Last week we published a post about finding your own photographic style. As a follow up to that, I reached out to a favorite photographer of mine name, Kristi Sutton Elias, who was kind enough to share some of her personal opinions on the subject. Kristi is one of my favorite photographers because her work embodies a very strong personal style that is artistic, distinct, and incredibly memorable. Kristi’s amazing work has earned her a litany of awards and recognition over the years, such as:

  • “International Photographer of the Year” - Professional Photographers of America- 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016

  • “California Photographer of the Year Award" - 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 PPA

  • "Photographic Artist Photographer of the Year Award " - 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018

  • "Portrait Photographer of the Year Award" - 2014, 2015

  • "Illustration Photographer of the Year Award" - 2014

  • "Child Photographer of the Year Award" - 2014

  • "Judge's Choice Award" - PPA

A full list can be found on Kristi’s website.

How did you develop your style and continue to do so?

I create the worlds that attract me and visually I want to live in. Creative editing in Photoshop has been a big part of defining my style. I continue to try to refine my style with every session by upping my game in styling, propping, dramatic posing and editing.

My dramatic lighting choice, is also a big part of my style. I spent years learning how to light anyone and everything. I started to notice the images that I favored most, had a dramatic, directional light source. Now that same lighting style has become consistent throughout my work and helped to define my style.

Where does your vision and/or your inspiration come from?

A lot of my inspiration comes from what I am attracted to. I do not see in high key palettes, nor do I create with them. I am intrigued by low light paintings and scenes. When I enter a museum or gallery, I beeline to the darkest piece in the room. That is home to me. Where others see darkness, I see light. There is a richness of color, and warmth that can be seen throughout even the darkest of paintings. I am always looking for the stories and detail that can be found or hidden in the shadows and darkness.

No matter the medium, I create what I crave. I am drawn to art that is timeless, stoic, and drenched in a chiaroscuro palette. I strive to create stare-able portraits. A portrait capable of swallowing the observer. Each observer, on a different journey, unearthing their own story in the subtleties. I am constantly evolving, discovering how to be the best storyteller I can.

Movies are a great inspiration for me. I like anything by Marvel comics and fighting action movies. Not only do I find the story line entertaining but, the lighting, color palette and composition burns little visual memories in my mind that later I pull from for creative inspiration.

How has developing such a strong style benefited you or held you back?

My style is not for everyone, nor do I want everyone to be my client. I have developed a sought after niche that clients will not only pay for but travel from different states and countries for.

However I will only create in my low key chiaroscuro style, so I do turn away potential clients who are looking for high key portraits. I recommend other photographers who create in the style they are looking for.  It’s not that I can’t create in high-key, I simply don't want to. Holding true to my style and vision has tightened up my work and portfolio.

Any advice for other photogs who are struggling to find a voice?

I get asked, “How do you create a unique style?”, my answer is simple, “Leave behind any thoughts of acceptance. Create what you crave.”. Do not worry about what others are creating or what others think about what you are creating. You will never please everyone, so work on creating what amazes you!  You are the only one who can create what is in your head.

Spend your time shooting and editing instead of looking at other photographers work. What goes in must come out! If you spend your time looking at others work, your work will look more like theirs.

And any other thoughts or feelings you may have on the topic.

I highly recommend doing your own editing. If you want to create a unique style, editing is a big part of that. Just like anything else in life the more you practice the better you will become. Experiment, try new things just to see what will happen. A lot of my success in editing is from experimenting. Fail, a lot, for if you are not failing, you are not trying new things. Some of my greatest pieces started with an epic fail. Embrace happy accidents and write down the steps on how to recreate them.

Write down your ideas, you might think you can remember them, but you will forget. One simple idea, built upon, can become a Masterpiece.

“For the Art that we do not create, no one will.”

All images are the copyright of Kristi Sutton Elias.

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