The key word here is “personal.” I mean this in a broader sense than the images you create. The search and discovery of your style largely depends on where you are in your personal path in photography. Before you develop a style in your photographic work, you have to find it. I guess this sets up the question, just where are you?
I was shooting for a few years before I felt comfort enough with my skill level to start on the development of a style in my work. Over the years this style has changed, or, should I say, refined into something that reflects me not just as a photographer but also as a person.
The development of your style will have many influences along the path, and each should be integrated into who you are and will become as a photographer. Some of the influences will be positive and some negative but all will add to your growth and development, the key is to put it all in perspective. So, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of your style development.
You first have to take an honest look at where you are and decide when the time is right to package and unveil your style. Whether you know it or not, you have been developing your style all your life (if you don’t know it, you may not be ready). The style you put forth is not just about your photographs but how you view and approach what you shoot. Early on you decided what you like to shoot, whether it’s weddings, portraits, sports, food, lifestyle and so on. This is most likely when your style development started. Something sparked this at some point and probably came from a personal interest outside of photography.
A mentor once gave me some valuable advice after reviewing an early attempt I made at packaging my style. He said he saw passion in about half of the work; the rest was a betrayal to the subject and to me because my heart wasn’t in it. The statement he made was “shoot what you like, what you know about, what your passionate about.” It took some time for this to sink in, but eventually I realized what he was talking about. Technically, the work was great, but I missed the mark from an artistic standpoint. I took this advice and focused on my passion. This work a won awards and got the recognition that brought clients looking for that style.
The next step in the path will come from the market. As we all know, trends continually change in every genre of photography. This is not to say that you should follow every trend in your work, but you do need to be aware of what is happening in your chosen field. As you work on your development, take what you like from the hot trends and integrate it into your style, while staying true to your vision.
Taking lessons from the past (not just from the history of photography) is also a something to keep in mind. I personally like to look at the fine art masters from the early part of the twentieth century and do my best to understand and integrate this into my work. In short, take inspiration from what inspires you.
The last step or really an ongoing part of this is to develop the skills to produce the images that represent your style. It should become second nature to you. Once you start marketing this look and make the effort to be recognized for it, you need to be able to perform with out spending time searching for solutions to each challenge. The goal is to have clients come to you to get your look, a look they can’t get anywhere else.
The long and short of this is that a truly original style has to come from your heart. Many have come up with tricks and techniques that work well for them, but these don’t last. Gimmicks get watered down as the rest of the world adopts them and takes away the distinctiveness of the original. This approach requires you to constantly reinvent yourself rather than allowing you to grow as an artist.
As always I welcome your thoughts, comments and ideas.