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If you look through the portfolios of the any of the worlds most renowned photographers, one thing will strike you the most. All of them have a unique look, the images may be very different in appearance but through all of them you will see some form of identifying theme. A photographic style can be seen from the gritty and bloody realism of a war photographer through to the surrealistic, dreamlike images of top fashion photographers.
So how do you develop a style in your photography?
Well the first tip for those just beginning their photographic journey is don’t try to create a one from scratch. One thing to try first is to emulate images of photographers that inspire you. This may teach you many new techniques both in the art of photography and the post production, as well as helping you to identify what a photographic style is. However, whilst emulating the look of your peers will improve your skills, it will not help you develop your own style alone.
Shoot, Shoot Shoot!
The easiest way to develop a style is to take pictures, constantly and frequently. Take images that you enjoy doing, portraits, travel shots, documentary. When you find an area of photography that you enjoy and more importantly, that you believe you take good images in, then concentrate on that. The first rule of developing a style is to be the master of one trade not the jack of all.
Start to take images in your chosen field, don’t be afraid to experiment, use different angles, lenses, exposures or lighting but stay within the limited field. For example, if you enjoy travel photography, concentrate on all area’s within this, by all means try studio portraits, or architecture but concentrate most of your efforts on travel.
As you start to build a collection of images, take the time to sit down and look at all the images you have taken from the start of your photographic journey to the present. Your very first images will probably show some naivety in skills but you may be able, even at that stage, to see some sort of uniformity and consistency through the images. Look further through to your more recent images and see if that theme has carried on and improved. If so, you have sub-consciously started to develop your own style. Now you have identified it, you need to hone in on what makes it unique, and improve on it.
So what sorts of things should you be looking for in developing a style?
Well it could be something as simple as reflections – maybe you have noticed a lot of your images contain reflections in lakes, windows or mirrors. Perhaps you have noticed that many of your images are shot in low contrast flat lighting of derelict buildings, maybe there is a single colour that is predominant in your shots. One photographer I know has bicycles in many of the shots he takes. Whatever the linking factor is, it should be something that continues to inspire you to take more images and also to push the boundaries further and further in order to see how far you can go without compromising your own style.
Don’t Force It!
One thing you should not do however, is push yourself too hard. The moment you start to concentrate too much on a style will be the time it starts to fall apart. Your style, should be something that comes naturally, something that your are entirely at ease with. When you are looking through the viewfinder, your conscious thought should be about the composition, and the technical aspects of the shot, your style should be entirely sub-conscious.
So in summary, to develop your own style, be inspired by, but do not emulate your peers, shoot, shoot, and shoot some more in the field of photography you are most at home with and look for the linking factors in your images from the start of your photographic journey. It will not happen overnight, it will not happen in a few months, for most of us it will take several years before we start to see a theme running through our images, but when you do see it, you will feel a deep and lasting sense of achievement.
Jason Row is a British born travel photographer now living in Ukraine. You can follow him on Facebook or visit his site, The Odessa Files. He also maintains a blog chronicling his exploits as an Expat in the former Soviet Union