It’s not essential to have a style in photography, and it is possible to be a good photographer without it. However, your style will help you stand out from others. This is especially important nowadays, when there are a lot of photographers, the market is quite saturated, and Instagram’s algorithm is making it harder and harder to promote your art on their platform.
Finding your style will help you get noticed. This will also help you become a better artist, become better at your craft and at the same time, it will bring in something personal, something that is unique to you into your work.
Before we begin, there’s something you need to remember.
Art can be anything.
You can create your art for whatever reason you want. You can be inspired by whatever you want. Your art doesn’t need to be deep.
You don’t need to have a profound reason to create your art. To fill your art with a deep meaning. Your art can be anything you want, anything that inspires you.
When you change, so does your art.
Your art can also change. Your interests can change. Your sources of inspiration can change. That is a normal part of life and evolution.
Don’t stick to something that doesn’t inspire you anymore just because it used to inspire you in the past.
Now, let’s take a look at how you can find your style in photography.
How to Find Your Photography Style. Key Points
1. Learn to trust your interests
Some beginners might take pictures of what is popular and trendy, barely thinking if this is something they actually like, because they are under the impression that this is their fast track to fame and recognition; that this will get them more clients.
In the short term, this strategy is not necessarily bad, and it can work.
But if you take pictures of something that is popular then how do you stand out? If you’re doing what everyone else is doing, you’ll risking of blending in with the crowd.
In the long run, taking pictures of what is popular, but what you don’t like might actually hinder the process of you discovering your own style.
You need to pay attention to your interests, to what you like.
Your style is an expression of who you are and what you like at this particular moment.
It’s not something that you can suddenly stumble upon. It’s something that is developed over time. Thus, if you want to build your unique style in photography, you need to be mentally ready for it to take time.
People tend to want to get results right away. This is why the majority prefer to go for something that is tried and true. Something that has already worked for someone else. People usually think that this will shorten their path to fame, recognition and financial success. But if you are sticking to the tried and true in creativity, are you really making your path short? And is it really your path?
What’s certain is that your interests will surely lead you to yourself. If you keep sticking to what you like, you will always follow your path and not somebody else’s.
2. Be open-minded
If you like a wide range of different things, this is totally fine. More to that, it’s quite an advantage. You have more chances to find your own style of photography, if you are open-minded.
In other words, you’ll need to be open to the idea of trying new things instead of saying that you won’t like something without even trying.
Your prejudice regarding what you like and what you don’t will stand in your way of discovering your style; discovering what’s truly yours and what might bring you success and recognition.
For instance, you do only black and white photography because you are locked on the idea that you don’t like color, and you won’t even try editing your images in color. Now, imagine that you’ve decided to give it a go.
What if you edited an image in color, just for fun, but all of a sudden, you actually liked the result? Then you shared the image on social media and everyone else liked it as well? Then you edit images in your preferred color palette more and more often until it becomes a part of your style. The style that you are recognized for. You would’ve never known this if you hadn’t decided to experiment.
You can find out whether you’ll like something or not only be actually giving it a go.
3. Compile a list
What you can do is compile a list of your interests – not just in photography, but in general.
Genres, colors, photography techniques, type of light. Maybe you like sunny days or moody, rainy days with overcast skies. What kind of atmosphere you prefer. What things you like – shadows, reflections, curly clouds, sunsets, flowy fabrics, etc.
Maybe you like when people show their genuine emotions, or you don’t like taking pictures of people at all.
Try to think of as many things as you can.
This list might help you generate ideas for your next photoshoots.
4. Get inspired
It’s worth mentioning that other artists, other artworks, other forms of art help us learn more about our preferences. So, you shouldn’t avoid consuming other people’s art. On the contrary, this is a very crucial step in becoming a better photographer.
Works of other creatives can introduce you to new ideas and provide crucial insights.
Hanging out with other photographers might teach you to notice things that you haven’t noticed before and learn tricks that didn’t know about.
In addition to that, you need to cultivate your taste – this is possible only when you consume good art.
When you take your inspiration from beautiful things. You need to look at works of photographers that inspire you. Watch movies and TV shows with amazing cinematography.
This will not only inspire and motivate you to shoot more often, but you’ll also get new ideas and learn about your preferences.
5. Remember, technique is merely a part of your style
Some photographers believe that having a style means using a specific technique over and over again. For instance, they shoot only with natural light or, on the contrary, they shoot only with artificial light in a studio. Maybe, they always include motion-blur or bokeh. But this isn’t entirely the case.
After all, there are quite a few photographers that, for example, often use colored light in their works, yet they have different styles, and their photos have different atmospheres.
The key to building a unique style is you.
How you see this world. How you see your subject. How you create the atmosphere within the frame. Which details you include and which ones you exclude. What themes you gravitate to.
Techniques and visual patterns are only a part of your style. They can help you show exactly what you want to show, create the mood that you want to create.
Let’s take a look at the example from a well-known TV show, Mr. Robot.
It is common to frame a shot by using the Rule of Thirds. It’s pleasing to the eye and the audience is used to this type of composition that in most cases, they barely notice it.
However, in Mr. Robot, nearly all the shots have the lower quadrant framing. There is almost too much negative space around a character in the frame, and this was done on purpose. This framing is supposed create a feeling of oppression, imbalance and isolation. The characters are disconnected from the world and feel incredibly lonely.
Lower quadrant framing is just a technique. A way of framing a shot. It had existed before Mr. Robot. But it was utilized to evoke a certain type of feeling, to create a certain atmosphere.
Techniques are merely tools that can help you in the creation of your masterpiece.
Similarly, there is a variety of paints, brushes, types of brushstrokes, ways to apply paint to your canvas. And a group of artists can use the same type of brushstroke and the same paint, for instance, but what they choose to paint, how they paint it, what themes they choose – these things are more important because they are exactly what a style consists of.
Some photographers are also under the impression that their style is based on how they edit their photos. And yet again, it’s only partially true.
The way you edit your photos is merely a part of your style.
Colors evoke emotions. Therefore, the atmosphere in your photos depends on your choice of colors. You can take one and the same theme but show it differently with the use of colors.
For instance, you want to show your subject – main character of your story – alone. If you use the color palette that consists of cool blues and greens, it might evoke a sense of loneliness and isolation. You’ll show that your subject is lonely; that being alone makes them feel sad and abandoned. You can also put a lot of negative space around your subject to amplify this feeling of cold loneliness.
On the other hand, if you surround your subject with warm colors like warm yellow and orange, you can create a sense of safety and comfort.
Maybe, your subject is sitting in a library or a living room, while reading a book or painting. The room is flooded with warm, yellow sunlight, streaming through the window. And your main subject is completely engrossed in whatever they are doing. They are alone, but not lonely. They feel comfortable and unburdened by the fact that there’s no one else around.
In both cases the subject is alone, yet the atmospheres are drastically different because of different color palettes.
Your choice of techniques, colors, visual patterns depends on what you want to show, what story you want to tell.
6. Create a mood-board
Another thing that you can do to develop your style of photography is to make a collage or a mood-board of your favorite works of other photographers. You can create a board on Pinterest or save your favorite images to an album on Instagram, or both.
Then you need try to figure out whether there is a pattern.
For example, in the majority of your favorite works, there might be a certain theme, technique, color palette, focal length and so on. This will help you determine what you can try out and potentially incorporate into your style.
But isn’t this copying, you might ask. Copying means creating an exact copy. You are using the same light, the same angle, the same model or a model that looks quite similar, the same clothes, the same location, the same focal length and so on. This is copying.
There is a difference between copying and using something as inspiration. A true artist can always see that. When you are using something as inspiration, you are using someone else’s idea, but adding something of your own.
For example, you usually shoot with sunlight, but then you got inspired by a photo that has colored artificial light in it. So, you book a studio or get a few small LED panels on AliExpress and create a small DIY studio at home, then do a portrait photoshoot with colored light; maybe, you even use the same lighting scheme as in the photo that inspired you. But you dress your model in a different way and use a different background. Now, this isn’t a copy. You simply used someone else’s idea and added something of your own.
Re-using someone else’s ideas is a part of creativity.
Just like you are sharing your ideas and insights with your friends, artists can share their ideas and vision with each other and thus helping each other to be better artists. Isn’t it wonderful to serve as inspiration to one another?
The key thing here is that if you get inspired by someone else’s work, you need to give it a try.
You need to try to shoot something similar to what inspired you. Remember, only when you try something out, you get the chance to learn whether this is something that you like and want to keep as a part of your style or not. Merely theorizing about it won’t do much help.
You need to experiment without worrying whether things will work out or not. Having certain expectations of the result will probably do a disservice to you.
When you are trying something new you need to be open to the fact that things won’t work out; that you won’t like the result. And that’s totally okay.
There’s no need to share your works on social media. Or, alternatively, if you feel comfortable, you might actually share these “failed” works on social media to show people that you are okay with trying something new and inspire others to do the same.
In addition, when you use someone else’s work as inspiration, there’s a chance that you might end up discovering something entirely new and that will become an integral part of your style of photography.
Let’s Do a Bit of a Recap
The key things that will help you find your style in photography:
- Determine what you like, what’s truly yours. Your favorite genres, colors, themes, techniques, visual patterns, etc.
- Make a selection of works that you like on a regular basis.
- Broaden your visual experience and visual savviness by consuming beautiful works of art.
- Practice, practice, practice. You need to shoot as often as you can, because only when you shoot often you understand clearly what you like, what needs improvement or what things you need to let go off.
You’ll be more eager to shoot more regularly when you enjoy the process. Therefore, you need to shoot what you truly like.
Building your style in photography is not an essential part of becoming a good photographer. But it is necessary if you want to stand out from the crowd and if you want your work to bring you joy and sense of accomplishment.
It will take you some time to develop your style because it requires you to learn more about yourself, your preferences and learn your craft.
You’ll need to broaden your visual experience and abandon limitations that you have regarding what your photography should be like. Limitations only do you a disservice as they keep you from things that can be something that you like; that can become a part of your style.
Don’t try to shorten your path by reserving to tried-and-true ways – you might end up only lengthening it.