Developing your own style as a photographer

When you first decide that you want to be a professional photographer, there are so many things that you have to learn. You’ve got to learn the equipment, the software, and the business side of being a professional photographer. Then there’s the unbelievable amount of knowledge that you have to absorb in order to develop an eye and a talent for the entire operation. So much information, in fact, that any good photographer will tell you that they are still learning all the time. The one thing that can often fall by the wayside while you are trying to dig yourself out of of the mountain of education that has landed on your head is that you also have to develop your own style.

This can be very hard to do. When you take into consideration the fact that Photoshop provides a virtually unlimited palette from which you can paint (not to mention the hundreds of ways in which you can shoot) it’s easy to wind up all over the map. Occasionally I’ll come across that photographer who seems to have a clear idea of what they like and how they want to present themselves, right from the very beginning. I hate those guys. Nobody likes someone who seems to have it all together while the rest of us are flailing about with our water wings in the shallow end of the pool. Don’t even think about sitting at my table during lunch. Seriously.

The rest of us losers usually follow the same path. The more we learn about photography and the more we learn about Photoshop, the more amazing new things we discover that we can do. And just as soon as we master something new, we see something else that we like and we set ourselves to mastering that too. Before you know it it’s impossible to tell our pictures from anyone else’s pictures, because our pictures have no consistent theme. This one’s in black-and-white, this one’s sepia, this was in high contrast, this one has a gausian blur, and so on.

Personally, I feel that my style is still developing, sometimes on a daily basis. The more pictures I take and the more time I spend in Photoshop, the more I begin to notice that I am using the same actions and the same techniques over and over again. Oh sure, there’s the occasional rogue image that I go crazy on, but for the most part I do pretty much the same thing to every picture that I shoot. Don’t look now, but I may actually have my own style. (You be the judge, I’m a wedding photographer in Tampa.)
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For the most part, when I talk about my “style” I’m speaking mainly about what I do to a photograph in Photoshop. As far as the shooting it goes, I’m still pretty much all over the place. This is a strength as far as I’m concerned. I recently read somewhere that photographers should be able to describe their style in one sentence. I’ll go you one better than that, I’ll describe my style in one word: improvisational. I look at what’s available to me and I try to make the best of it. However, when it comes to manipulating the image after the fact I have definitely found myself falling into the same patterns. I actually think this is a good thing. Because unlike when I first started out. I now seem to have a consistency, my photographs look like my photographs.

Of course, there’s a good chance that I’m completely wrong about this. It could be that I’ll attract more customers by having every picture look completely different than the picture before it, but I wonder if a customer who is looking for a particular style of photography will pick me when only 10% of the pictures they seee on my website are in the style that they prefer. Don’t I have a better chance of landing customers if 90% of my pictures are in a style that they prefer? It’s a good question and one that I sometimes struggle with to this day.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. A great article. your comments on the photographers who have it “all together” made me burst out laughing. I am not a professional, but I can identify with the “consistent theme” struggle. The more I try to settle down, the more I diversify! I do like your idea of using Photoshop (or any other image manipulation program?) to help unify images into a style. Something to think about…

  2. Wow, thanks for sharing this! I’m currently toeing the line of actually charging, and recently this thought process has been constantly in the back of my head. Looking at what others do has also helped me define my style, because I either like it or don’t, or only like parts, but it all gives me an idea of what works for me.

    And how about this – an improvisational style helps appeal to more people. 🙂 How many photogs have you seen whose work you admire but you’d never want them to do your headshots, because they do the same thing every time?

  3. When I hear or read folks talk about style most often they mean a consistency in vision (and thus expression of that vision) that emerges with practice, craft, and photographic imagination. Style as revealed in what we *do* to an image (or how we process it) is a different take.

    But, If style is an expression of vision (vision being perhaps a combination of aesthetic insight with photographic imagination) and such style being emergent and ending in a certain consistency, then post-processing work hopefully is a way to flesh out, to give presence to, that vision and style.

    I think of post-processing as only part of that equation though, not the whole. There is something in the work, the moment, our connection to it and the way we see, that inspires us to draw it out to a particular degree when processing. But the other stuff has to be there.

    I often notice particular tendencies in my photography, and I know that I like to shoot certain subjects in a particular way. In other words, I have a vision for certain themes and subjects, and they inform how I might see and read moments. But that is partial, and I would not yet call it a style. I also resist stylization, so as to prevent any boxing-in that it might lead to. Frequently, I’m hyper aware of how particular influences might be shaping my photography too much.

    In that sense I often think of style as walking a tightrope — sometimes we can walk it quite well, but it requires a careful balance of intricate elements, a subtlety of handling, and a mindful disposition.

    Thanks for the post. It certainly nourished my thinking on this subject!

    N

  4. I am improvisational as to what I might shoot given the location, subject, etc… but I tend to stay withing one or two “styles” when it comes to post work.

    I think that looking at other’s work is key to discovering what works for you. Read any interview with a “New, Original” artist and notice how they will heap praise on other’s that came before them.

  5. Hey Booray, yes, improvisational is good. : ) And yes, I am always intrigued by those new upcoming artists and I’m very much interested in how they find inspiration and what influences they refer to.

    I found this to be a great book for both inspiration and thought-provoking ideas:

    Developing Vision and Style: A Masterclass in Landscape Photography (Light and Land)
    by David Ward (Author), Joe Cornish (Author), Charlie Waite (Author), Eddie Ephraums (Editor)

    Thanks again!

    N

  6. Adrian—–

    There are definitly some photographers who make drastic changes to their original photo’s in Photoshop in order to create their own personal “style.” I have spent a lot of time getting crazy in PS myself but now find that I am much more minimalistic (triple-word-score!) in what I do. I do, however, have one little thing I do to almost every image I produce that I never mention when discussing my process. It’s a small thing, really, but it’s mine! (I hope you all appreciate how much restraint it takes for me to type that last sentence without going straight to the gutter with a humorous aside..)

    I think Nacho makes some good points as well and would really like to be introduced to him at a party. (“Booray this is Nacho. Nacho, Booray…”)

  7. Booray, sometimes you are just too funny… 🙂

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