Do you have a photographic style? A unique way of looking at the world that results in photos that only you could take? How does one go about developing a photographic style?
This issue is at the heart of any serious photographer’s development. Over time, with work and then more work, your style will emerge. Here are some ideas you can use to help you focus on this core process.
Read lots of photo books.
Not so much the how-to books, but books by and about photographic artists. Not only will you learn how other mature photographers came about their way of working, you’ll also get plenty of inspiration to get out and shoot.
Go to art museums.
Not just to look at photography, but painting, sculpture, mixed media, etc. This will open your mind to all manner of creative expression and you’ll find it subtly rubbing off on your shooting.
Study a master photographer, in depth. Pick someone whose work you admire and learn all you can about that shooter. Research the background, education, show history (if they have one). Look at as much of their work as you can find. Try to see some of it up close in print form, if this is possible (you may have to search for it in local photo galleries, find out what museums might own pieces by the photographer, etc). The point here is to really try and identify how this photographer approaches what they do and how it translates into the images you find attractive. In the process of doing this, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and your own photographic predilections.
Pick someone whose work you admire and learn all you can about that shooter….Look at as much of their work as you can find.
Now organize your own photography around themes.
Can you go back through your last year or two of shooting and come up with a few themes that stand out? Is it portraits or self portraits? Landscapes? Maybe some gritty HDR work you’ve done? Whatever it is, look for areas where you feel like your shooting is strong. Try to edit these themes down to just a handful that seem to be working for you.
Now make some prints of your best dozen images.
This part is hard! But I think it’s really important to go through this process. It helps if you have access to a decent printer, but even cheaper prints can serve this purpose. Alternatively, you can simply tone your images and collect them together in a folder on your computer, although I believe there are some interesting and profound things that happen when we get away from the computer screen and generate actual prints.
Once you have your dozen prints, find at least three photographers to show them to, in person. Buy them a cup of coffee and pull out your photos (or your laptop). Ask them to give you their honest opinion about your images. I promise that as hard as this may seem at first, having a few sit-down, face-to-face critiques can be a truly mind-expanding experience. You may discover things about yourself and your shooting that you didn’t even know as you see how others react to your work. Were there any reactions that your reviewers shared? Images that all of them liked particularly?
Now go out and pursue your strengths! This will require self-discipline if you want to improve, but hey, whoever said getting really good would be easy? Pick one of the areas you are strong in and come up with some self-assignments in that area. WRITE THEM DOWN. Make a list! Give yourself some type of deadline to get going on this new project. Hold yourself accountable!
Your style will emerge, with work. This will be a life-long process, one that will continue to change and grow as your work becomes more and more closely aligned with your own unique personality.
Good luck and happy shooting!
Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog
Related articles on the web:
Your Photographic Style at YourPhotoTips
How to Establish a Personal Photographic Style at Luminous Landscape
A Few Thoughts on Photographic Style at Photofocus