Is it possible to teach style to someone? I’m not talking about trendy clothing, but about something I’ve always considered to be a more intangible quality as it relates to any sort of visual art — in this case, photography.
Regardless of how many times I’ve been asked about how I plotted the course toward discovering my own photographic style, I’m no closer to offering what I feel is a substantial answer today than I was a few years ago.
So when people ask, I don’t pretend to know what I’m talking about. I share a bit of what I’m drawn to subject-wise and why I like to try to include certain elements in my photos. But if those who ask for my insights are waiting on something appreciably profound, that's not what they're going to get from me.
Not because I’m intentionally withholding anything; instead, because my best advice about photography, in general, is simple: do what you like.
I’m quite aware this attitude might set someone up for ridicule and criticism, so if I’m hesitant to give such advice, that’s why. But I figure in this internet age people are going to ridicule and criticize whatever you do anyway, so you might as well make yourself happy and do things your way.
Find something you like to shoot. Figure out an interesting way to shoot it. Keep doing that.
Whether you’re “good” or not is mostly subjective. Yes, you’ve got to work through all the fundamentals — exposure, composition, lighting — all the stuff that anyone can learn in principle. It’s what you do with those things in practice that will largely determine the stylistic bent of your work.
How exactly do you learn to shape those fundamental skills to your will? I don’t know, really. Just keep shooting and you’ll figure it out as you go.
What you don’t want to do is cling too tightly to anything anyone else has to say — myself included. Not that I’m speaking from experience, but I suspect that finding and solidifying one’s personal photographic style is a lifelong endeavor.
Along the way, you’ll have numerous opportunities to learn different things from different people. Take advantage of those opportunities, but know that you'll have to navigate your way through what's worth keeping and what you should disregard.
The one constant on this journey is you. You have to live with and take responsibility for your creations. Don’t let the illusion of the lives that Instagram influencers are living be the means by which you measure your personal and artistic worth.
You have to learn to appreciate the value of your own experiences. The only person you should worry about making happy is you.
So, for all those who have ever asked me — or ever will ask me — about how I found my style (which will continue to change) and how they can discover their own — that’s my answer. Everything I said above.
I don’t know if it’s a good answer, but it’s the answer that has worked for me…and that’s my whole point.
Keep shooting and keep discovering.
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