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Personal Work

Lesson 4 from: The Business of Commercial Photography: The Survival Guide

John Keatley

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Lesson Info

4. Personal Work

Next Lesson: Building a Brand

Lesson Info

Personal Work

Which leads us to personal work. Personal work is everything, there are, you know I talked about how for me it begins with my personal work that I showed you. This is where you create, this is where you practice, this is where you try new things. There was, I don't know, six seven years ago directing started to become a thing that you heard people talking about photographers thinking about directing and I actually made movies when I was in high school, even before I ever knew anything about photography, I actually did I made skate videos I made stop motion videos. I enjoyed creating but I was never thinking Oh I want to be a director or anything like that. So, I started hearing people talking about oh you know, you need to direct like you need to direct if you are going to make it that's where everything is going. Everything is going into motion. And I'm contrary and I don't like being told what to do so if someone tells me I have to do something even if I maybe should, I'm probably go...

ing to push back on that. But there came a point where I had this list of ideas. I'm always writing down ideas and concepts and things like that. Which, for me in hindsight is oh wow no wonder you love conceptual photography or conceptual portraits it like you've always been interested in the concept. I just wasn't aware of that. But I got to the point where I was looking at my list and I realized most of these ideas, or at least half of these ideas are not stills, there no photographs these are actually stories. And I'm forcing them into photographs, I have this idea and everything was like how do we make this picture? And once I started realizing that I think I actually want to make movies I knew I needed to do something about that just simply knowing that or telling people hey I want to direct that's not enough people aren't gonna be like well great, let's make that happen for you. I have to show what it is that I want to do. We say this all the time with photography it's no different with anything in life really you have to, you get hired to shoot what you show. And you're not going to get hired unless you show something. So, for me this was the first thing that I did I knew okay I need to start putting together small film. Now, you have to be mindful of what type of work you want to be doing so you are communicating clearly with those people but at the same time it needs to be what you want to be doing. It can't be like I'm going to shoot this because I think this is what's going to get me hired. The same principle applies here, to what we've already talked about. You've got to create what it is you are interested in. So, this is where we practiced and put the first thing together. I'll actually show you the video. But, finally the things that come from this along with practice is brand control. I said you get hired to shoot what you show if you're showing stuff you don't want to be doing you can expect to get more of what you don't want to be doing I've been there many times. But if you're doing what you love expect to get hired to do more of that that's awesome. And again, it just is fun. It's just really, really fun. Just like I was talking about why we started our family picture if you're like me and I can't believe that I actually have the time or the ability to get paid sometimes to do this like, what better place to be. It's a short little video, this is the first one we did I actually, my friend Sara Coates, who is a phenomenal actress, I work with her and her boyfriend frequently and they are both incredible writers and so I said I knew I want to make a video and I was like but what do you, what do you want to do Sara I was like let's do something together and she was like it's my dream well, I won't ruin it for you but she had this one idea and that is what this whole video is based on. (shopping cart moving) (explosion) (running) (birds singing) So that is, that's the first thing and then I show it to clients and someone says oh well hey that applies to what we want to be doing and all of the sudden you might not get the biggest job of your career but you'll get something that's built off of that and you will continue to grow and you use personal work to continue to inform those kinds of ideas to clients. I don't even know if I fully realized it when I made this first one but in my portrait work and my stills I mentioned I like to shoot unexpecting people and unexpecting places. With my video work, I like to tell a story and people think it's going to go one way and it ends in a completely unexpected way. And that's one thing that is entirely consistent throughout most of my directing and so understanding that helps me better write and work with people to come up with concepts that are in line with that. And then when people thing about working with me they know like this is what this guy is gonna do it's not a question of what it's gonna feel like they know, clearly because I have communicated that. There was a period of time where before I fully understood the importance of personal work I would get so frustrated with my commercial projects because I would show up to a job and I was trying to define who I was in a client shoot. And you don't want to try to define who you are when someone else has the final say. That's not appropriate. You're not there just to create something fun, you're there to achieve a goal for a client. They have hired you for, again it's up to you what they've hired you for or maybe for reasons that are true to who you are and maybe some reasons that are not. That's why again its important for you to dictate that. But, it's going to be really, really stressful if you're on set, and this is where you live or die on set because you need this commercial image to define who you are so you are going to fight over the fact that like I want the background to be blue not red I hate red it makes me so angry. It's not your place. I mean you can give them feedback and hopefully again this has been formed by you and your input but there's going to be decisions clients make that you don't like. And if that's the only place that you're creating expect to be super frustrated. So again, another reason why you have to carve out time on your own to be creating projects for yourself where you can have the final say and no one else can tell you what it's going to look like. And then finally, as I've said before, when you do personal work that means your client work will start feeling more like personal work. Eventually, it might even be like wow I almost don't even know the difference between this job I just got paid to do. I would have done this on my own, literally. Now that is entirely possible. Do you have a question? [Female Audience Member] So when you're portfolio building are you creating work? Obviously you wanna create your personal work the work that you want to be hired for I feel, what I'm hearing is that I'm kind of blurred in the line of where do I create work that I think clients would want because I don't have a portfolio, like I'm portfolio building. So I'm like oh do I create like fashion over the top stuff because I want that type of work or do I really just create what I think is great and fashion looking and then pimp that kind of work so I guess where I'm at is like am I trying to fit a mold or, what you're saying is make them fit to your mold. And that's how you portfolio build. You need to create your own demand. You know the reason people aren't hiring for the ideas you have in your head is because they haven't seen them yet. So if you're going to put in time to create something I would always advocate for create work that you want to do. That's not to say that occasionally there isn't room and that it would make sense to create something specific that is strategic. You can create strategic work, that's not a bad thing to do. But, it's really easy to just go all in on that road and you neglect personal work. Everyone is going to have to find out their own balance. For me at this point, if I'm creating something outside of a job 100% it is for myself. I'm not doing strategic work anymore. I think that's more for when you are starting out and sometimes, I mean every rule is meant to be broken. So take everything I say with a grain of salt. Something else might work better for you for different reasons. But that's a balance that you'll kinda have to figure out. But what I don't want you to especially because you said you're just starting out you don't have a portfolio, I'd rather see you build the foundation with you and then you can maybe supplement but if you start right now just shooting this is what I think people want to see you're already going down the wrong road and it's going to be an even longer detour the longer you do it. I spent a whole year portfolio building doing another mentor kinda thing and think when you are just starting out, you kinda mimic your mentors. And then I did a show, I did my studio opening and I hated everything on the wall. Except for the things that I created. They were for me. And I turned off the wi-fi the next day and I was like what am I really into and so I was like I gotta throw all of this out because even though I have website coming out there it's not work that I believe in. So, that's why I'm here. Well, see now that's great, often times we have that experience we know that it's just kind of connecting those dots that's really difficult and committing. It's scary. It's terrifying. Personal work can't fail. We've talked again about the importance of making mistakes and learning from mistakes. There's been plenty of times where I shot something and it did not turn out exactly like I want it. Sometimes it's just flat out bad. Sometimes it's not bad it's just definitely not what I thought it was going to be or it's not the feeling that I was after. So on the left here are a couple of different personal projects. On the top, I was really interested in and still am in nautical themes and this was actually kind of the beginning of the shoot that I did for the creative life portrait class where I started getting in to the nautical themes. But the pictures didn't totally turn out how I was expecting. It was maybe a few elements that I wasn't aware of or didn't go right or whatever it was. And then below is a series called Con Man. And it's a series of one individual photographed in seven different ways. Basically he's looking straight ahead the whole time but the only thing that changes is wig and some make-up and wardrobe. And that was kinda when I was exploring identity and the themes of indentity. It's a great project and I love it but I haven't really done anything with it but what it did do was form another project that I won't get too sidetracked with. The whole point of this exercise is this job on the right which I just shot and directed all of the commercials for. This is for the incredible egg and this is by far one of the most enjoyable campaigns I've ever had the chance to work on. And it came because of seeing these sailor portraits. They saw these and they knew their gonna have a sailor in this campaign. They wanted someone who could shoot characters strong characters, they wanted a certain kind of light and they wanted it to be someone who could shoot in studio. And so when they saw these images that ticked off those boxes like this connected with them. And so, again even if personal work doesn't necessarily land exactly where you want it to land and chances are lets say there were twenty elements that went into and image and maybe five of them didn't turn out that doesn't mean that there isn't like fifteen things that you really do like in there they can still represent something else that you want to do. So again, with personal work it might turn in to work it might be something where you're putting a pitch together which we will talk about a little bit later which is basically like your showing someone how you would create a certain project. You can use that personal work to inform that vision that you are building to.

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Ratings and Reviews

Bonnie Aunchman

John & Creative Live - Thank you - Best. Class. Ever.! This is a GREAT class! If you are a photographer, this is definitely a MUST GET class, but even if you work with photographers as part of a creative team - you have to take this class. (I'm a Photo Stylist) John covers it ALL in this class - it really, truly is a Survival (Success) Guide. John is so detailed, honest, and generous in his knowledge/experience/wisdom in the commercial photography industry in helping you understand the business and really succeed (& stand out). When I see that John is teaching a class on Creative Live - I'm in! (I have his other valuable courses as well)

a Creativelive Student

I was lucky to be part of the studio audience for this course. John is an awesome teacher and did an outstanding job of making sense of a very difficult side of photography for a creative to understand. He shared his 18+ years of experience, including the good and bad he has gone through. The "special guests" alone are worth the cost of this class. John has an amazing team working beside him behind the scenes. Their perspective on his business was priceless!

Joseph Brewster

John gave an enormous amount of insight and practical advice in this comprehensive course. I really enjoyed a course focused more on commercial and editorial rather than wedding and family, which is more common. Great info and great work all around!

Student Work