12 Lessons I Learned from my Weekend working with Celebrity Photographer Keith Cephus

Click to Tweet: Everyone wants to get to the next level, but everyone isn’t willing to pay the price. -@KeithCephus

I had the opportunity to be a photography assistant for Keith Cephus , a celebrity, sports and wedding photographer based out of Virginia Beach.  I was only with him 48 hours, but he left such an impression on me and taught me some valuable lessons about life, business and photography.

Photo by Keith Cephus

Photo by Keith Cephus

1. You have to surround yourself with like-minded people.

I found that the people Keith surrounds himself are like him, go-getters and people who are leaders in the industry.  I was wondering how you get connected to these people and it’s quite simple—do good work and let it speak for you and connect with someone who is on another level.

2. You have to work hard and push yourself, even when you are tired and at your breaking point.

Keith and another photographer Vincent told me about their epic 12 hour plus engagement sessions and 18 hour days just to get the correct shot.  You have to know that hard work may be a business buzzword , but it is a lifestyle.

3. You have to be able to be authentic with your clients.

It’s more than just small talk, they are trusting you with one of the most important days of their lives.  Keith doesn’t talk down to them or isn’t fake with them, but is “real” and that is something you can’t teach. You have it or you don’t.

4.  You have to be hungry.

Keith is a 20 year retired military veteran and as he describes it, he goes to “war” every time he pics up his camera.  He takes his job and clients extremely seriously and knows that he is only as good as his last photo shoot.  He doesn’t live off past successes and to be that you have to continue to hone your craft.

5. You have to be willing to work harder than anyone else so you can live like no one else.

This is easier said than done. Many wedding vendors want the maximum profits without the hard work.  This work isn’t for the faint of heart and Keith lives and breathes photography.

6.  You  have to innovate.

Most photographers care about the cameras, lenses and techniques which is good, but I realized Keith pays attention to the details.  He sees shots and executes them to perfection exceeding the client’s wishes.  It’s the tried and true principle of under promising and over delivering.

7. You have to look the part.

Some wedding photographers come to a shoot looking disheveled and not well groomed, but Keith comes to every shoot with a specific look. He looks professional as the wedding party and he was very specific about how I should dress to the engagement shoot.

8.  You have to provide immense value instead of just a price.

There are thousands of wedding photographers around the world.  Why would they choose Keith who lives in Virginia Beach?  Because quite simple he is one of the best and provides the shots the clients wants.  In the wedding business it’s all comes down to execution (well for that matter any business).  But this business is so personal because you are taking pics of people’s lives.

9. You have to be loyal.

Loyal to your clients, loyal to your friends and to your craft. What you put in is what you get out.

10. You have to deliver.

You can be the best photographer in the world but if you don’t deliver the photos you aren’t good to anyone.

11. You have to keep your body, mind and soul in shape.

Keith stressed the importance of exercise and eating right. He is his brand is no good to anyone if he is sick.  This means meditation, relaxing time or as Stephen Covey calls it, “Sharpening the Saw.”  

12. You need a competent team.

While we were shooting in Washington D.C. he also had a team shooting a celebrity in Virginia Beach.  You can be the face of the brand but you must have competent troops who can represent you

A bonus lesson for me is that I had to be humble.  Keith is from the military and he is tough to work with and just when I thought I knew it all he corrected me, but it is going to be for my long term benefit. During the shoot it got very intense and I questioned whether I was ready for this level or ready to take on high end clients, but Keith pushed me to my limits and even though he provided constructive criticism on how I can get better.  I am honored to now call him a friend and  mentor and I look forward to putting these lessons into action for my business and life.

What lessons have you learned from a mentor? Share in the comments below.

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  1. This is awesome. Thanks for sharing. It is definitely very helpful.

  2. Keith says:

    Ron Pollard is an amazing photographer. He is one of my mentors in photography.I distinctly remember him encouraging me and then after I got comfortable with him he let me know, “hey man, your images are a little soft.” Sometimes the truth hurts, but I’ve learned to keep a steadier your hand, increase my shutter speed and be intentional about not letting the camera’s autofocus choose where to focus, but for me to be intentional about making my shots crisp

  3. Cheri says:

    I enjoyed reading this. I’m glad you had to work with one of the best. I can’t wait to work with Keith. I love his spirit and energy.

  4. […] Keith Cephus asked me to film behind the scenes video for a magazine cover shoot last September I had no clue […]