We all have a photographic style whether we realize it or not, amateurs and professionals alike. Many photographers, however, never give much thought to this with the result often being images that are “normal” or lacking expression. If we want to improve our photography we need to: First, understand we each have a unique style. Second, reflect on this to better understand why we shoot the way we do, and lastly, use this knowledge to move forward with self-confidence to help improve our skills and imagery.
What is Style?
Many of us think of style as a general term such as portrait photography, travel photography, wedding photography or fashion photography. Although these are common terms used to describe photography styles, this article refers to our individual style.
Individual style is our trademark or uniqueness and is not only portrayed in the final product or pictures we produce, but it is also characterized in how we go about getting those images. Photography style can be the type of lenses we use, the angle we choose, our subjects or lighting. Style can also be the way we shoot; in a studio, on the street, low profile, high profile, where we go, how long we go for, how we interact with the subject, our personality, and even our post-processing.
Understanding our Style
Although all photographers have a unique style, many never recognize what theirs is and simply continue their work with no clear direction. It’s important for us to take time and regularly reflect on the components that make our individual style. As we begin to understand and reflect on our style we become more comfortable with ourselves, better understand our motives as artists and the message we are trying to convey to our audience. Reflecting on our style can open a challenging and lengthy discussion in our heads, but one I believe we all need to have as photographers. Our style is not something that can be defined overnight. It is something that continues to develop the more we shoot and the more we get inspired by others work.
Some questions to help us reflect on our style.
- Why did I begin to shoot? What was the motivation?
- Is the process of taking pictures more important than the final images?
- Who do you find most interested in the images you shoot? (Demographics)
- What are you trying to express through your images? A message?
- What types of subjects are you more frequently drawn too?
- Are there certain places you feel more comfortable shooting?
- What other photographers work are you really drawn to?
- Do I like to carry lots of equipment or use just one lens?
Ultimately, style should represents who you are – YOU. You must challenge yourself to find your personal statement and step away from what is “normal.” Think of the photographers you like… can you define a certain style in their work? I’m sure you can, and I’m sure these photographers have taken the time to reflect and refine their individual style.
Sometimes it may be hard to answer these questions or the answer is not clear. The more we get out and shoot, the better we will be able to answer these questions and others like this. If we don’t often shot, we cannot not expect to find answers and refine our style.
It’s like anything in life, if we are confident with ourselves and what we are doing it will be reflected in our final output. By being comfortable with our style, knowing our style, and realizing you have a unique style, enables us to focus and improve our photography. Having direction helps us to better deal with the challenges that always arise and gives us some clarity along the way.
Here’s a quick analogy I came up with. Driving down a long road in an old car with our camera in hand. The road represents our own personal style. This road could be windy, straight, narrow, wide, bumpy, smooth, wet, dry, etc. depending on our unique style. The bystanders on the side of the streets are our audience, the people who will see our message through our images. As photographers we are constantly driving down this road we call our style trying to convey a message to the people looking in on us (our audience). Now, as we develop our skills, get inspired by other artists our style improves with time. This is a good thing! We always want to improve our photography, while holding onto our individual style. Improving our style can be represented by the kind of car we are driving in along this road. We started out in an old beaten up car and as we improve and refine our style we get into nicer cars, a Porsche perhaps. Although our car will hopefully get nicer as time passes, our road will stay the same, because that is unique to each one of us.
Jacob Maentz is a freelance travel, culture and documentary photographer currently based in the Philippines. His passion lies in creating images that communicate a strong sense of place and cultural awareness in unique, challenging situations. You can visit his website here, read his articles on his blog, follow him on Facebook or Google+.
A superb article. I agree with you, pros and amateurs alike sometimes need to step back and think why and how I got a picture and use that knowledge to improve. I think we all develop our own style eventually, but being aware of how it develops is really important.
I’m inclined to think that ‘style’ is more a physical expression of who we already are or will become as we experience life. Its something that others, and sometimes ourself, want to appear so we can verify who we are through our art. Learning the skills of photography is to develop a set of tools which will allow us to express ourselves and how we see the world.
This is why it is so important for an artist to know ‘why’ they do what they do before they are complete as an artist. As they learn the skills they may find convenient and useful ways of expression in different techniques but as the artist examines themself there means of expression will change, experimenting with different ‘styles’, growing as a person in the process.
Style is often important for an artist to recognise but more as a means of development of themself and not an end in itself.
Thanks for the thought provoking article, Jacob.
Great article and very inspirational. After reading this I am going to give a lot of thought about my style of photography. I never thought about about style before other than the basics you listed.
This article says it all, without our own individual style we just become a happy snapper rather than a photographer. My aim is to record images I like as a main, and hopefully be liked by others. Its working so far, but I have yet to perfect or find “MY STYLE”, but I have time and patience, knowing I will soon know what “My style” is going to be.
The most thought provoking article I’ve read for a long time and I’m sure I’ll be thinking about it for lot longer.
Many thanks Jacob.
When I stumbled on your article I expected it to be yet another stupid person telling me how I “ought” to have some sort of consistent look and feel to my photos … presumably so that my Flickr photostream looks more impressive?
I hate that way of thinking. It seems so false to deliberately create a style as a marketing tool.
Fortunately your article is not like that.
It is a grea article that acknowledges that we all ALREADY HAVE A PERSONAL STYLE whether we like it or not, and gives insights into how we can understand ourselves and our style better … to eventually improve our photography.
p.s. You have some wonderful photographs in your portfolio.