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Keith Westra: Everyone and everything is so beautiful in so many different ways

Updated: Sep 25, 2021

Model: Deboshree @deboshreesarkar Photographer: Keith Westra @keithwestraphotography
Model: Deboshree @deboshreesarkar Photographer: Keith Westra @keithwestraphotography

Keith, could you please briefly introduce yourself, and tell us about your first encounter with photography? Who has influenced you to start taking photographs?

When I was young, my mom would send me to my father's darkroom (part of our garage) to knock on the door and let him know dinner was ready. This was a stressful moment as I knew my father would be deep into developing photos or working on his latest video project and hated to be bothered.

My dad was a dairy farmer, but also a passionate photographer who eventually made his hobby part of his career as well. His passion put me through Humboldt State University where I earned my BA in Art in 1998 and met the love of my life.

At 45 years of age I'm a Lifestyle Portrait Photographer and specialize in photographing families, seniors, engagements, and other special events. It has been a big change from the 20 plus years I worked in the retail sales world and I'm happier now than I've ever been.

I attribute much of my success to my parents, especially my father for letting me do what I want and letting me pursue my dreams. He is a people person, I'm a people person, and this along with my creativity has allowed me to become the photographer I am today.

From your point of view, what are the most difficult aspects of professional fashion photography?

I'll be the first to admit I'm a complete newbie at the fashion photography game! I have dabbled in a few fashion shoots with concepts I've come up with, but this shoot was Deboshree's idea. I was able to visualize it pretty quickly as we chatted and she explained her vision for the concept.

One of the most difficult aspects regarding photography I find is constantly comparing my work to others rather than just relying on my own intuition and editing style. I often judge myself too much and this tends to lead to a lack of self confidence. Understanding light and the way it relates to your images is another huge one for me. I'm a huge natural light fan and find off camera lighting a little intimidating.

What are the biggest challenges of being a photographer?

When to stop editing...LOL. Seriously, I feel like I can keep tweaking an image forever. I try to try as true as I can to what the original image was intended to look like without going overboard. In the digital world you can take images so far, which can be a good and bad thing.

Also, not to overshoot. I find myself slowing down these days and taking more meaningful and composed images and stress quality over quanitity!

In your opinion, how beauty is perceived at the present age? What does photography mean to you personally and what really makes a woman or man beautiful?

I think the world is still stuck in a very narrow minded version of what beauty is. I think capturing someone's inner beauty and portraying it through a photograph is so important. Putting emotion and feelings into an image rather than just focusing on the exterior and what you actually see takes talent. I continue to work on this during every session and in every image I take.

Photography is a way for me to show people how I see them, and how beautiful someone can look both inside and out. I'm always overwhelmed with emotion when a model or client looks at the back display of my camera and says "Holy that acutally me!!!". Everyone and everything is so beautiful in so many different ways. The way we each interpret it differently is what makes it so beautiful.

Are there any other photographers you lookup? Who?

I find beauty in so many different photographer's work. I look up to my 15 year old daughter's iPhone photos and my 8 year old sons as well when he steals my phone. Seeing images through the eyes of a child is a wonderful and inspiring thing.

Someone whose work I look up to and has somewhat become a mentor to me is Viceth Vong. He has an AMAZING ability to capture these candid unposed moments between people and you can see and feel the emotion in all of his photographs. You can see his work on Instagram at @vicethvong.

You are going about conducting a photoshoot, could you take us through the typical planning process for your images?

I like to take the time and get to know my model/clients as much as possible before the shoot. Even when we first arrive on location I like to just spend 10 minutes or so talking and getting to know them a bit more in person before I take any photos.

I also like to visualize the location with the model/client beforehand. I have a very imaginative mind and this actually really makes the taking photos part much, much easier for me. I will storyboard a little bit as well and take screenshots of things that might benefit the shoot such as a color palette, year/era, props that may be used, etc.

In addition to being sharp and well lit, your photos are beautifully edited. What is your retouching/production philosophy?

I try to keep things as natural as possible. Nothing is worse to me than looking at an image where the model has doll-like skin and eyes. It just isn't flattering to me.

Nailing down things like exposure and white balance are super important, but I don't get too crazy about it. I use the tone curve and adjust shadows, midtones, and highlights and find that's where I can get the look I'm going for. I try to keep my edits to a minimum these days and think less is more.

What would be your tips/advice to models looking to expand their portfolio?

Find a photographer you like and ask to do a collaboration. It's a great way to get shots, and if it is a photographer that's just starting out you'll give them experience as well. Be respectful if they don't answer or say no, just keep trying and find someone you jive with. Get to know the photographer a bit too, I really like actually taking on the phone with models and potential clients. Sometimes just texting or sending a dm is impersonal and you can't really get to know someone that way.

What projects are you working on next, and what are your goals for the future?

Fall is almost here. Family photo shoots, family photo shoots, and family photo shoots. Throw in some October weddings and it's a great season! A huge goal of mine is to do a few more fashion style shoots and get some ideas out of my head and into photos. Stay tuned!

Where can we see more of your works and get connected with you?

You can follow me on Instagram at @keithwestraphotography or check out my website at


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