One time I overheard a photographer ask another, “What do you think your Photography style is?”
“I don’t know,” was the answer.
That would have been my answer too, I thought.
“You need to figure it out,” the photographer responded. “You need to find a way to be unique and stand out.”
In this post we will grapple with the elusive question, how do you find your photography style?
Do you just take a photography style quiz and boom, you know what your photography style is?
My guess is no, so how do you develop a photography style then? Do you have to sit down and meditate on it, pray, ask the gods for divine intervention?
Probably not, in fact, we are probably wasting valuable time talking about it. I mean, you could be out shooting! Right?
What is my Photography Style?
Nevertheless, since we are here, let’s talk about photography style.
What is it? How do we develop our own? Does everyone have a photography style?
What’s my style, your style, and you’re favorite photographer’s style. Let’s dig in!
If you asked me about my photography style today, I would tell you that it’s still in development. But once upon a time, I did wrestle with this question.
What is my photography style?
I don’t know!
What do I want my photography style to be?
I pondered the question often. This photographer sure thought I needed to figure it out STAT!
Plus, all my photographer friends seemed to have a photography style; I could see it or sense it. Something was holding their body of work together.
But for me, I felt like I was all over the place.
In my 9 years of practicing photography, I only created a handful of presets in Lightroom and rarely use them.
Every time I sit down with an image I approach it based on that particular image, my mood at the time, and how I want people to perceive the image.
For this reason, I felt my style was all over the place, fluid with the day, the time, and even the minute.
But here is the thing, my photographer friends, they say I do have a style.
Maybe I just didn’t see it or even understand what photography style was.
What is Photography Style?
Is photography style the fact that you only use one light in all your photos? Maybe you use no lights and only rely on natural light? Maybe you always use a beauty dish with a grid and that is your style.
Wait, maybe photography style is how you process the images. Maybe you add some blue to all the shadows and some orange to the highlights and viola, photography style.
Alternatively, you could just do all black and white, and this your photography style.
Is this what we mean by photography style?
I sure thought this at first and then I encountered a video and one quote that totally changed everything for me!“Style is something you can’t work towards, it’s something you see in hindsight.” — Gregory Heisler Click To Tweet
In this Video Gregory Heisler goes on to explain that style is not like, “I use a beauty dish and a fill, style isn’t I cross-process my film, style isn’t I desaturate the color in Lightroom.”
“That’s a technique,” he says. “A technique is something that someone else could employ and come up with a reasonably similar result.”
That sounds like a recipe to me. Have I been after a recipe this whole time? Can a recipe really define who I am as a photographer?
Gregory Heisler goes on to answer my question.“True style is a vision and that’s something that is as unique as your fingerprints, it’s like your DNA.” — Gregory Heisler Click To Tweet
True Style is a Vision Expressed through a Technique
Let’s start with Technique. A technique is the manner in which you plan to share your vision. A technique is using one light with a grid or processing all your photos the same way. A technique can be shared, learned, and repeated with similar expectations.
Conversely, vision is something far more personal. When you think about vision, of course, you think about what you choose to aim the camera at. You also think about the angle of the camera, the camera’s height, and the moment you decide to press the shutter.
But more than that, vision is who you are as a person. What makes you unique is the same DNA that is going to make this image unique.
Your unique self is your greatest weapon and your biggest strength.
Nobody can be you. Nobody has your stories, experiences, and exact mannerisms. Nobody sees and interprets the world the exact same way you do.
Nobody interacts with a model, client, or subject the way you do. How you interact with your subject will present itself in your photography.
Are you shy, quiet, loud, friendly, bubbly, aggressive, passive, etc? This stuff is inherent within us. You can’t teach it. You can’t Google how to be it. You just are!
How you interpret the space around your subject will also impact the story you are trying to tell. No two people see everything, exactly the same.
Sure, we can talk about composition rules and guidelines but at the end of the day, you are going to make choices that are inherently yours, for better or worse.
These choices are apparent in the work that we do. Many people talk about finding your voice in photography.
What is your photography voice?
What they mean is, how are you going to insert yourself into this photo?
Whether you’re taking a photo of a bridge, an egg, or a supermodel, how are you going to make this image yours?
Too often, we are not confident in our own uniqueness. Instead of inserting our true self into an image, we ask, whom can I try to be like?
What can I do to make my photo like this person’s photos?
Realize photographer friends, I’m not preaching at you! I’m standing next to you across from the same mirror.
Most of the time, the stuff I say is hard truths I’m carrying on my shoulders. I put it out into the world with the thought; maybe you’re carrying it too. We need to discuss this!
We shouldn’t be trying to be like someone else. We should be trying to embrace our own uniqueness.
To do this, we need to get comfortable with our own creative process and trust our intuition.
Learn to Trust Your Creative Expression
I’m not going to lie, trusting my own creative expression has been hard. Can you relate?
Is this the best photo from the set?
I don’t know, is it? What does your intuition tell you?
Do you think it looks better like this or like this?
I don’t know, what does your gut say?
If you ask another, what photo they like best, or what would be better, and they pick something different, what makes them right over you?
Should that person hold more stock in your creative process than you?
Now don’t misunderstand me, sharing your work for constructive criticism is beneficial, especially when you’re new.
You can find out all kinds of things and experienced artists will point out things you had not considered. Like, that person’s limb is awkward or there is a phone pole growing out of her head.
I mean, I’ve heard all of it at some point or another. I’ve done all the dumb stuff and still do.
You need this type of direction, this is helpful but this type of critique is not about your style, it’s about shooting technique.
This stuff presents itself in our work because A.) We didn’t see it when we were shooting or B.) We just didn’t know any better.
And that is OK!
Each time you sit down in Lightroom to go through your photos you will learn a lot about who you are as a photographer. You will see your strengths, weaknesses, and the things you need to work on.
You will also begin to see, yes, your photography style. It’s not some mysterious unicorn that you need to be on the hunt for. The answer is behind you, it lives and breathes in the work you’ve already created.
Abandon the search, go shoot more, and occasionally check the rearview mirror to discover who you’ve been all along.
Summary: How do you Develop a Photography Style?
1.) Remember, vision plus technique equals style.
2.) Realize your unique self is your greatest weapon and your biggest strength.
3.) Learn to trust your creative expression!
4.) Try a variety of techniques until you find one that lends itself to your vision.
5.) Finally, you can’t think your way into a style! Get out there and start shooting, your photography style depends on it!
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very good read, I have also had doubts about my own style, over the years I can say that it has been changing, until finally I feel that I have one since I began to trust the process and let myself be carried away by my creative inclinations, your article expresses very well what that search is, which in the end is not so much a search, but rather a revelation!
Thank you Lili, that is a great way to express it,… a revelation :)