Ever wonder why some photographers’ work stands out more than others? Of course excellent technical skills will set you apart from the pack but once you’ve got all of those down, style is the next thing you need to tackle. For some photographers, style comes easy and almost effortlessly, however for many, developing your own style takes time and a lot of work.
I am incredibly lucky because one of my instructors at the Hallmark Institute of Photography was the one and only Gregory Heisler. I remember him talking to us about style and how he brought to my attention that a lot of times style is confused with technique. Some examples of this are HDR, toning your images with photoshop actions, always shooting with a wide angle lens or always shooting with a longer lens. These are only a few of the most common techniques that are often confused with style. How you interpret a technique and incorporate it into your own photography, molding it and making it your own is when you begin to create your style. Just jamming a few photos through an HDR filter all the time or running your images through the same photoshop actions to tone them won’t quite get you there. If your photos aren’t unique before you do one of these techniques to them and you feel you have to use these to make your images better or stand out more then you aren’t exactly creating your own style. Of course there are always exceptions to this but don’t let yourself cover up a dull image with a technique like that.
Create Your Style Through Personal Projects
So how do you create your own style? Well honestly, it develops differently for everybody but there are a few things to think about that can help you. I personally feel that one of the most important ways is through personal projects. One of my photography instructors once told me that there are many art directors that will choose a photographer for an assignment based on their personal projects. When you’re shooting for a client you have to make the client happy and that might not always mean shooting something that makes you happy. That’s ok, that’s just something that every photographer has to deal with. However, it can really take a toll on your creative process which is why personal projects can lift up your spirits! Come up with an idea of something you’ve always wanted to shoot or create a story with your images. Think of your favorite color and only shoot interesting objects of that color in unique compositions or do a series of portraits where the subject is only wearing that color and it’s the main focus of your images. Basically shoot something that makes you happy and let’s you be creative, it’s incredibly refreshing and gives you practice at the same time. This will help you realize what you enjoy shooting and will lead to someone hiring you to take pictures with that same style of yours (which is the jackpot!).
Shoot What You Love
My second piece of advice for developing your own style is to shoot what you love. Sounds obvious right? Not always the case. Before I went to photography school I thought I had everything all figured out…graduate and open my own portrait studio. I had only ever shot portraits until I went to school and had no clue that I would graduate with a portfolio full of food and still life photography. I had the opportunity to shoot everything from portraits to products to pets, sports, aerial photography and everything in between. I discovered something that I had never even thought of photographing but once I did, I realized I could incorporate all the things I love into it. For me those things are color, texture, shape, design nature and unique objects. When you shoot something you love it’s easier to make it yours and develop your own style from it. If you shoot a wide range of different subjects mediocrely but specialize in one type of photography and really excel at it, this is when you want to specialize. That’s the perfect example of how specializing in one type of photography can be to your advantage when trying to appeal to clients. They’ll hire you to shoot that one thing that you’re really good at. Take that one area of photography that you love to shoot, keep doing it over and over again and make it yours, that will surely make you stand out.
Pick 5 of your favorite pictures and write down 3 words that you feel best describe the images as a whole. Then ask 3 other people to look at the same images and do the same thing, but don’t show them what you wrote. When they’re done look at what they’ve written. Does it match your view of your work or is it different? Is what you’re trying to convey in your work consistent with what others see in it?
Study Work That Inspires You
The last tip I have for you in creating your own style is studying other photographer’s work that inspires you. You can always learn from those around you and as soon as you see an image you know right away if you love it or not. If you look at someones work and you fall in love with their portfolio, ask yourself what you like about it. Is there something that’s consistent in each image that catches your eye? Their use of props, the way they light an image in order to fit in well with its surroundings, the composition, their use of color or lack of? Create an idea book either in your own Lightroom catalogue or by collecting pages from magazines in a binder. Keep adding to it and go back and look through it. Constantly study others work you admire, let it inspire you to create your own unique body of work that has your print and style attached to it.
It Takes Patience
Developing your own style can be a little frustrating and take years to start showing through in your work. But it will all be worth it when you’re able to effortlessly stand out from your competition because you put your creativeness to work. It’s definitely something that’s important and I witnessed this firsthand. There were 140 students at my school and therefore 140 portfolios to be reviewed. We were all allowed to sit in on each other’s reviews and we quickly realized that the portfolios that stood out the most and really caught the judge’s eyes were those who had clearly developed their own style and creative touch. It’s almost as if your own photographic style is a power that lets your images speak for themselves without you having to say a word and they immediately captivate the viewer’s attention. Trust me, you want this power.