It’s all about STYLE, baby
The other day I was thinking about developing your own photographic style, and the famous Ted Grant quote popped into my head. Like so many great photographers, Ted has a style that’s all his own:
“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls.”
I didn’t think the quote had much to do with finding your own style, so I pushed it out of my head. And then I had a thought, what if the quote was changed a bit,
“When you see an image of a photographer, you see what that person looks like. When you see a photographer’s images, you glimpse that person’s soul.”
Okay, so it’s a bit melodramatic, but it’s basically true. You can tell a lot about a photographer by viewing their images: what’s important to them, what they selectively choose to include in the frame, and perhaps even more tellingly, what they leave out. There are other things too, like how bright or dark their images are, their use of color or black and white, and the choices made in post processing. All of these things combine to define a photographer’s style. Finding your own style is one of the most important things you can do to improve your photography.
You Have a Photographic Style
If you’re not yet sure of your own style, or if you think you don’t have one, I have news for you:
- You DO have a style
- It’s not necessarily what you think it is, or what you want it to be
I used HDR photos as my primary inspiration after I bought my first DSLR. I wanted my pictures to look vibrant and alive so I shot HDR all the time, and I hated the results. The pictures looked fake, they weren’t artistic enough, and I felt like I was using HDR as a crutch in an attempt at making my bad photos somehow good. I quickly started to focus on taking better pictures instead of making better edits, and my photography immediately improved.
Today, I’m comfortable in my always-developing style even though it’s nowhere near what I intended it to be when I first started out. My best photos tend to be anti-HDRs, low dynamic range with high contrast, muted colors or monotone, and trending toward deep, isolated subjects.
Knowing my own photographic style helps me take better pictures because I know the overall look that I’m going for. This doesn’t stop me from breaking out every once in a while to test the waters elsewhere.
Finding Your Style
The pictures most aligned with your own style won’t always jive with the pictures you like to look at. I like to look at colorful pictures with people in them, but I hate shooting those kinds of images. The reason I like to look at colorful pictures is because I’m bad at taking them, and I appreciate the effort and talent of those photographers. But it’s not me.
If you’re unsure of your style, look back at your body of work and ask yourself which images you felt most comfortable shooting. If you don’t yet have an extensive body of work, ask yourself a few simple questions:
- What interests you?
- Do you like people, nature, or architecture?
- Do you like vibrant colors or black and white?
- Do you prefer shooting bright and happy images or dark and moody ones?
Whatever your answers, embrace them fully. Go out on your next shoot with your style in mind, and shoot the things that best reflect your answers. Post process your shots in the same manner – if you like colorful pictures, jack that saturation up. If you like dark and moody shots, push it to the limit and add a strong vignette.
The results may pleasantly surprise you.
Don’t be a Prisoner
To quote one of my favorite musical talents, Armin Van Buuren,
“Don’t be a prisoner of your own style.”
If you’re familiar with Armin’s work, you know he’s an extremely popular trance DJ who’s been around almost as long as the genre itself. I’m not a fan of Armin’s latest single because it’s such a strong departure from the sound I love, but I appreciate that he’s challenging himself to change it up.
We can apply the same work ethic to photography. The second we get tired of shooting the same old things and editing things the same old way is the second we should change. I recently began shooting film again because I got tired of digital’s pixel-perfect look, and I wanted to pursue new interests. Besides a few keepers, my film shots have been mostly underwhelming. But the fun diversion has improved my overall photography, and it’s given me new inspiration that I can apply to the digital world.
This is a multiple exposure shot on my DSLR. I’d never have thought to shoot this had I not branched out into the film world, where multiple exposures are common. Don’t be a prisoner!
Have you found your photographic style?