Myself, my daughter Isla, my wife Nichelle, and Oliver the Pomeranian in our 2011 Christmas family portrait

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone.

Four years ago, my friend Jessica asked me to take a picture of her and her boyfriend Brian to send out to friends for the holidays.  This was not really the type of thing I typically do, but Jessica is a good friend and a really creative person, so I agreed.  It would be fun.  Jessica happens to be an amazing producer with a great sense of humor, so I knew it wouldn’t be your typical family portrait.

When the shoot day arrived, the studio was filled with bags of old sweaters, tights, tutu’s, suspenders and some pretty funny props.  It looked like tacky Christmas threw up all over the studio.  It was awesome.

It didn’t take long until I was laughing so hard I was crying during the shoot.  It was a completely new experience for me.  I have had some laughs at photo shoots before, but never to the point where I was crying.  When it’s personal work, and you have total freedom, you can laugh so hard you cry.  Who knew!?  That shoot got me thinking about photography in a different way, and really opened up my eyes to something new.  Humor, and laughter have always been a big part of my life, but learning how that can be integrated into my photography was an exciting thing.  It was also a good reminder of why I like photography so much, and why it is so important to shoot what you enjoy.

I took so many pictures that day, it was hard to narrow them down.  But eventually I landed on a few selects I liked the most.  After thinking a little about the shoot and how much fun it had been, I really wanted to do something similar with my family.  How fun would it be do do something like that every year.  Especially when you think about 20 years from now, and how great it would be to have a collection of amazing family pictures.  It would be a really great way to look back and not only see how people have grown and changed, but also how I have developed as a photographer.  And also to see how my interests and style adapted over the years from picture to picture.

Over the next few years, I continued to take a Holiday picture of Brian and Jessica, but we also did a shoot with my family.  The first year of our family photograph, we went the Christmas sweater route,  but I wanted to add some additional subtle plot points. I decided to be in a wheel chair with a sling and a neck brace, which came about from a sledding accident with my pomeranian Oliver, who also had a bandage on his leg. And my sister Allison is holding him.

It went over really well, and it was fun to see the picture up on walls and refrigerators when I visited friends and clients. The next year, I put a lot more thought into our picture, and came up with the idea to do a snow scene with yeti.

Having mostly been a portrait photographer at that point, I had been developing a new interest in environmental images, and that interest ended up working its way into our family picture.  Our annual Christmas pictures are not only becoming a fun family tradition, but they are a great way to show potential clients my style, as well as who I am as an artist.  Photography is not just something I do for work, but it is literally an extension of who I am and how I think.  I am already looking forward to next year’s shoot.

The pictures of Brian and Jess from our very first shoot have gone on to heights I never imagined.  TV shows, magazines, billboards, posters, Holiday party invites.  I wish most of these uses were legal and approved by me, but that’s the power of the Internet I suppose, and a story for another time.  As I look back on 2011, I am happy to say I am enjoying photography more than ever thanks to fun personal projects like this.  Each year is more fun than the last, and I look forward to taking on new challenges and ideas in the new year.

So what new things are you interested in?  Who are you as an artist, and how does your personality influence your work?  In the coming year, I encourage you to look for new ways to challenge yourself and try something new.  I never would have thought family pictures would be something I could tie into my commercial work, but as they say.  You never know until you try.  Thanks for reading, and I hope you are able to finish out 2011 laughing in a cheesy Christmas sweater.  It’s the best way to end the year.

You can see more of John’s work at KeatleyPhoto.com, follow him on Twitter, and “Like” him on Facebook