Finding your personal photography style
So how do I find my photography style? Let me tell you that finding your personal photographic style is like finding Zen or the Holy Grail to photographers, it rarely happens with a quick 15-minute tutorial. For a lot of photographers, it can be a never ending struggle. I have found the key that unlocks the door to your photography style. This door, or should I say process and formula isn’t for everyone, but it worked for me and it might fast track the journey for you.
1 Forget what everyone else is doing
Stop following what everyone else is doing in photography. If this doesn’t sound like something you’re OK with that’s fine. Don’t get me wrong, looking and getting inspiration from other photographers is OK, but stop following trends and stop emulating other photographers. Emulating someone else is a great way to always stay behind them in their shadow. It’s when you do your own thing, and start being your own unique self that you can step outside of someone else’s shadow and into the light. Having a personal photographic style starts with you, being you.
2 Find who inspires you
Write a list down of all the photographers that inspire you, then next to their names write down one thing that you like about that photographer specifically. When I did this I found most of the photographers I liked has similar or the same attributes and aesthetics when it came to their photography style. Look at who inspires you and ask yourself why are you drawn to them? This will show you what aesthetics you are drawn to yourself and might shine a little light in directing you down a specific look you can adapt to your photography.
3 Adopt don’t emulate
You have looked at yourself, what you like and who you like and why. Now put all those elements together. I personally like Hiroshi Sugimoto’s seascapes. Michael Kenna’s long exposures. Josef Koudelka’s way of telling a story. And Ho Fan’s beautiful street photography and the way he works with light. But the interesting thing, is all these photographers work in black and white. Because of this subconscious influence, I have adopted this as one of the elements that make up my photographic style. I adopted this aesthetic into my own photography. This exercise is about adopting the aesthetic elements that you wrote down in step two and putting them into your own photographic work. Do this exercise yourself, it changed my photography for the better.
4 Developing your photography style
Now comes the tricky part, developing your photography style. After finding what influences you, adopt those aesthetic elements into your photographs. Now you’re finally ready to move onto the next stage.
You’ve got all the ingredient to finally develop your style, now it’s time to limit yourself. Yes, you need a set of stick instructions to put all your ingredients together and in the right order to make a style. This is because a style needs to be recognisable, it needs to be consistent, and in order to do that, you need to follow a recipe. Here is my example of how I put all the elements I like and adopted them into a recipe for a photographic style.
Photography style recipe
- Anywhere (be able to take a photo anywhere)
- Anything (be able to take a photo of anything)
- Available light (no lighting gear)
- Minimal (only the essential elements in the frame)
- Identifiable (have a consistent feel or tone)
Photography style ingredients
- One camera (Leica M)
- One lens (50mm Summilux)
- One film/preset (Kodak Tri-X 400)
- ND filter (no tripod)
Regarding the ingredients, it’s OK to change them slightly, if you find something better, go ahead and change it, there is no harm in that. But be careful not to change every ingredient at once.
Follow your own recipe as closely as possible. It’s OK to try a different recipe, but try it yourself before you serve it to the world. I recommend getting good at one thing because that will end up being what people know you for, and remember you for. Essentially your pigeon-holing yourself when it comes to developing a photographic style but in the long run, it’s a good thing. It creates a unique look, kinda like guidelines a brand would use, like Mcdonalds, Apple or Leica, they all have a consistent feel and look through their brand.
5 Find your favourite photography gear of choice
This can take time, just like developing your photography style. Only if you are truly lucky, you will pick up one camera and that’s it. But I strongly suggest you try and find that perfect camera, be it model, brand whatever, but find it. Once you find the tool that is right for you, not only will you learn it inside and out, it will also dictate your style. Adding little consistent details throughout your work, I call this a Zen camera. The only way to find your Zen camera is to try as many as you can. It’s only through trial and error which requires a hands-on approach. Explore your options, but once you find that one true Zen camera your one step away from having your own photographic style.
6 What do you want to say and share what the world
Why do you take photographs? Your photography style needs a voice, a genre, a focus or story to tell. This is the step I’m struggling with personally, but your photography style needs a message. What that message is, is up to you, and there is no right or wrong answer to this question. A message that touches people will be more effective than a memo. What I’m trying to say is, photography is meant to be shared, sharing with the world is a beautiful thing. But to be remembered you have to have a specific message when it comes to a body of work. What is your story, what are you passionate about? What’s the meaning behind your photography?
To summarise, stop emulating the people around you and start being yourself. Don’t worry about what others think of you or are doing, be selfish and focus on who you are. Find who inspires you and take the elements that match your aesthetic and put them into your own work. Steal and borrow aspects of others you admire. Develop a strict recipe and ingredients list of your photographic process and the limited gear you use. Never waver from this, because these elements make up your style. Try and find that one camera that you could use for the rest of your life, and only use that Zen camera. And finally, find the story and message you want to tell the world. Show that message to the world through your photography, that’s how you find your photography style.
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- The Zen Photographer – Leica.com
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