Finding your own photographic style

Nikon 50mm f1.4 / macro extension tubes
[20 minute read]

Finding my own photographic style is something I have REALLY struggled with over the years.  This post is all about sharing practical and insightful tips gathered during this time which combined have brought me a whole lot closer to my artistic vision, and I am utterly convinced they can help you too.

So if you haven't already done so, grab yourself a notebook and a pen, make yourself comfortable and let's begin.

FOUNDATION STONES
    • I know this may sound very clich՜e, but learn all you can about the different types of light - also how to bend, manipulate and best use light.  Light is THE single most important foundational stone necessary to create beautiful photography.  Without a skilled use of light, your images will just look plain, flat and boring.
    • Study your favourite photographers' images and ask yourself the following question: "What characteristics in their work do I admire?"  Is it their use of back light, composition, etc?  Try and work out what time of the day they have chosen to capture their image, what type of lighting / shadow techniques, etc they have used, and have a go at emulating one such image yourself.  The purpose of this exercise is not to clone somebody else's work but rather to determine what works or doesn't work for you!  Perhaps your favourite photographer's lighting choices and / or location choices compliment your work, but their choice of colours and tones don't.  Chalk up what works for you and go forward with such and simply disregard the rest. 
      Nikon 50mm f1.4 / macro extension tubes

      "Stay true to yourself;
      No-one does your style better than you."
      - Unknown -

      When I first started out, I was drawn to 'bright and airy' photography and tried to re-create such for myself.  However, hands up, I was more interesting in "cloning" as opposed to discovering my own style!!!  After a while I discovered all such just wasn't working.  I began to feel dissatisfied and frustrated with the majority of my work.

      Once I accepted the fact that trying to copy high key styles left me feeling totally dissatisfied, did a change really begin to take place.  I started to make notes of what actually made me happy creating, e.g. deep shadows, contrast, fine details, etc.  By doing so I discovered a love and appreciation for moodier photography - something that really does make my heart sing!

      Being honest with myself didn't remove my appreciation of different photography styles—far from it—but it did release me to begin creating images that truly reflect my own personality and who I am as a photographer.  And that's what photography is all about - creating work that has your own unique personality stamped all over it. Photography reflects a part of who you are.
      • Make notes re: lighting conditions, camera settings, time of day, lens used, etc., when an image 'works out well'.  So often, I determined to remember such things and ended up forgetting and having to re-learn again further down the line.  F-R-U-S-T-R-A-T-I-N-G!  Please note, it really does speed up the learning process if you make the effort to record notes and review them before each session (or at least until you know the stages thoroughly).
      • Editing - Apply the same 'write it down' approach when it comes to editing in Lightroom / Photoshop (or any other editing programme you may be using).  This will help you build up a 'consistent' editing process to apply to ALL your images with only a few minor tweaks and adjustments.  Alongside a good use of light, consistent shooting and editing are also key foundational stones upon which to build your artistic style.  
        If you are unsure where to begin editing in Lightroom, why not check out a few presets from different sets and apply them to your work.  Not all presets will suit your photography, but make a note of those that do.  Next narrow down your favourites until you discover your ONE absolute favourite.  Take a note of the settings and tweak them as required to suit your vision, then adopt the tweaked preset and apply it to all your photographs.  "Ola!" you have created an editing method that is unique to YOU.  In the same way, you can apply this method in Photoshop using actions if this is your preferred landing platform.  Alternatively, book yourself onto an editing workshop and learn from a skilled tutor who will teach you editing skills and tips in much greater depth and detail.

        Sol 45


        BUILDING BLOCKS

        Building blocks help to strengthen your artistic voice. 
        • Choose which type/s of light you prefer to work with.  Many photographers choose natural light, whilst others prefer using OCF, or some other form of controlled lighting, e.g. soft box.  I have a friend who likes to shoot in back light a majority of the time, plus she includes sun bursts in her images - something which has become a very strong part of her photographic style.  I personally enjoy working in natural low light using side and back light for the majority of my images.  I also use dappled lighting on occasion. 
        • Composition - Perhaps you enjoy shooting your subject/s placed along the top left or right rule of thirds, or the golden triangle, etc.  Your choice of composition is likewise something you can build into your work.  
        • Time of day - Some photographers prefer certain times of the day to capture their images, e.g. early morning, late afternoon, 'golden hour,' etc.  
        • Weather elements - Perhaps you are drawn to certain weather conditions, e.g. fog, mist, sunshine, overcast, etc.  Shooting in certain weather conditions may also become an important part of your creative style.  A good example of this is Meg Loeks.  Meg incorporates the weather elements such as mist into her images and she does so really beautifully.  You can check out her work here: Meg Loeks Instagram.  Also, incorporating dramatic skies into your work can likewise become a specific feature in your work.  For an excellent example of such, please visit Jillian Baudry's website: Jillian Baudry.
              • Depth of field - The DOF you choose may also be something that becomes a part of your style, e.g. do you prefer a wide open aperture resulting in a shallow depth of field?  Or do you prefer a closed down aperture providing a sharper image front to back?
              • Lens choice may also play a big part in defining your style.  Some photographers use wide-angled lenses across the majority of their work.  Others like to use a mix of traditional and unconventional lenses such as Lensababy lenses which help to achieve certain artistic effects as opposed to 'normal' lenses.  Janet Broughton from Definitely Dreaming uses a mixture of both conventional and unconventional lenses to create her very own distinctive and beautiful artistic images.
              Nikon 50mm f1.4

              • Ask yourself questions, e.g. "What do I want to achieve with this image; what type of lighting should I look for; do I need to move into the shade away from direct sunlight; what lens should I choose; what DOF should I use, e.g. narrow or wide; what angle will look best; do I need to perfectly expose, under-expose or over-expose to achieve my vision, etc?"  
              • Talk yourself through new procedures.  I talk myself through new procedures while I'm out shooting (provided there's no-one around that is).  Ha ha, could get locked up for talking to myself in the middle of no-where!!!  I find verbalising things helps forge new teachings in my mind making me more likely to remember things next time around.  I still refer to my notebook when I cannot remember something however, and always carry it around with me.  I never totally rely on remembering new skills off the top of my head - are you kiddin' me - there's so much to remember when it comes to photography at the best of times. 
              COHESIVE: 
              When the parts of a work fit 
              together well and form a united whole

              • Overall cohesiveness (start to finish).  Once you find what works for you, be consistent.  There is nothing worse than viewing a photographer's website━especially a working photographer━and their shooting and post processing looks different from one session to the next - it really doesn't look professional!  Sure you will find photographer's who shoot both light and darker themed images, but because they use similar steps across their work, a strong thread remains running throughout their images that links them as belonging to that particular photographer.  To view an excellent example of this kind of consistency, please check out Nadeen Flynn Photography 
                • Textures, overlays and painterly effects.  Once you become more confident you may wish to experiment with textures, overlays or painterly effects.  This too may become part of your regular editing routine or perhaps a completely separate style of art you produce.  Remember, if it looks different to your usual style, have a completely separate platform from which to display it from - more so if you are a working pro, after all you don't want potential clients wondering what style of images they will end up with if they were considering booking a session with you!
                Nikon 50mm f1.4 / macro extension tubes

                ADDITIONAL TIPS TO HELP YOU PROGRESS

                Photography Genres

                • Make considered choices.  There are so many photography genres, e.g. macro, landscape, still life, whimsical, babies, seniors, couples, wedding, etc., to name but a few.  Such a vast range of options can appear overwhelming to a new photographer, and what one person chooses to study, may not be right for you.  I started off learning portraiture.  I practised babies, children and family portraiture, but soon discovered I wasn't keen on babies portraiture; I found working on my own made it a real struggle and not at all enjoyable.  Just because you like portraiture doesn't mean you have to like ALL types of portraiture.  Choose what's right for YOU and don't give in to the pressure of friends, family, etc.

                Workshops and tutorials

                • Taking too many workshops and classes can be bad for your photography.  I see lots of photographers who go from one workshop to the next leaving themselves disappointed as to why their photography has not improved as much as they had hoped given how much money they have spent and how many courses they have taken!  The problem is not that of the workshops—far from it—but rather, these students have not given themselves enough time and patience to remember and practise what they have learnt from their current course before diving headlong into another!  It's like good food.  Taken in moderation and your body will function at it's peak, but stuff it with too much food—yes, even good food—and you will start to see all sorts of  problems appearing.  Moderation is key.  Slow down and give yourself enough time between workshops, tutorials, etc., to digest the information and practice what you learn thoroughly before cramming any more.  Most good workshops and classes will be around in the next 6 months / year, etc (unless otherwise stated) so what's the hurry?
                Also:
                • Narrow down your options to those that will have more of an impact on YOUR photography, e.g. if you are just starting out, consider courses which teach about: (1) lighting,  (2) camera settings, (3) composition, and (4) editing.  Then, no matter what genre(s) you choose to specialise in thereafter, having these skills will provide you with an excellent set of foundational tools going forward.
                • Be mindful!  When it comes to workshops and tutorials, don't waste time on subjects that are not relevant to your chosen genre/s no matter how well presented and attractive they may appear online, etc.  Workshops can be very expensive and so you may want to be careful and think about opting for courses that will compliment and strengthen your existing skills, e.g. a wedding photographer may consider learning macro photography and OCF, etc to add to their existing skills.
                Nikon 50mm f1.4 and macro extension tubes

                Photography equipment, software, etc

                Do your homework and find out about all the various lens options, cameras, tripods, etc., first and then you can make much better and informed purchases when necessary.  If tempted by the latest equipment, editing software, or app, etc., ask yourself the following questions:  "Do I really need this?" and "How will this benefit my photography?"
                  When I first started out, I wanted all the latest photography equipment somehow believing it would help me become a better photographer.

                  "A camera didn't make a great picture
                  any more than a typewriter wrote a great novel."
                  -- Peter Adams --

                  What I didn't realise back in the beginning is that it's not the equipment that makes the photographer, but rather the other way around.
                  • Learn how to use your current photography equipment inside and out.  Most of my best images were captured using my least expensive equipment!  You can check this out on my blog.  You will find a list of the equipment I have used under 'Labels' down the left hand side, as well as along the bottom of each post.  However, please don't misunderstand me - I'm not saying expensive equipment should be avoided—far from it—but rather learn to use what you currently have to the best of your ability and then, if you feel the need to upgrade you will be less likely to waste money on something that you won't take full advantage of.  Seriously, if you don't take the time to get to know your current gear and its full potential, what makes you think more expensive versions will make you a better photographer? 
                  What's in my 'regular' bag?  A 12 year-old camera (Nikon D700); 14 year-old camera (Nikon D200); a few choice lenses including the Nikon 50mm f1.4, macro extension tubes; the Velvet 56, plus a Vanguard tripod.  Both my cameras were bought second-hand from Amazon at a fraction of the cost of much newer models.  At the moment, I don't feel the need to upgrade other than for the fact that I'd love a lighter camera, but I'm making do for now.  

                  -- Nikon 50mm f1.4 --
                  Finally.... 

                  "You don't just wake up and become 
                  butterfly. Growth is a process."
                  -- Unknown --

                  • Keep on keeping on.  Sooner or later your own unique style will begin to shine throughIt's not going to happen overnight, but with practice and patience, it will happen.    

                  Disclaimer: Permission is granted to convert this post to .pdf  format for personal use only.  This post is © Wendy May Photography and permission is not granted to post elsewhere online or use for personal gain.  

                  Comments

                  Nadeen said…
                  Thank you so much for the shout out, Wendy! You have a lovely voice in your work! I’m always inspired by it.
                  Wendy said…
                  That is so kind of you to say Nadeen and such an encouragement. Thank you :)
                  eph2810 said…
                  Some great tips, Wendy. I agree, Nadeen has indeed a very distinct voice, and do you.
                  Wendy said…
                  Iris, this very kind of you to say.xx Thank you.
                  Jillian said…
                  Such a wonderful article Wendy and thank you so very much for the mention! :-)
                  Wendy said…
                  You are more than welcome Jillian.... who better than yourself? :)
                  Sarah K said…
                  Lovely! Great tips as well. Thank you.
                  wendy said…
                  Thank you Sarah.
                  Anne said…
                  Wow! Great tips. Thanks for sharing.
                  Wendy said…
                  Thank you Anne. Glad to help.
                  Anonymous said…
                  This is great.Its so organised and clear to read and understand.Thank you! bookmarked this.
                  Wendy said…
                  Thank you Anon.
                  Becky said…
                  This is a great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
                  Wendy said…
                  Thanks so much Becky!