Finding Your Photographic Style
I was at a park today looking for the colors of fall. It’s still quite green here, but along a pleasant hike I did find some smaller trees and a branch or two with brilliant red leaves. What is it about fall that so many people love? Is it the brisk energy, the bold colors, the snuggle of sweaters, the aroma of the crisp and confident air? Each person might have a different reason for loving autumn, rather like asking each person to define art.
In many fields, you hear “find a niche” if you want to be successful. This is especially true in the arts. When I meet enthusiastic artists, photographers usually, they tell me that they like to take pictures of EVERYTHING. And this is wonderful – the world is full of splendor, emotion, images inviting you to capture them with a camera or song or paintbrush. It’s nice to not get stuck into one narrow dim box. You want to paint with all the colors of the human experience, even if you work strictly in black and white. You want the freedom to work in all mediums, all categories, in your own way.
Your personal style, though, is more about knowing your strengths and weaknesses. It’s a dynamic factor that accounts for changes in your artistic development as well as all those things that impact our work: relationships, health, work, stress, etc. What you do well is a vital aspect of your style.
Of course, your weaknesses also help to define your style.
Look at photos you’ve taken over the past year. Choose ten that you think are good photos. Choose ten that you recognize are poor photos. It’s difficult to be objective when doing this. It’s tempting to ask someone else to do this for you, which can be useful, but for this task it is important that you use your trained eye to evaluate your work. Now with two “piles” in front of you, the good and the not so good, you will begin to look for patterns.
Let’s look at your good photos first and procrastinate on looking at the ones of lesser quality. What do each of these photos have in common with each other? What did you do well when taking those photos? Can you identify three things that these images share? Consider the content; the depth of field; the contrast; the inclusion of foreground, midground, and background; light and shadow; use of color; framing; mood; cropping; event; etc. There are more aspects to consider than I can manage to list here. What is it about those images that make them good and that unite them? Ponder what it is that draws you back to them again and again.
When you have some answers, and it may mean thinking about this for several days, and coming back to this pile, write down what you’ve discovered about yourself and your style. Only then can you move to the other pile.
Looking at your photos that you have deemed not your best work, ask yourself the same questions. What have you tried repeatedly and optimistically but fallen short at doing? I know that I’ve tried to imitate the work of others that I have admired and fallen short of the mark each time with some of them. One day I realized that I really like doing this with that scene instead. Knowing what I preferred to do artistically was helpful and I wouldn’t have learned that if I hadn’t realized that what I’d been doing wasn’t so good.
It takes time to figure out what your preferences are for most of us. It’s like that saying: You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince. So, go out there and take lots of photos, and then see where the crown fits.