How to develop photographic style
Style is something that develops over time. It cannot be forced and it is often unknown to you until it starts to show itself.
Once you’ve mastered your camera, learned about exposure and composition and can take the photograph that you see in your mind’s eye, your style will start to emerge. Over time you will develop your style by doing what you think looks good, shooting what you like, where you like and how you like. Then one day you will stand back and look at your body of work and realise that you can see yourself in the photographs you’ve created.
Because I don’t like spending a great deal of time working an image on the computer after I have shot it, I make sure that I do whatever I can while I’m shooting to achieve my end result. There is nothing wrong with Photoshopping an image, but it is not my preferred way of spending time. I would rather be out there taking photos. I put it down to the fact that when I started photography, digital wasn’t even on the horizon. Starting in film had a major impact on my style.
Further reading: The great big camera debate and why it doesn’t matter
Every digital photograph needs something doing to it, just as every film photograph had to be processed in a darkroom. So, I alter contrast, lighten shadows, darken highlights, fix blemishes and warm up cooler tones. Sometimes I’ll play with split toning. I might occasionally darken a too light sky, adjust luminance, do some split toning, but aside from that I don’t do much at all.
Case study: Me
How my photographic style reflects me
I’m quite practical, I don’t fuss about things. I like accessorising my outfits when dressing up, but most of the time I’m in a t-shirt and jeans. I appreciate honesty and speak quite directly. I’d rather go without than have something that is not exactly what I want. I will stop in my tracks when I see something beautiful, especially beautiful design. I love simple, elegant beauty – be it a building, nature, jewellery, a person or a car. I’m all about the light. If the light isn’t right, the photograph will never be exactly what I wanted, so I’d rather not try to make it right in Photoshop.
My boudoir photography style
It appears natural and, according to my clients, “effortless”. I describe it as being like a lazy Sunday morning, because I think that a slightly tousled-just-woken-up look is sexy. (Side note: it is anything but effortless, proving that whoever said the camera doesn’t lie, had no idea what they were talking about).
My family photography style
Family – the relationships, the connection, the belonging – is the most important thing in my world. After losing my mom to cancer I closed my studio and completely changed the way I was photographing families. Shooting on location shows relationships and creates memories way more than any studio shoot could.
I focus on capturing emotion and how a family works together. All the crazy that makes that family a family. Posed family photographs do nothing for me, so I don’t shoot obviously posed groups anymore. I’ll direct the family into a loose arrangement, but then let them go to be themselves, and that is when I start shooting.
I’m a planner and a perfectionist (to the appoint that I annoy even myself), so my shoots are very planned. I choose locations carefully and determine the time of the shoot based on the direction of light. I figure out all the best areas for my subjects ahead of time, decide where I should be and figure out the angles to shoot from.
However, once I lift up my camera I just go with the flow, knowing that I’ve set it up as best I can. I concentrate on what really matters – capturing family connection.
I value real people, honest connections and love minimalism. Regardless of the genre I shoot, it shows in my photography.
How to find your style
While you’re developing your style you’ll find many photographers whose work you love. You might get ideas from them and try to replicate their look. You might stumble across a photographer whose completely different style grabs you just as much. Try to replicate what they do, just to figure it out, not to be the same. Over time, dropping some elements of style and adding new elements to your photography, you will start to develop a photographic style that feels like you.
How you shoot then becomes effortless, because you’re doing you. You don’t need to think so much when you’re not being somebody else. This development takes time and that’s okay. While you’re exploring style you will be learning.
Actually, with photography you never stop learning and evolving. Ever. What is your photographic style now, could be, at first glance, completely different in ten years. However, your photographic journey – the ideas and techniques you picked up along the way – will be there in your photographic style.
You don’t have to shoot it just because you like it
Sometimes we appreciate something purely because it is not what we would normally do.
That’s the thing about style – you can like something, but not adopt it for yourself. Because I enjoy sleek design, my home is quite minimalist in style, but I love the farmhouse kitchen look too. However, no matter how much I love that look, I could never have that kitchen, because it just wouldn’t work for me. I like everything uncluttered and put away.
Some boudoir photographers shoot in a highly stylised, richly coloured, heavily textured and finely Photoshopped style. It’s not me and not what I would feel comfortable shooting, but I like their work.
Questions to ask yourself
Can you see yourself and your values in your photography yet? If you think of the photographers you admire, can you pinpoint what it is you like? These are important questions to think about when developing your style, because they’ll give you insight into your future photographic style. The answers will give you direction to actively develop your style.
Photography trends and your style
Don’t worry about the latest hot trend. It will pass. Definitely have a play with the technique. It is good to stretch yourself and keep learning. To develop photographic style you need to experiment, but don’t feel the need to shoot, or indeed edit, that way just because everybody else is.
Be effortlessly original
Developing a style in photography is the same as developing personal style with what you wear, your haircut, the car you drive, how you decorate your home. Have a look around, try things out and then do you.
Doing everybody else is hard work. Doing you is effortless.
BE THE BOSS OF YOUR CAMERA
Everyone can take great photos. Just start with the basics and build from there. We’ll show you.
It helps to know others are in the same boat. If you’re not sure of your photographic style yet or are excited about seeing your style emerge, please share with us in the comments.
Maybe you’ve seen a photographic style that you like and want to tell us about – share in the comments below. It is always fun talking about photos!