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Portrait Tips: How do you develop a style? Play more

I’ll keep this one quick. Each time you make pictures you are developing your own style. At first, this may be mimicking the look of other photographs you’ve seen — in fact, it should be mimicking because that’s the best way to ensure you make some good pictures. That means that the photos you look at are a huge influence on your personal style.

The only way to create your own style is to make more pictures. And I don’t think you should be intentional about making your own style. As you shoot you’ll find ways to make pictures that get you excited. You’ll look at the back of the camera and get a little shiver down your back, or you’ll finish something off on the computer and you’ll just keep looking at it and getting excited to share it. This will happen more often as you shoot more often. You really can’t force it. You’ll make something you like and next time you shoot you should make something like it, again.

Don’t get discouraged

The problem is that the picture you get really excited about probably won’t be the one your client loves. Your spouse may not think it’s that great. Even your mom will say, “Why is it black and white?”

Don’t get discouraged. These people mean well for you, but they don’t see the seed of that thing that got you excited. And it probably is a seed, but with a little encouragement, it’s going to start growing and pretty soon you’ll have the makings of your style and not long after that your client will say, “Yes! That one looks like your style and that’s the kind of picture I hired you for.”

Don’t get fixated

Now that you have a style going there may be some tendency to get stuck in that style. But it’s OK to have more than one style. I have a distinct look to my commercial environmental portraits and I have a distinct look to my headshots and I have a distinct look to my family portraits and I have a distinct look to my landscapes. It’s OK to have more than one style. It is wise, however, not to show all those styles at once to every prospective client. Have a place for portraits and a place for landscapes.

Just play

The best thing you can do is to go out and play with your camera and lighting. Start messing around and mimicking all the techniques you can find. You can’t discover that little gem that sends the shivers up your spine if you aren’t out looking for it.

I love this kind of long-exposure-second-curtain-sync-off-camera-flash portrait. But I never would have discovered it if I hadn’t been out playing in the desert with my fellow Photofocus authors. We were together at a conference and even though it was late and we were tired, we knew it’d help us all if we got together to make pictures. I fell in love with this when Doug Daulton said, “Hey, I’ve got this black light we could try…” and ever since then I’ve had a blast playing with this kind of picture.

Conclusion

Your style will come. Don’t fret about it and don’t bother trying to develop it except to make more pictures in more ways. Get together with other photographers and mess around and mess around some more. You’ll develop your own style with time and practice and then you’ll get hired to make the kind of pictures you love to do.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.

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