like work together. That's when I talk about being scrappy or being creative or finding a way. If you know there's something you wanna do, you've just gotta figure out a way to make it work. 'Cause no one is gonna come up to you and be like, I'm gonna help you do this. You know, like you have to do it yourself. So, yeah, obviously it's nice when someone's paying for a crew for you, but to get to that point, you may have to find friends and family or someone who's willing to come along and help you. Find something you can trade, you know, find something that they're interested in. Mutually beneficial relationship.
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John’s photos have filled the pages of Rolling Stone, Wired, and the New York Times Magazine. He’s covered celebrities from Anthony Hopkins to Macklemore, and even had the rare opportunity to photograph Annie Leibovitz. He’s also passionate about education and supporting artists to find their personal style.
In this one-of-a-kind class, John breaks down how to conceptualize, produce, style, light and fine tune your ideas. He leads you through the creation of an environmental portrait series, showing you how to make a vision come to life with any budget.
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- Research and create desired environments for set design or location scouting
- Cast for portrait and direct subjects on set
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- Lighting and styles to make the background and subject work together
- Creative ways to build your vision, regardless of budgetary limitations
What our students are saying:
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- Lorenzo Hill
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