Photography – Style

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


Photography – Telling tales

“Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” Arthur Brisbane.

This quote refers to the notion that an idea, emotion, or feeling can be conveyed with just a single still image, and though it dates to the early 1900’s the statement is just as valid today. Storytelling is an important part of our society and photography compliments it.You can listen to a great storyteller for hours. An amazing show will have you coming back for more. A talented writer will have you in line waiting for their book before it hits the shelves. If your photograph is good enough, there will be no need for words.

Your style is what you chose to photograph and how you chose to take that photograph, it’s your subject and your technique. It’s a big wide world out there and your images pull together to show the world who you are. Do you really want them to see something that is not your best? Style is insanely personal. It’s only natural to favour subjects you enjoy, are drawn to or inspired by. Your technique may be something you’ve been doing for years and have realised is unique or it may be something you’ve admired in another photographer. If this is the case, make sure you have your own spin to the style. Imitation isn’t always the most sincere form of flattery. I believe that your style should change and evolve with you as you grow. As you photograph your way through life it will be natural to be interested in different subjects and to try new techniques. Is there something you always find yourself coming back to?

Do you find yourself taking hundreds of photographs at a time of the same subject trying to get the image that you want? Consider this statement: “Le moment decisif” from Henri Cartier-Bresson. This translates as the decisive moment. The best possible moment to take a photograph. When you decide to take a photograph of something, spend a moment, and think about what you want to get out of the shot. Take a deep breath and consider how you feel about the area, the subject and what you want to convey to the people that will see this image. Adjust your camera settings to suit. Frame up. Make sure the composition is perfect.   Make sure that you remove any small items that could mess up the shot – like cigarette butts on the ground – before you take the picture. It’s a lot easier to edit them out in real life than spend time on editing the image on the computer later.

On this note, when you’re uploading images – whether its to your blog, facebook, website or portfolio – consider the consequences of a single vs multiple images. Do you need 3 photographs to tell the tale or will one suffice? Do you have 4 amazing images and a 5th that comes close but doesn’t quite get there? Do you have 5 stunning shots, full of power and emotion, but each with slightly different stories? Unless your photographs work together to tell the same story (the story you want to tell), use them alone or in groups that do. It’s tempting to upload all of your beautiful shots and show the world how amazing you are, but start thinking like an editor. If you had to pay for these photographs, which would you use?

When it comes down to it, your photographs tell another story too: They let everyone who views your work see you. They see whether you care about your subject and its portrayal, how you compose your images and your style, they see whether you are patient and care about quality as well as being talented or if you’ll just slap anything together and put it out into the world. Chose to take the time. Chose quality.

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