Finding your photographic style or voice can sound like a daunting task. For someone like myself with a variety of favoured subjects and who likes experimenting with different techniques and compositions it can be a major mission. Here is a few tips to help you out.
1. Study the masters: Many people will give advice that sounds a lot like “you wont find your own style from scratch, find someone whos work you like and emulate it”. Unfortunately if you do this all you are proving is that you can copy someone. Instead, when you are studying the masters, or looking at the work of a photographer you admire, think a little deeper. What do you admire? Is it the babies in Anne Geddes photographs or the highly detailed, whimsical sets? Is it the HDR technique in Trey Ratcliff’s photographs or the stunning natural settings? Sift through 500px. Is their a particular subject, style or technique you find yourself constantly drawn to? If it’s not coming to you easily, favourite a whole lot (Pinterest is good for this too), take a break for a day and then come back to it. Once you’ve got a good idea of subjects, techniques and compositions you like, think about how you can use them in your photographs.
2. Study yourself. When was the last time you had a good look back through your photographs? Even if you are just starting to get serious, what have you taken photographs of in the past. Pull out your favourite photographs. Try and get about 20. Make sure they’re all visible in the same area (blank one-note page, all spread over the lounge floor, pinned to a notice board, cover a wall if it will help!) and sort them into groups (family photos, black and white, holidays, macro, animals). Doing this is where I realised I love taking photographs with a distinct frame, how much editing is coming into effect in my latest photographs and how I strive to make my photographs look ‘real’, even when using editing techniques. Once you understand what you love about a certain image it makes it a lot easier to realise that same style throughout your photography.
3. Re-read the rule book: Having red-eye in all of your photographs is not a style, it’s just bad photography (or dodgy editing!) However if you make all of your subjects look like the living dead and do it well, it becomes your style. If you follow the ‘rules’ a simple image can become a stunning photograph. When you know the rules, you can become more confident in breaking them. But don’t make a sloppy technique your style.
4: Change: It doesn’t matter how old or experienced you are your style will change as long as you keep learning and growing as a person. Outside influences like sports, hobbies, education, work and relationships all have the ability to effect you photography. You might start a relationship with a person who is passionate about diving. Next minute you’ve got full underwater kit for your camera and your whole style has changed. Or not. An accident may stop you skiing for a season which could lead to time spent photographing people or the sport from the sidelines. A whole new technique may come along – once upon a time HDR was scary and new and not considered “proper” photography at all – and set set you on fire with a new style. Be open to change.
Finding your style should be an adventure; it should challenge you but it shouldn’t consume you. If you find yourself looking through the lens, your shoulders stiffening, your mind screaming “WHY DO I EVEN BOTHER THIS IS CRAP” just take a deep breath and let it go. Take a few shots just for the joy of using a camera. Your style is something that should come easy to you.
“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.” Henri Cartier-Bresson