The Style Spotlight: Kelly Castro

Portraits are photography in its most primal form—a person, a camera and as few distractions as possible. In this Style Spotlight, Lightroom team member Kelly Castro shares his unique spin. Working predominantly in black-and-white, the San Francisco-based photographer has made the age-old practice his own – and the results push the boundaries of grittiness and the surreal.

Kelly’s interest in portrait photography started at an early age. “As a kid, I would take my Grandmother’s Polaroid 600 and blow through all of her pack film photographing my family, usually in excruciating close-up.” He recalls. But it wasn’t until he was a young adult that his childhood musings became a full-blown obsession.

Thinking back, Kelly remembers the moment it all clicked, stating: “I had a day job where I ended up with an early digital camera in order to shoot content for the company’s website. The instant gratification reminded me of Grandma’s Polaroid. I started shooting anything and everything, and it spiraled out of control from there.” It was this insatiable hunger for photography that led him to Adobe where he’s spent the last ten years shaping and being shaped by the applications we use every day.


Finding Your Style

While Kelly’s affinity for portrait photography can be traced back to his childhood Polaroids, he developed his style during his time at Adobe. The heavy contrast of Kelly’s portraits, especially his earlier work, stemmed from trial and error as well as his unique position within Adobe. As a member of the Lightroom team, Kelly spent a great deal of time testing the application, leading to a highly-textured treatment he could not achieve in-camera alone. “I received encouragement on the first few portraits I made in that style and ran with it. I ended up with a series of more than 100 portraits,” he recalls.  

When asked about how he finds his inspiration, he stated: “I draw inspiration from looking at a lot of art and photography, in local galleries and museums, in books, and online.” He continued by explaining how it influences his work, “I use Pinterest to ‘collect’ photographers that I’m interested in, and compare their work to my own. It helps me know if I’m in the ballpark.” You can follow Kelly on Pinterest here.


Style in Focus

Due to the nature of portrait photography, Kelly does the majority of his work in a studio. When asked what his setup looks like, he replied: “For the darker, straight-ahead portraits, I always use the same set-up as far as camera, settings, and lighting for consistency. That means a DSLR with a 50mm lens and a very DIY flash-into-reflectors set-up that creates a sort of bastardized clamshell beauty light.”

For his more abstract pieces, Kelly swaps out his 50mm lens for a macro lens and various pieces of glass. Photographing his subjects through the curvature of the glass, he’s able to create interesting effects—even before he takes them into post. But regardless of setup, Kelly says he’s always looking for the same thing: “Strong, simple, balanced, composition.”


Lightroom in Style

“Lightroom Classic is my go-to and where I spend 90% of my time.” Kelly says, pulling the curtain back on his workflow. “It can be as simple as applying a stock preset in Lightroom, or as elaborate as multiple edits across multiple applications – round-tripping from Lightroom Classic to various plug-ins and Photoshop.”

Although the amount of post-production can vary wildly, Kelly demonstrates how he brings his vision to life within Lightroom Classic.

Kelly practices what he preaches. Reference View is a feature he worked on for Lightroom Classic and one tool he uses to make his portraits work together. “This video shows off one of the workflows that Reference View was designed to achieve, which is editing one photo to try to match the visual attributes of another, be it contrast range, a particular film look, vibe, etc.”


The Love of Photography

On a closing note, we asked him what keeps him glued to the shutter—even after all these years. “It’s magic,” he said, “I never get tired of making and looking at photographs.” An answer as direct and powerful as his portraits.


Follow Kelly on Instagram for more inspiration.