Recently we had the opportunity of interviewing the very dedicated and talented photographer, John Keatley. John settled in Seattle by way of northern California, trading steady sunshine for sun-breaks. He specializes in advertising and editorial portrait photography as well as celebrity impersonations. Strictly the professional, however, he is experienced with a diverse group of clients and assignments which often take him around the world and all over Seattle. Below is the interview we conducted with John, as well as many samples of his beautiful photography. After you’ve finished with the article head over to his personal website where you can view more of his work. Keep up the great work John!
Thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview, why don’t you start off by telling us a little about yourself.
I am a commercial photographer, living in Seattle, Washington with my wife, our 8 month old daughter and a pomeranian. Photography is something I stumbled into while studying business and computer science in college. I grew up with an interest in creating things and my parents always encouraged me to be creative. In high school, I bought a video camera and spent countless hours with friends making stop motion videos. I also made a lot of skate videos and built all kinds of projects in the garage. Never anything fantastic, but the process of creating was so exciting to me. I taught myself bass, had dreams of being in a band at one point, and I also tried my hand at painting. Those hobbies didn’t last too long. It wasn’t until I discovered the potential of working with a camera that all of the pieces of my personality and skills came together and finally made sense. For the first time, I knew how to express my sense of humor in a way that was fulfilling. My need to create had a new purpose, and photography presented me with unlimited possibilities.
What kind of photography do you do? Do you enjoy it?
I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t enjoy what I am doing. I could not physically make myself do something I didn’t love. It’s a blessing and a curse sometimes.
To answer the first question, I mostly photograph people. I often describe my photography as stylized portraits of celebrities and everyday people. My clients are often ad agencies, magazines, and corporations. Shooting personal work is also a very big part of what I do. I am always working on at least one photography project for myself. During the past six months, I have been trying to push myself and explore new types of photography through my personal projects.
What’s your gear?
Ninety-five percent of my work is shot on my Hasselblad H3DII-31 medium format digital camera. I really love that camera, and the files it creates are beautiful. It allows me to create images exactly how I see them in my head. Right now I use the H80mm lens the most, but I also have the 50mm and use it from time to time.
I use Profoto strobes, and I have been loving the Giant reflectors. I made a shift from working with many smaller lights to fewer lights and larger modifiers.
Can you tell me some vocabulary or terminology specific to your job?
In my job, it is important to understand corporate structure as well as terms and abbreviated job titles. The same thing goes for working with ad agencies to some extent. Some of this comes over time, but the more you can learn, the better you will come across when working with clients.
Can you offer any advice on how to go about building up a portfolio / ‘getting your foot in the door’ for our readers wishing to start a career in photography?
You have to show what you want to shoot in your portfolio. Basically if you want to shoot stylized portraits, you need to show through your personal work that you can do it. Shooting on your own is so important. If you are not getting the type of work you want to be doing, you need to produce it on your own. Take initiative and show people what you can do. Don’t just hope someone will see your talent or potential and take a chance on you. Art buyers and photo editors want to see what they are looking for in your portfolio. Once you have created the work, get out there and show it to people. The only way to get a meeting is to pick up the phone, or send an email. It takes a lot of hard work and repetition, but just stick with it and keep shooting.
What computer program do you find yourself in most?
Probably Gmail and Adobe Bridge are the two things I use the most. Lot’s of email.
Do you shoot with film or digital? Have you ever shot in film? Which do you prefer?
I shot film when I first got into photography, but I made an early switch to digital when Canon came out with digital SLR’s.
What advice would you give to our readers who are looking to ‘go pro’ and turn a hobby into a profitable business?
Photography is fun, but it is not an easy job. It’s a business like any other business, and it is extremely competitive. That being said, if you have made the decision to go pro then it is important to create good habits right away and start out strong. When you see an opportunity go after it, and don’t back down from a challenge. Step one is shoot a lot. Not just when you are starting out, but even once you are an established pro. Make sure you are always shooting for yourself as well as for clients. Shooting for yourself reminds you why you love photography, helps you develop new work, and is also very important in marketing yourself. People not only want to see what you have done for clients but what you do for yourself. It shows you are passionate about photography. Going back to starting out, use your personal projects and explorations to discover what you are interested in photographing. The next step is to create a strong brand and marketing plan. I highly recommend working with a consultant. There are many good consultants out there, but I recommend Amanda Sosa Stone and Jasmine DeFoore. They are the best. A good consultant will help you create a plan of action and check in with you along the way to make sure you are sticking to it. I believe it is also good to have someone you can bounce ideas and new work off of. Photographers are on their own, unlike businesses with multiple employees, but collaboration and guidance is still just as important. That is why photographers need to seek out guidance from a consultant who will tell it to you straight.
Photographers are often told that they need to develop a personal style to set them apart. What would you say sets you apart?
I am pretty good with people, and I would say my style is bold, simple, and sometimes dramatic. I also incorporate my dry sense of humor into much of my work. Being genuine is very important to me, and I hope that my work reflects that. I never want my work to be overstated.
When not looking through the lens of a camera, what do you like to do in your spare time?
We had a baby girl this past year, so she get’s a lot of my time when I am not working. My wife and I are also very close to our families and we spend quite a bit of time with them, as well as with friends. Soccer and baseball are very big passions of mine, so I am really in my element in the summer and fall. I dream of the day when a Seattle sports team wins a championship. One can only hope.
Who are your influences?
When I first became interested in portraits, I spent a lot of time looking at Dan Winters, Peter Yang, Yousuf Karsh, Patrick Hoelck, and Chris Buck. I am still a fan of each of them, but I really try to not look at a lot of other peoples work. Don’t get me wrong, I still look around every once in a while, but I really like what happens with my photography when I do not have other people’s images floating around in my head. It’s easy to start comparing your work to that of others when you are constantly looking around, and I found it wasn’t healthy. Chris Buck also had a tremendous impact on me from the business side of photography and taught me some really valuable lessons I will never forget. He has been so generous with me, and I will always be grateful to him for that.