When you first start out in photography, you will probably be happy with the images that you take. Digital cameras these days are capable of creating beautiful images without the need to understand the technical elements that come together to produce that image. As you learn more and more about photography, both your technical ability and your creativity will increase. You will start to wonder why your “pretty pictures” don’t quite have the striking effect of other photos that you see. What’s the difference between your photos and the ones that you wish you’d taken?
Take look at the work of professional photographers. One thing that makes good photographers stand out from the crowd is that they often have a distinctive style, a unique signature that allows you to recognize the photographer by his images.
Developing your own photography style is not going to happen overnight, nor is it going to happen if you try to force it; a style needs to grow organically over time, although you can develop it consciously. It may take several years and many thousands of images before you even start to notice a style. So how can you recognize and build on that style? Here are three ways to work on it:
1. Review your own work.
When you first started in photography, you almost certainly did not have any particular style. However, there were most likely certain types of image that you were drawn to. Go back and have a look through your very earliest shots, and see if there is some sort of theme running through them. Maybe you like to shoot religious buildings, views through windows and doors, or maybe a lot of your images have similar-looking objects in them; for example, bicycles. Very often this all happens subconsciously; it’s just something that you are attracted to. If you can identify this, you are on the way to developing your own style.
Backlit photography was one area I noticed where I have developed a theme
2. Look at the work of other photographers.
Another step in developing a style is to look at the work of your peers. There will be images that inspire you; that convey a sense of emotion to you. Be inspired by your peers, but don’t mimic them. When you try to replicate another photographer’s style, you are not developing your own. However, what you can do is define elements of your peers’ images and strive to understand what it is that makes you admire them. If you can isolate these special elements and understand the techniques involved in creating a certain look, then you can develop a style from that. Analyze what lenses are being used; look at the aperture and the lighting. How is the image composed?
If you look at all these elements and try to incorporate them into the themes that you have identified in your own early work, you will notice patterns that allow you to identify an esthetic, or a certain style, that you can cultivate in your shots.
Your style might include shallow-depth-of-field images.
3. Challenge yourself in the field.
Another area that can aid you in identifying and developing a style is to stray outside your photographic comfort zone. All of us as photographers have a particular genre that we are most at home with. This might be portraiture, architectural photography, or macro work. We tend to stay within this genre, as it is what we enjoy the most. It can, however, be highly advantageous to step outside that comfort zone and try new genres. For example, as a portrait photographer you might want to try some travel or urban photography. The reason for this is simple: it further helps you identify your unique style. If you have been shooting portraits for a long time, you might find yourself shooting an urban scene using a shallow aperture, with the subject close to the camera. Stepping outside the comfort zone allows you to identify the technical and compositional elements of your style.
The use of strong color is another of my own style traits
As you develop as a photographer, you will find that you are not restricted to a single style, but in fact may have developed several. In my own case, the first style that I noticed and developed was a liking for bright colors in travel shots. I also noticed that the images I liked the most had a simplicity combined with bright color. As a secondary style, I found myself shooting a lot of memorials in locations around the world. Most of these shots used a shallow depth of field to isolate and draw the eye to the subject. This style has subconsciously found its way into my more recent urban photography.
Developing a style is not easy, nor can it be taught or forced. It is something that grows with you as you grow as a photographer. However, if you can identify what it is within you that makes you photograph certain things in a certain way, you can identify and improve your signature style.