Perhaps the most important thing we will all do on our photographic journeys is finding and defining our own unique visual style. If you want to be a better photographer, it’s a journey you too must take. Visual style is what separates each of us from other photographers. It’s how we choose to look at the world and present it in our photos.
With enough time and practice, nearly anyone can learn to take a well exposed and composed photo. But no amount of teaching will help you find your unique style. It’s a journey that can and will take years. It’ll change and refine itself over and over. Don’t feel you have to wantonly wait around for your style to develop though. There’s ways to start honing your vision today.
1. Start with the What
It’s true – style is not what you shoot, but how you shoot it. Learning what you’d like to shoot though will go a long way towards discovering how you want to shoot it. So sit down right now, grab a pen and paper. Go ahead, take a second and go grab them.
Ask yourself the question, “What do I want to shoot?” Take a few minutes to think about it and right down an honest answer. Is it weddings, landscapes, advertising, journalism? Understand that what you may want to shoot could easily change over time. For quite awhile I thought I wanted to shoot landscapes, but that has eventually completely changed into commercial lifestyle.
Whatever it is, don’t ever let yourself think, “I’ll never be able to do that.” If you believe in yourself enough and you work day in and day out to make it happen, you can become the photographer you want to be. Never doubt it.
2. Ask Yourself Why
Still got your pen and paper? Ask yourself next, “Why do I want to shoot this?” If your goal is to get into wedding photography, what do you love about it? Is it capturing the heart warming moments on someone’s very special day? The laughter and celebration amongst family and friends? Be sure you know what wedding photography entails. If spending 6 to 10 hours on your feet and dealing with a variety of constantly changing lighting scenarios doesn’t sound appealing to you, chances are weddings aren’t what you want to shoot.
What if landscapes are what you want to shoot? Is it the majestic peaks and swells of a range that entice you? The cresting sunset along the horizon? Are you prepared to hike and travel under often rigorous conditions to get those shots?
When you can answer what you want to shoot and why you’d like to, you’ll be on your way toward refining a style.
3. Find Inspiration and Seek Advice
I’m sure everyone has a few favorite photographers whose work they truly admire. But are they shooting what you want to shoot? If not, find a few who are. Study their work. Try to analyze their images and what exactly it is that you like about them; either the lighting, the emotion, the color processing or one of thousands of other variables..
Find local photographers you admire and don’t be afraid to reach out to them and ask questions or just to grab coffee and talk. Hey they might not always have the time, but sometimes you get lucky and can find a great local mentor. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t ask so many questions and reach out to photographers I admire. You can do the same.If you can answer the what and the why of your photographic goals, you’ll be closer to developing your own visual style. Know that it will take a long time and a lot of hard work, but if you’re persistent and determined you’ll soon find yourself looking at and shooting the world with your very own personal style.
by Matthew Dutile