Finding your personal photography style can be a somewhat daunting task. Especially when you are just starting out in your photography career.
You have to deal with decisions like what genre to specialise in, or what gear brand to invest in but also what you want to be known for and what type of photographs you want to create.
Let me assure you that this is also a problem some of the veterans face from time to time.
Do you know why? Because we are human, and our likes, dislike, attitudes, and mindset change over time. And this change is normal, perfectly natural and part of the creative process.
You might think that if you have a good thing going in terms of an established photo style it is not prudent to rock the boat. But sometimes, not listening to that inner voice can have negative effects in terms of creating work that you are really proud of!
So regardless of where you are in your photographic journey, there are a few things you can do to find and/or refine your style and your creative voice – be it in terms of photographing or editing your photos.
One thing I want you to keep in mind as you are going through this process is that less is often more than enough. So do not feel like you need hundreds of images to begin to define your photography style and create a successful collection of photographs!
Here are 5 tips to get you started on finding or defining your photography style.
5. Determine Your Goals and Your Motivation
The first thing to understand when defining your photography style is to ask yourself what you are looking to accomplish with your photography.
Are you looking to photograph for leisure or pleasure? Is your plan to sell your work in print or for stock photography? Do you want to use your images for your portfolio to attract a certain type of clients? Do you want to create catalog work or new and unique work with every client?
The reason why I want you to honestly answer these questions is because each of these questions will lead you down a different path to a photography style.
There are many different photography styles and there are many different types of clients for each genre. It’s typically best to start the process of defining your style by focusing on one collection of work at a time. Set your goals on what you want to accomplish for each individual series of work.
For me, I want to create images that really reflect the personality of my clients – the people they are and not the people I want them to be. This philosophy is reflected in the way I interact with my clients when I photograph them.
My images are not overly posed, there is movement and flow. They have a very natural overall feel.
For example, the couple in the wedding below are a fun loving bunch with a great set of friends they share lots of laughs and joy with on a daily basis. They wanted me to focus on the emotions and relationships rather than details of the ceremony.
Most of their wedding photos were candid and in the moment. This goofy wedding party photo was one of their favourites.
4. Seek Inspiration to Define Your Photography Style
Research, research, research. In other words, look around you to see what everyone else is doing and creating. It is very important to be aware of what other photographers are creating in your industry to understand general trends.
This does not mean copying or following what everyone else is doing. But educate yourself on different photography styles and what all is out there in the market space.
As a beginner photographer it is very tempting to just copy the work of someone who is reputed and well established. After all they have achieved fame and success so why shouldn’t you if you follow their exact formula, right?
If you are walking down that path, I really urge you not to go any further. When you are defining a unique photography style for yourself, you can certainly use their work for inspiration, but do make your images different. That way they speak to you and your own personal aesthetic sensibilities.
Your photographs are a visual representation of you and your brand. Try to think of ways to be true to yourself while still adding a unique edge to your work. This will make you a stronger and more successful photographer in the long run. Trust me, that is what matters the most.
You can use visual tools like Pinterest and fill it with images that represent the look and feel you are trying to achieve – not just with photography styles but also editing styles.
This is one of my favourite go-to poses. It was an inspiration from a magazine. It has been used many times over but is still a favourite for both my clients and myself. By adding a little negative space, I add my own photography style spin.
You can also look for photography inspiration in non photographic arenas. I love going to museums and studying paintings of people. Another favourite is old black and white Hollywood movies. There is so much posing and style tips one can pick up from a good, well made movie.
3. Be Your Own Critic
This may be the most difficult thing to wrap your head around, but it will definitely help you in the long run. Take a step back and really analyse your work.
Pick 10-20 of your favourite images that speak to what you want to focus on (your goals as discussed in #1). Then really ask yourself what is it about these photography styles that you like or dislike.
Analyse these images in terms of emotions, tone and mood, and even how they look from a distance as well as from up close.
The idea is that you want to bring yourself to a point where you feel you can recognise your photography style from wherever you look. Look for similarities in subject matter, composition, depth of field, lenses, tones, colours, and any unique patterns your eye may catch.
Do you find yourself preferring one subject matter over another? Do you like candid frames or posed images? No matter which genre of photography you are pursuing, you are still the artist behind the camera and you are creating these images.
I love photographing on clear bright sunny days as it really helps me photograph with intention and keep my photography style in mind. I always look at past and present work to see if my photography style and have changed over the years and why.
If you are just starting out in your photography journey and are not quite comfortable in critiquing your own work, share it with a friend or a fellow photographer and ask them to give you feedback.
Bonus points if you choose someone who knows you and your personality well enough to judge if your work matches who you are as a creative and an artist.
2. Define Your Rules of Engagement
This process is important because it will really help you set guidelines for yourself so you can start to be consciously consistent. Note what makes all of the images unique to your brand and your style of photography, and how you are going to make them better.
Maybe even print out your favourite images. This way, you can compare and contrast any new work you produce to fit within the framework of your photography style.
For example, my work is very light, bright and airy. That is how I like my images. My personal aesthetics match my brand almost to the T. I am naturally drawn to clean colours and bright sunny days. I constantly compare new work to see if it fits within that style.
In order for me to photograph in that style, I need a few things to be aligned – bright sun, pastel toned elements, and scenes that are less busy. This is not to say that I will not photograph dramatic skies or colourful market scenes. My eyes naturally gravitate towards more earthy, neural tones.
This is just one of the rules I have given myself permission to maintain in order to stay true to my photography style.
You will notice that as you define and refine your photography style, everyday scenes that reflect your style will become more obvious as you go about your day. I happened to come across this scene on a walk along a suburb of Zurich.
The bike and the house with the white and blue were totally on point with my brand. And the overcast skies was just icing on the cake!
I love using social media (particularly Instagram) to showcase my photography style and my brand. It is a very curated look at how I photograph, what colours I gravitate towards, and how my images look and feel.
Instagram is also a way to attract potential customers. I view this platform as an extension of my portfolio.
1. Make Mistakes Intentionally
After all the hard work you have put into defining your photography style, I am going to do a complete 180 and tell you to go ahead and break some of those rules and make mistakes. Why? Because that is the best way to learn what to do and what not to do.
By experimenting and trying out new things, you might find inspiration for a new photography genre of work. Like I said earlier in the article, your photographic style does not have to stay consistent for the rest of your life.
If something else really motivates you and gets your creative juices flowing in spite of having a set photography styles, go ahead and experiment. See where that leads you, based on your why and your goals.
One accidental shutter click or new editing technique can often spark something new that’ll make your work better. Or it can lead you into an entirely new collection of work.
Diversification in work and styles always makes us better creators and artists. And sometimes it also leads to new avenues of revenue generation.
Every once in awhile I find myself walking over to the dark side and I quite like that creative freedom. A photo shoot where the light and shadows were so extreme opened my eyes to the possibilities of dark and moody images.
I love giving myself the freedom to experiment with this style.
I hope these simple yet powerful steps help direct you towards finding and experimenting with photography styles.
Keep trying and you’ll soon find something that is a reflection of you, your mindset, your personality and your brand.