Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How to Find your Photographic Style

by Kelly

There are many things that we can learn from the interwebs about photography. The first being, the “rules” of photography (i.e. exposure, composition, etc.). Secondly, we can also get advice on how and when to break the “rules”.  And I’m using air quotes here because, truly, there really aren’t any rules when it comes to capturing in camera what you see with your mind’s eye.

But when it comes to photography, the only question we can’t get answered is how to find our personal style.

In my own personal journey in photography, this question didn’t really start coming up for me until I had a basic understanding of the “rules”.  And then when I started asking this question, the answers were something along the lines of the following:

     There’s no right or wrong answer.
     Don’t worry about it…you’ll know when you know.
     It’s a journey and you’ll discover it when you get there.
     When you stop looking for it, you’ll find it.

If you’re anything like me, the above advice makes you either want to a) start bawling, b) throw your camera and gear out the window, or c) punch someone in the face.

Seriously, I get it.

These ambiguous, nebulous pieces of advice are exactly NOT what a new photographer wants to hear.  And trust me when I tell you that I know this from personal experience.

Here’s the thing though…it really is such a very personal journey.  No one can tell you definitely what your style is.  But take heart, because even though I can’t give you any concrete answers, I can at least give you some good questions to ask yourself.  Think of them as landmarks to look for on this journey that you have embarked on.

Elements of Style #1 – Subjects
Here’s an easy question…what do you love to take pictures of?  Whether it’s portraits or nature or still life or lifestyle/documentary/photojournalistic, this is one the most defining elements when it comes to style.  Because this speaks to what makes you come alive on the inside.

Elements of Style #2 – Technique/Equipment
The next set of questions are regarding the nuts and bolts.  Do you love to shoot in film?  Or with a macro lens?  Or do you love the abstract magic or ethereal mood that occurs when freelensing or shooting with a Lensbaby?  All of these elements lend themselves to style, and when taken in context with a body of work, they speak to an overall genre or artistic vision.

Elements of Style #3 – Point of View
Whether it’s top-down/flatlay or hip-level.  Up-close or wide open.  There is a certain type of vibe that comes from shooting in any one of these compositional settings.  But in addition, I think point of view is also important because, as a work of art, photos are created from your sensibilities…your world view and your life experiences.  These two elements combine to make for a unique, original piece of art.  Once again, the question to ask yourself is, “Which point of view helps me capture the image that I see in my mind's eye."

Elements of Style #4 – Post-processing
So now that we’ve covered most of the in-camera elements of style, let’s talk about the magic that happens in post-processing.  Whether it’s an artful or abstract interpretation of an image or just adding a little bit polish to a photo, post-processing is a fun way to explore style in photography.  Black and white, dark and moody, light and bright, cross-processed, or faded/vintage…these are just a few of the ways to interpret any given photo.  As always, the question remains, which of these help to tell the story or express your creative vision.

So now that we’ve covered some basic elements of style, here’s the most important thing you need to know…. it’s OK if you still don’t know.  Maybe none of these things speak to you.  Maybe ALL of these things speak to you.  So where do you go from here?

My advice is to pay attention to what you pay attention to.

Here’s a perfect example…I follow a wide variety of artists on Instagram and Pinterest.  One of the gals I follow, Ffion McKeown, has a very definitive style – a self-described ‘old-soul and hopelessly romantic’, she loves all things “soulful, soothing, and color-shy.”

To look at her most recent pins, one would most certainly have to say that her pins reflect her style.  And although there is something to them that speaks to me, I almost never re-pin her stuff.

In contrast, here is a snapshot of my most recent pins.  Warm, rich tones.  Pretty light.  Timeless and/or moody vibes.  The exact opposite really.

The point I’m trying to make is that there is probably a theme or a style to the things that you are attracted to.  And my guess is that this inspiration probably makes its way into your art.

If you’re still struggling to find your style or your creative voice, here is the most important advice I can give you…trust your gut.  Try not to overthink it or worry about it.  Stop trying so hard...your style will bubble up.  I promise.  And when it does, enjoy that moment because just about the time that you start feeling comfortable, the artistic itch will strike again.  Because as we grow and evolve as individuals, our art continues to grow and evolve right along with us.

Which is exactly everything I love about photography.

Until next time,



Viv@Thoughts from the Desktop said...

Thank you Kelly for that thought provoking post. Photographic style is something I have struggled with, but I think I'm getting there !

Carol said...

GReat post Kelly, and what a good idea to look at your Pinterest board spread. IN a style workshop I went to they had ipus print a minimum of 59 4x6 prints. We then had to scatter them on the floor -same idea - just look at the colors, shapes, orientation and then the themes. I feel like what you did on Pinterest is the same thing!

kelly said...

@viv - it's surprising to me to hear that you feel like you struggle with this, because i think your style is so distinctive...i can spot your inspired images in heartbeat. i think this - this challenge to see our own work objectively - is part of the reason it's hard to define our own styles. thank you for sharing your struggle with us today!

@carol - what a fun exercise! i think you're right...it's similar to pinterest, but using your photos tells such an awesome style story!

Dotti said...

A great post and it gives us all something to think about. I think it's important to take time, every now and then, to dig a little deeper into our photography, analyze - but not too much - what we do, why we do it, keep what works, discard what doesn't.

Lisa said...

This is a really good way to think about it. I never thought that I had a style but having just recently completed a 365, when I go back and look at my photos, it appears that I do. You've laid out questions that I would never have thought about but are actually quite helpful, so thank you.

terriporter said...

Great post, Kelly! I used to wonder what my "style" was but over the years and by looking back at what I'm shooting and what I like, I have found that I love color, crisp focus, bokeh and shooting close up. I used to think I should try to branch out a bit but these things make me happy right now so why not shoot them?

kelly said...

@dotti...yes, this is exactly why i like to revisit my work...just to continue refining.

@lisa - thank you! i'm really happy to know that you found my suggestion to be helpful!

@terri - you are so right on...we know what we love. in the past i've let myself get off track by comparing my stuff to others. it's much more gratifying to shoot what i love.

DianeSchuller.com said...

exactly -- our style will bubble up. And because our art also grows and develops as you say, I think that's why I have stopped trying to find my personal style. I think I have a style but I also know that in a year or two from now, that too will have evolved. What a perfect post -- thank you!!

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