One of the questions we often receive here at Photofocus has to do with photographic style. Some people don’t know what a “style” is. Others don’t know how to develop a style.
In this post, I’ll give you some idea starters that will help you think about developing your own photographic style.
WHAT is a photographic style? For me, it’s simply a consistent way of seeing that ties directly to who I am, what I like, and what I want to express about myself and my feelings. It is NOT simply shooting the same subject over and over. It’s HOW you shoot that subject that defines your style. Your style should fit your personality. I have a big personality. Consequently, I tend to go for the big, bold photos with lots of pop and enthusiasm.
HOW to develop a style is a much harder thing to address. Most people have a few hurdles to cross before they develop a style. The main problem you have to solve before you can figure out your photographic style is understanding, knowing and loving your gear. You have to (now I’m going to get all Kung Fu on you here) be ONE with the camera. If you’re still trying to figure out how to work your camera, you aren’t going to be able to develop much of a personal style. You’ll be too busy trying to get the camera to perform.
Read your manual three times. Try EVERYTHING that is written about in the manual. Shoot every day no matter what. Don’t switch cameras every year. Get familiar with the one you have. Use it. Know it. Love it. Then you’ll be ready to start thinking about how to develop a style.
The next step you might want to consider is simply looking at lots of pictures. And I mean LOTS of them. You should look at thousands of pictures every week. I mean seriously look at them and study them. Then start taking notes. Start paying attention to the things that interest you and see if these don’t match up with your personality. See what consistently trips your trigger. Note that. Start looking for that when you go out shooting.
The final step (and of course I am being VERY brief here – I could do an entire book on this subject if I had time) is to go out and shoot it. But here’s where it gets hard. You have to be willing to take risks and express your emotions. Most people are afraid to do this because in a very real sense, it’s the equal to going nude in public. If you really shoot from an emotional point of view, you expose everything about yourself. This is uncomfortable for many of us because it leads to one of our biggest fears – the fear of rejection.
What if I show my emotions and nobody cares? What if people don’t like my style? Hopefully you’ve been paying attention up to now — but I really need you to pay attention to these next few sentences. It’s the simple answer to the first two questions in this paragraph. Ready? Here’s the answer.
Too bad. Who cares? No big deal. That’s the answer. If people don’t like your style – too bad. Tough luck. This is the single most freeing thing I’ve learned since becoming a serious photographer. It took me 20 years to learn it. My hope is that it won’t take you nearly as long.
When I started to realize that you can’t please everyone in this world, so you shouldn’t bother to try, my life improved dramatically. This is especially true in photography. I have entered photos in serious competition that were completely scorned and ridiculed by the judges, only to have those same photographs win grand prizes in other competitions. Same photo, different result.
Not everyone will like your personality or your brand or your style. That’s why they make different flavors of ice cream folks. Some like chocolate, some like vanilla, some like strawberry. But at the end of the day, it’s all still ice cream, and it’s all still good.
You should be honest with the world. Tell us who you are. Some of us will like you and some of us won’t. Tough. Move on. Keep going.
Your quest is to find something in your photography that truly (really truly) expresses who you are, and how you feel. Then let the chips fall where they may. You end up attracting the people who like you. The others move on. It’s a big world. There’s something out there for them, even if it’s not you. There’s something out there for you, even if it’s not them.