Finding your own unique photography style

-- Nikon 50mm f1.4 --

[10 minute read]

Finding my own photographic style and voice is something I have REALLY struggled with over the years.

Below are some tips I've gathered during this time which combined have really helped me come a whole lot closer to my artistic vision as a photographer.  It is my hope that this will prove helpful to anyone else struggling to find their way also.
  • Study your favourite photographers' images and try and work out what time of day they have chosen, what type of lighting / shadow techniques, etc they have used and have a go at re-creating the image yourself.  You may not achieve the exact same results, but you may surprise yourself by creating something beautiful which has YOUR VERY OWN STAMP ON IT instead! 
  • Make notes re: lighting conditions, camera settings, time of day, lens used, etc., when an image 'works out well'.  So often, I have 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 know, it really does speed up the learning process if you make the effort to record notes and review them before each session.
  • 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.  Consistent shooting and editing REALLY strengthens your photographic style and makes your work recognisable to anyone viewing it as belonging to YOU.  
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 to your preferred taste, 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.

-- Sol 45 --
  • Composition - Perhaps you enjoy shooting your subject/s by placing them central in the frame, 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 signature style.  
  • Lighting - Some photographers choose to work with 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 signature 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.  
  • Time of day - Some photographers prefer certain times during the day to capture their images, e.g. early morning, late afternoon, 'golden hour,' etc.  I find early morning plus the hour before sunset work best for me and gives me the nice soft light and shadows which works well with still life and nature photography.
  • 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 into her images really beautifully.  You can check out Meg's work here: Meg Loeks Instagram.  Also, incorporating dramatic skies into your work can likewise become a feature of your work.  For an excellent example of such, please visit Jillian Baudry's website: Jillian Baudry.
  • Depth of field - The depth of field you choose can also be something that becomes a part of your signature style, e.g. do you prefer a wide open aperture and shallow depth of field?  Or do you prefer a closed down aperture and sharper image all over?
  • Lens choice can also play a big part in defining your visual voice, e.g. unconventional lenses such as Lensababy or old Russian style lenses can help you achieve certain artistic effects as opposed to 'normal' lenses.  An excellent website to view unconventional lenses is that of Janet Broughton from Definitely Dreaming.
  • Ask yourself questions, e.g. "What do I want to achieve with this image?"  This in turn leads to:  "What type of lighting should I look for; do I need to move into the shade away from direct sunlight; what lens do I need to achieve my vision; what DOF should I use (narrow or wide); what angle will look best; do I need to perfectly expose, under expose or over expose to achieve my aim, 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. 
  • Overall consistency (beginning to end) - Once you find what works for you regarding all of the aforementioned - be consistent.  Don't jump all over the place when it comes to shooting conditions and your editing process.  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 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, there remains a strong thread running throughout their images that defines them as belonging to that particular photographer.  To view an excellent example of what I mean, please check out Nadeen Flynn Photography 
  • Textures, overlays and painterly effects - Once you become a bit more confident re: shooting and editing, you may also want to be a bit more adventurous and add textures, overlays or painterly effects to your images which may also become a part of your regular editing routine or a completely separate style of art you produce.  Remember, if it looks a good bit different to your 'usual style', have a completely separate platform to display it from.  
-- Nikon 50mm f1.4 / macro extension tubes --
Click on the image to view in larger format / detail

Workshops, tutorials, and photographic genres

  • Refine your choices.  There are so many photography genres, e.g. macro, landscape, still life, whimsical, babies, seniors, etc., to name but a few.  Such a vast range of options can appear really overwhelming to a new photographer, and what one person chooses to study, may not be right for you!  My advice is to 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 re: (1) camera settings, (2) lighting, (3) composition, and (4) editing - these are all foundational and no matter what genre(s) you choose to specialise in thereafter, having these skills will provide you with an excellent foundation going forward.
  • Be selective.  When it comes to workshops and tutorials, don't waste time on subjects that are not relevant to your particular photography genre(s) no matter how well presented and attractive they may appear online, etc.  Workshops can be very expensive and unless money is no option, you will want to be careful and choose courses that will compliment your existing skills.  The same goes with photography equipment and software.  Do your homework and find out about 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?"  
I wasted so much money and precious time in the first few years of my photography journey purchasing courses and equipment that are of absolutely no relevance whatsoever to the photography genres I now practise!  I was attracted by beautifully presented classes plus a need to have the latest equipment which I believed would result in better images.

"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! 

Lastly.... 

    My final piece of advise is simply this, enjoy the journey and everything photography has to offer.  Photography has provided me the opportunity to make friends with some of the most amazing people from all around the world, and I hope your experience will be a good one too.  

    Keep on keeping on.... keep on learning subjects relevant for you, keep on putting the effort in, and sooner or later your own personal photographic style will begin to shine through.  



    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.