When you first start out in photography, you will probably be happy with the images that you take. Digital cameras these days are capable of creating beautiful images. New photographers don’t always need to understand the technical elements that come together to produce that image. As you learn more and more about photography both your technical ability and creativity will increase. One way to improve your abilities is to look at the work of professional photographers. One thing that makes good photographers stand out from the crowd, is that they often have a certain photographic style. A unique signature that allows you to recognize the photographer from his or her images.
Identifying Your Style
Developing your own photographic style is not going to happen overnight, nor is it going to happen if you try to force it, a style needs to grow organically over time. It may take several years and many thousands of images before you even start to notice a style. So how can you recognize and build on that style?
Although when you first started in photography, you almost certainly did not have any particular style, there will be certain types of image that you were drawn to. Go back and have a look through your very earliest shots and see if there is some sort of theme running through them. Maybe you like to shoot religious buildings, views through windows and doors. Maybe a lot of your images have a similar object in them, for example a bicycle. Very often this all happens subconsciously, it’s just something that you are attracted to. If you can identify this, you are on the way to developing your own style.
Styles that Inspire You
Another element in developing a style is to look at the work of your peers. There will be images that inspire you, that convey a sense of emotion to you. Be inspired by your peers but don’t mimic them. By trying to replicate another photographer’s style you are not developing your own. However, what you can do, is look at the elements of your peer’s images and try to understand what it is that makes you admire them. If you can isolate this and understand the techniques involved to create a certain look then you can develop a style from that. Analyze what lenses are being used, look at the aperture and the lighting. How is the image composed?
Look at all these elements and try to incorporate them into the themes that you have identified in your own early work. You will notice that you are getting a certain style to your shots.
Don’t Get Comfortable
Another area that can aid you in identifying and developing a style is to stray outside your photographic comfort zone. All of us as photographers have a particular genre that we are most at home with, this might be portraiture, architectural photography or macro work. We tend to stay within this genre as it is what we enjoy the most.
It can however be highly advantageous to step outside that comfort zone and try new genres. For example as a portrait photographer you might want to try some travel or urban photography. The reason for this is simple, it further helps you identify your unique style. If you have been shooting portraits for a long time you might find yourself shooting an urban scene using a shallow aperture, with the subject close to the camera. Stepping outside the comfort zone allows us to identify the technical and compositional elements of our style.
Develop Your Style
As you develop as a photographer, you will find that you are not constricted by a single style but in fact may have developed several. In my own case, the first style that I noticed and developed was a liking for bright primary colors in travel shots. I also noticed that the images I liked the most had a simplicity combined with bright color. As a secondary style I found myself shooting a lot of memorials in locations around the world, most of these shots used a shallow depth of field to isolate and draw the eye to the subject. This style has subconsciously found its way into my more recent urban photography.
Developing a style is not easy, nor can it be taught or forced. It is something that grows with you as you grow as a photographer. However, if we can identify what it is within us that makes us photograph certain things in a certain way, we can help identify and improve that style.