John Keatley is an advertising and editorial photographer from Seattle. His images of celebrities like Annie Leibovitz and John Waters are iconic and instantly resonate with the viewer. John was kind enough to answer some questions and to share some clips from his recent talk on photography. John’s blog can be found here
LC: What are some tips you might give to a young photographer trying to get their work seen and market themselves in their early career that you wish you had known when you were starting out?
JK: It is very important to have a plan. Set goals for yourself. Commit to your goals by writing them down, and then decide on a plan that will help you achieve your goals. It will take time, hard work, consistency persistence, and good work. Stick to your plan and if you are passionate about what you are doing people will start to notice. A lot of young photographers don’t realize how much time and hard work goes into a successful marketing campaign, and they want results right away. I just watched an interview with Adam Sandler, and he was talking about auditioning for parts early in his career. He believed so much in himself, when he didn’t get a part, he thought, “What is wrong with these people! How could they not want me?” That kind of belief in your abilities is an important key to success, and it has to be followed up with persistence. If you don’t press on after a bad meeting, or after losing a bid, you won’t get anywhere.
LC: In terms of changes in media technology, how versed do new photographers need to be in terms of working with video as well as still images? Is video something you have greatly embraced in your own work?
JK: I actually made videos long before I ever picked up a still camera. It was a big hobby of mine in high school. Since becoming a photographer, video was something I have not had a ton of time for however. Recently I have started working again with video and I am really enjoying it.
I think right now it is one of those things where you don’t have to be well versed in it, but it sure doesn’t hurt. It can only help you if you can offer video to your clients. There are lots of fun and exciting possibilities if you can work with stills and motion, so I say go for it.
LC: In your own early experiences was there any one moment or opportunity that was a game changer for your career?
JK: I don’t think I can say there was one moment that made all of the difference, but there have certainly been many significant opportunities and events in my life which have helped shape my career and as well as opened new doors for me. I am always trying to push myself and sometimes taking on something that scares you is the best way to learn and grow. You will surprise yourself with what you can accomplish if you just commit and be positive.
LC: What are 3 do’s and don’ts about the photography business you wish you had known at the beginning of your career that you do now?
JK: I don’t have 3 do’s and don’ts, but I can offer this advice from personal experience. Ask lots of questions, and communicate clearly. Ask for help when you need it. Value your work and yourself, don’t give it away and sell yourself short. Shoot what you love. This is said so much it can sound like white noise, but it is so important. Don’t worry about what other people are shooting or making money at if it’s not something you enjoy. Become great at what you love, and the work will follow. Take initiative and make things happen.
LC: This question is specifically geared for those budding portrait photographers out there. You are known for working with noted personalities whose backgrounds encompass a wide spectrum, what can younger photographers who get thrust into a situation of photographing a large personality do to get beyond that initial nervousness and relate to their subject?
JK: It can’t be about you. You have to be or be humble when working with celebrities. It’s important to understand you are not there to become best friends. Celebrities have a million people pulling at them from all directions and everyone wants something from them. If you lose sight of the fact you are there to do a job then you are at a disadvantage. Just be yourself and don’t go in trying to impress everyone. Be respectful, take a deep breath, and trust in yourself.
LC: Your portrait style is iconic and impactful, conversely so many photographers seem to jump on the bandwagon of whatever the trendy look or color treatment is that month. How much of a balance does one need to strike between what the industry wants and seeing through your own personal vision to completion.
JK: It is good to be aware of what is going on in the industry, and to draw inspiration from work you enjoy. However, personally, I think it is important to be true to yourself and create whatever you feel compelled to create. Don’t start over sharpening your work because that is what you see in print that month. I think it is better to create something you can be proud of rather than what is in style if it doesn’t match up with your interests. If you put your passion into it, there is a much better chance your work will be relevant for years to come. If photography is just a job to you, then I suppose it would be very important to keep up with trends and adapt in that way, but if you want to become great and create something lasting, I feel that can only be achieved by listening to you inner voice.