business of photography: developing your own photographic style

Aspiring professional and enthusiast photographers work hard to find their own particular style, a visual look that sets them apart from the crowd. Your style is like your own personal signature and it may revolve around the use of a particular lens, color palette, camera or post-production technique. Or it may be the way you communicate with your subject and the responses you elicit and capture. It may be a combination of many of these things.

Do you have a style? If you’ve ever found yourself frustrated, unable to find your own style (or voice) with photography, maybe these suggestions will be a help. After twenty-five years in professional photography I can identify a few things that have helped me get over creative humps:

1025_kitchen_21791. I mentioned the word “process”. Many photographers wait for a bolt of lighting to come along, inspiring them to see the world in a completely new way. Well, it’s never happened like that for me, I’ve had to work at it, taking many little steps along the way. The photos that accompany this article were a simple experiment in soft focus one day. I grabbed a plastic sandwich bag and held it over the lens, really liking the foggy diffusion it created.

2. Working a process means trying new things and, this is very important, not fearing failure. Don’t expect things to go right every time. Remember the invention of Post-It Notes? It was a huge mistake, an adhesive that failed to stick very well. Or so it was initally thought. That failure has gone on to be a huge success. Don’t be critical when something doesn’t turn out the way you want, just try to improve upon it next time.

3. I would never knowingly copy someone else’s work and present it as my own. But for the sake of experimentation, emulating images you really like can provide great lessons. Do you see an HDR technique you really like? Try it. Is there a low key portrait you really like? Try it. These are just experiments, part of the process.

4. Everything doesn’t have to be a final, finished photograph during this process. Shoot fragments and pieces of things that interest you. One of those fragments might be a key building block to a further style.

1025_kitchen_21995. This is an important one…ever hear the phrase “out of sight, out of mind’? Don’t waste your hard efforts and seeming failures by tucking them away and forgetting them. I like to keep my experimental images in a catalog where I can scan through everything when I’m looking for ideas. I may have shot something 6 months ago that was forgotten because it didn’t succeed on it’s own. But if I see it in the same catalog with something shot yesterday it might just “connect the dots” on what I’ve been after. I’ve yet to use the “sandwich bag soft focus” technique on a commercial job but the knowledge gained is always there with me.

6. And, if you haven’t figured it out, this all means shooting lots of photographs. Yep, that’s always been the biggest help to me: shoot, shoot, shoot. It’s important to look for inspiration and it’s important to buy new equipment. But if you want to develop a new style the most important thing is picking up a camera and clicking the shutter.