About Personal Work

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Personal Work

Personal work.  Photo by John Keatley.

This is a personal shoot I recently put together.  Many of the ideas and sketches I have been putting in my journal lately are set in outdoor locations at night.  I seem to go through cycles of being inspired by different things in my personal work.  For example, there was a time last year, when all of my ideas were studio shots.  After spending more time than usual in the studio, I began to find inspiration in other things.  I am a very curious photographer, and I enjoy changing the situations and people I work with so I am always experiencing something new.  Each time I explore my curiosity through personal work, I not only fulfill my curiosity, but I also grow as a photographer, and learn things that will stay with me.  There is something inside of me that is constantly pushing me to try something different, and create something new.

What I have begun to notice this summer through my personal work is that each phase that I go through, it is becoming less about a technical aspect, such as a specific light, or studio vs. outdoor, and more about my vision or the story I want to tell.  Each phase I have gone through has really been more about exploration and my own curiosity than the actual technical detail I was focused on.  Through these periods of different inspirations I have learned a lot, and  I hope I will always be learning something new about light, and photography, no matter how long I work at it.  But now I am able to focus more on my vision and less on the tools required to make it happen.  Not that the tools aren’t important.  They are!  But the more you practice, the more you will understand the tools, and the more they become ingrained in you so you don’t have to spend as much time and effort thinking about them.

This picture is the first in a series I am working on in my spare time.  I felt excitement when I made this image, and it was a good reminder for me of how much I love photography.  Thanks for taking a look.


Lighting Technique: Three Lights and the Sun

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Lighting Technique, Personal Work, Tools Of The Trade

Portrait of a retired university professor and his wife.  Photo by John Keatley.

A month or so ago, I was hired to photograph several people for a marketing publication.  They were looking for lifestyle type portraits.  So I shot most of them in natural light, often with a reflector or two.  Warm, happy, and beautiful was my direction, and so I was looking for bright colorful backgrounds.  When I arrived at this couples home, I went through the usual introductions and before long, I was taking the grand tour of their home.  It’s always funny to me that as a photographer, I can walk into a strangers home, look around in all of their rooms, and tell them what to wear.  Years ago, this took a bit of getting used to, but now it feels somewhat normal.

There was not much in the house that lent itself to what I was looking for, so I decided we would head to a park.  As we were leaving, I took notice of this room with the piano, the old lamp, and the bright sun streaming through the window.  For a moment, I turned off the filter in my head that was only looking for commercial lifestyle type portraits.  The muted colors and the overall feel of the shot that began forming in my head was not something that would interest my client, but I decided that it was worth exploring for myself.

This was a really fun lighting process, and there were some elements that I don’t often get to work through.  I know a lot of you are often curious, and email me about my lighting, so how about a lighting walk through.  Take out a sheet of paper and a number 2 pencil.  Here we go.

Direct sunlight was coming through a large window on the left side of the frame.  You can see the bright spot on the floor pointing toward the piano.  There were soft rolling shadows all over the wall and furniture from the sunlight bouncing off the white carpet and other light surfaces.  It was beautiful light, but the range between the light on the floor and the shadows was too wide to capture with detail.

I took several frames with just natural light, to get a rough idea of what the shot could feel like.  After I felt confident that something interesting could develop, I ran out to the car and brought in all of the lighting that I had with me.  Three strobes in this case.  I almost didn’t even bring them because I didn’t think I would be using lights that day.   The first thing I did was get an exposure that had some detail in the  sun spot on the floor.  I wanted it to be bright, but not blown out.  My goal was to mimic the natural light, but bring the range from highlight to shadow down to something that is within the camera’s range of capturing.  I shot at ISO 100, and the exposure was 1/125 at f/9.0.

Exposing for the brightest spot in this case made the rest of the frame very dark.  The next step was to add in light and bring up the shadows.  I like to add and work with one light at a time when I am building my lighting setups.  I start with the brightest light source.  The sun in this case, and work my way down to the fill lights.  I feel like this gives me more control, and allows me to better see the results and consequences of each light that I am using.

Equipment: Before I get into how I used my equipment to create this shot, here is a list of the actual equipment I used along with links to the product pages.

Camera: Canon DSLR
Lights: Elinchrom Ranger Battery Pack and Head x2
Extra Elinchrom Ranger Free Lite A Flash Head
Light Modifiers: Photoflex Large Softbox
Wescott 45” Umbrella x2

The Key Light: I set up a large softbox on camera left, in front of the window.  There was a lot of furniture and items in the room, and although I did rearrange quite a bit, I didn’t want to make a complete mess of their home.  There was not enough floor space to set up a stand where I wanted the key light, and even if there was, it would have cut into the frame of the shot.  So I set up a C stand with a grip arm and mounted the softbox on the end of the arm.  I swung this over the couch and up against the window so that it was angled down toward the floor and feathered away from the wall (pointing across the frame toward the right side of the room).  The reason for feathering the softbox from the wall was because I wanted to create a darker shadow in the upper left corner of the frame.  The more the softbox is pointed away from the wall, the larger and deeper the shadow in the left corner becomes.  I also wanted the light to be a little more even across the frame, and feathering gave me more reach.  You can see a slight shadow with a hard edge on the floor on the very far right at the base of the drawers.  This shadow was from the softbox.  If I had the softbox pointed directly toward the couple, the light would not have reached that far.  And finally, let’s not forget.  It is kind of important to actually light the subjects with the key as well.  So I made sure that the light was hitting them how I wanted.   The head and softbox were actually a little too large for the C stand arm, so I did have to do a little work with some tape, clamps and an extra light stand to keep the softbox from pointing straight down.  Clamps and tape are a must if you ask me.  Now we have a floor highlight that is not blown out, and properly exposed people on the piano bench.  But, the right side of the frame was still really dark.

Fill Light #1: The goal for the fill light was to control the shadows.  I don’t want this light to be even with the sun, or the key (softbox).  What I want out of the fill is to bring up the dark shadows to a level that has detail, but still looks and feels like a shadow.  I used a 45” umbrella with black backing that I bounced a strobe into.  So the strobe is actually pointing away from the subject into the umbrella and bouncing the light back onto the frame.  I experimented with a number of positions for the first fill light, but I ended up placing it about a foot or so behind me, and two or three feet to my right.  The height of the strobe head was about a foot above the subjects head, and the umbrella was not angled much.  The umbrella rod was about parallel with the ground.  You can see the shadows created by this light on the ground behind one of the piano bench legs, and the right piano leg.  There is also a very soft and subtle shadow on the wall to the left of the drawers.  This tells you that the actual strobe head was just to the right of the edge of the drawer, but the umbrella just swept over the edge to create that soft shadow.  If I would have moved the light further to the right, the shadow would have grown and become darker.  If I would have moved the light more to the left, the shadow would have disappeared completely.  I left the shadow in to create some depth on the right side of the frame.

Fill Light #2: I also set up a second umbrella for fill light.  I placed this about 9 feet away from me on the right side of the frame, and used it to fill in the shadow on the wall to the right of the drawers.

And then it was time to start shooting.  After a number of different poses, I decided on this one.  I really like this shot.  The man is a retired professor, and it turns out that he taught photography for a few years.  This was many years ago, and the program eventually was shut down when funds became tight.  But it was a lot of fun talking to him about cameras and equipment.  It was also the first time I had a subject offer to set up and take down stands and actually know how to do it.

I hope you found this interesting, or helpful.  Feel free to post any comments or questions.  I will do my best to respond and answer any questions you may have.


Dirty Dancing

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Personal Work

Ricker and Groupies

Dancing Groupies

Personal work.  The best kind of work if you ask me.  Well, maybe not from a financial point of view though.  I met these three at an Enya concert this Spring.  This is just a little peek into the after party.  For obvious reasons, they requested that their names not be revealed.  In these tough economic times, the last thing you want is to lose your job because you got caught listening to Enya.


Interview On PDN Features

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Personal Work, Press & Interviews

Seattle Seahawks Seagals cheerleader Tessa.  Photographed in her home by John Keatley.

PDN just posted a great online article with interviews from me and Danny Wilcox Frazier (here).  It covers our work in the new American Youth book that was released this month.  We have been getting some fantastic press for this, and none of it would have been possible without the wonderful people at Redux.  

I am getting ready to head out to New York for two weeks, and I will finally get to see the actual book for the first time.  I am also looking forward to talking with many of the people who put so much time and energy into this project.  Should be fun.

This is an outtake from the book, but one of my favorite pictures from the Seagals pictures.

Special thanks to Jasmine DeFoore and Conor Risch for this article.

PDN online article - http://www.pdnonline.com/pdn/content_display/photo-news/photojournalism/e3if6edc43bfbecc72af9626bec0b2f5b69


Hot Water Baptism

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Personal Work


A few months ago, I reconnected with an old friend from college, Kyle Bowden.  I had not seen him for about 8 years, since we were both studying abroad in Uruguay during my senior year.  A small group of my friends all decided to study abroad together, and we went during Spring quarter in 2002.  After we had been overseas for about 6 weeks, we had an extended weekend, and decided to get out of town for a couple days.  We ended up traveling to Suriname and got in pretty late.  Just outside of the capital city of Paramaribo was an old brick convent at the base of the hillside.  Not having made sleeping arrangements in advance, some of the guys were joking around about staying the night in the convent.  I’m sure they would rent us a room for the night right?  As the joke quickly came to an end, Kyle said in a rather serious tone.  ”I am going to spend the night in that convent.”

I laughed at first, but quickly realized that he was serious.  He thought he could sneak into the convent and spend the night without being noticed.  ”No way!” was the unanimous response from the group.  But this just made Kyle even more determined.  Finally, we decided that we would see just how serious Kyle was about this idea.   We made a bet with him.  If he could pull it off, we would collectivly pay him $400.  And if he could not, he had to buy the drinks for the rest of the weekend.  

Kyle gave us his backpack, took a few snacks, and headed up toward the convent.  We agreed that we would meet back at the same spot the next day at 11:00am.   

Kyle never showed up the next day.  And through a very strange chain of events, that one night turned into three long years of isolation and canning fruit.  

In 2005, Kyle was discovered and kicked out of the convent.  He is currently living back in the States, trying to re-discover himself.

You know how high school kids like to yell, and mock people while driving by in a car?  I won’t go into the psychology of why they do this, but it seems to be in their nature when a group of high school guys are together.  So just imagine a group of high school boys driving along the waterfront, and as they come around the bend, there in front of them is a nun.  With her back to the car.  How could you not yell, right?  I didn’t see them approaching at first, but I heard the screams.  Two guys leaning out the windows yelling a Braveheart kind of scream at the nun as they drove by.  The other passengers smiling from ear to ear, feeling so proud about scaring and intimidating a nun.  Then suddenly, as the car passed, the nun’s face became visible.  The screams and smiles stopped as quickly as they had started, and disappeared into complete shock and confusion.  It was priceless.


Santa on the Street

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Personal Work

* If you are using a blog reader, you may need to visit my actual blog to see the slide show above.

I got a call last October from my friend, Tyler, asking me if I would photograph a Christmas party for street youth in Seattle’s U-District.  It’s an annual party, and they usually have a volunteer take candid snapshots that they can give to the youth who attend.  After talking for a little while, we both decided that it would be fun to set up a studio in a corner where anyone who was interested could get their portrait taken.

After I finished setting up, Tyler made an announcement about the studio letting people know that it was available.  Everyone in the room turned to look at me.  I smiled and waved, and then everyone turned back around and continued talking and opening presents.  I waited for about 10 minutes, and still nobody came over.  There were a lot of glances toward the studio, but that was it.  I started walking around the room, and asking if people wanted to have their picture taken.
“No way man.  I don’t want my picture taken.”

I knew it would just take one person to get things rolling, and moments later, that person arrived.  Actually, he was a rabbit…  Although I was excited about photographing a giant rabbit, I could tell that Santa was feeling uneasy and territorial.  He took his white gloves off, one finger at a time, and threw them on the ground.  ”This is my holiday, Rabbit!” He screamed across the room.

That’s a story for another day, though.

I was able to convince the rabbit to let me photograph him, and shortly after, people began lining up to join in.  I took quite a bit of time with the lighting setup for this, and set the lights in a way that would allow for some movement and flexibility with each subject.  I made an x on the ground, and asked each person to stand there. But beyond that, I didn’t control their movements.  I wanted to let each person be themselves, and capture their personalities.  I know that I am not the first person to photograph street youth.  But often I feel that a subject like this is an easy way to create a dramatic story without any creativity.  Street youth encounter struggles that many of us will never experience, some of them dress a little different, but that alone doesn’t make a great picture. What I loved about how these pictures turned out, was the laughter and humor that came through.  I don’t think the pictures would have the same feel if I had taken as much control as I would have with a different subject.  I might have asked Santa to look serious, though…Couldn’t resist that one!

What do you think about the slide show?  Comments please.  I have been posting pictures individually, but it seemed like there were too many for that this time.  I’d love to hear what you think.


Work And Play In Mexico

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Personal Work

Heading out the door to photograph author Richard Kelley for his new book Deathstroke, I had no idea that I would be kicking it with him on the coast of Mexico just a few weeks later.  Networking, and asking questions have served me well during my young career, and this was the crown jewel of examples.  During the photo shoot with Richard, it came up that he has an incredible home called The Sandcastle, in Ixtapa Mexico that he spent over 10 years building.  As I was asking questions, it turned out that Richard needed photography of his house in Mexico for some upcoming projects and articles, and he asked if I would be interested in photographing it. Yes. No need to really think about that one.  

I spent 5 days in June photographing the Sandcastle and relaxing.  I mean working.  I have never experienced a place as amazing as this one.  Most people never get an experience like this, and I am truly grateful for it.  But I am even more grateful, because this winter I was able to go back with my wife and family for a week of sunshine while it was raining in Seattle.  

There is no front door to the house.  Just a spiral staircase that winds up to the pool deck, passing several other rooms along the way.  The thought and care that went into designing and building the house really is amazing.  It took one man 2 solid years to paint the house to give it an old worn look.  Most of the floors on all seven levels of the house are carved stone.  There is a perfect half inch groove between every stone, and the grooves in each room run into a drain.  This makes it possible to walk anywhere in the house soaking wet.  A brilliant little feature that I think we will start to see more of in new suburban homes in the States…

Below is a slide show of some of my pictures from both of my trips, as well as my portrait of Richard Kelley who made this whole thing possible.  Many thanks Richard!
* If you are using a blog reader, you may need to visit my actual blog to see the slide show. 


"American Youth" Photography Book

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Personal Work

American Youth photography book cover.  Photo by Erika Larsen.

Outtake from American Youth photography book.  Seattle Sea Gal Lindsay.  Photo by John Keatley.

Street youth portrait from American Youth photography book.  Photo by John Keatley.

After a year of hard work and waiting, I am excited to announce that “American Youth” will be in stores and available online May 2009.  That’s just a couple of months away!  ”American Youth” is a 240-page photography book, that examines the newest generation of 18 to 24-year-olds in detail.  The photographs are by Redux photographers, which I am proud to be one of.  

I photographed two groups of young people for the book.  Street youth in Seattle’s U-District, and three of the Sea Gals cheerleaders, the NFL cheerleaders for the Seattle Seahawks.  The cheerleader picture above is an outtake, but it is one of my favorites.  ”Define Girlfriend” is in the book.  You can read a little more about my work on this project in a recent interview I did at Feature Shoot (read here). 

I will post more of my favorite outtakes and pictures from the book as the book release gets closer, but for now you can head over to the “American Youth” blog and website.  The website has bios of all the contributing photographers, as well as many of the pictures from the book.

“American Youth” website - http://images.americanyouthbook.com/
“American Youth” blog - http://americanyouthbook.com/blog/

Cover image © Erika Larsen/Redux


Dr. John Perkins

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Personal Work

Dr. John Perkins photo by John Keatley

This picture came about because I felt compelled to photograph John Perkins after hearing him speak.  Not many people have been through, and seen what he has.  Harassment, imprisonment, beatings, and the murder of his brother by a town marshal in Mississippi.  I mentioned to my wife I would love to photograph him, and she said, “You should go talk to him.”  I figured it couldn’t hurt, so I gave it a shot.  Next thing I knew, I had an appointment to photograph John Perkins.

John and I drove around for a few hours together.  It was part photo shoot, and part tour of the city.  Turns out he had been scheduled for events and lectures his entire trip, and he was excited to get away and relax a bit.  It was quite an experience spending part of a day with John.  I have never met anyone who can naturally start up a meaningful conversation with strangers, but that’s what he did several times.

The portraits from this shoot have led to two commercial assignments, as well as an assignment to photograph John again.  Thank you personal work!

Dr. John Perkins has been an outspoken leader in civil rights, and is also an author, speaker and teacher on issues of racial reconciliation, leadership, and community development.


Christmas sweaters and a little stuffed goat

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Personal Work

Cheesy Christmas sweaters.  Photography by John Keatley.  Ugly Christmas sweaters.

Cheesy Christmas sweaters.  Photography by John Keatley.  Ugly Christmas sweaters.

Buy a limited edition print of this image in our new store and you will be the talk of the town.

Happy Holidays!  Inspired by this years hottest new Christmas sweaters, I decided to put together a holiday photo shoot.  Hopefully these pictures put you in the spirit. And what says Christmas like a pygmy goat.  Right? Special thanks to Jessica, Brian, and Little Wonder, the stuffed Christmas pygmy goat.  I used these pictures in an e-promo that was sent out to ad agencies and magazines today.

All I did was suggest that we take the little goat out for a few pictures, but I guess that was the wrong thing to say!