“Good artists copy; great artists steal.” You’ve probably come across this quote a few times. It has been attributed to a long list of renowned artists including Igor Stravinsky, William Faulkner, and most commonly Pablo Picasso. Yet there’s no real evidence supporting any of these author claims. Turns out, the origin of the quote is as questionable as the statement itself. How would you feel if you found out that your idol, the one who made you made you fall in love with their art and whose photography website you visit every day, had simply been passing off other people’s pictures as their own? Probably not so good.
The fact that it’s wrong to steal someone else’s work is something we can probably all agree on. But the truth is, copying someone else’s pictures makes you just as bad of an artist. Photography is meant to be used to capture your own vision of the world, regardless of the genre you choose to specialize in. Using someone else’s vision, whether it is by replicating their compositions or emulating their personal style, completely defeats the purpose. In order to develop your work and grow as a professional, you must be able to capture images that truly represent you and your vision alone. That may sound all very well, but are you still wondering how to find your unique photography style? These 7 easy steps are the best way to start.
Let it find you
We live in an instant gratification society where patience is running thin, but there are still some things that simply can’t be rushed. For example, training for a marathon, growing an avocado tree from a seed, or finding your photography style. Trying to do any of these things too fast will most likely end in a disaster, varying from a dead plant to crushed dreams.
Before you focus on looking for a personal style, it’s important that you take the time to develop who you are as a photographer. Meaning, you should try different genres, techniques, and formats, in order to find the ones that better suit your aspirations. This will position you in a great starting point and allow you to find a photography style that you’ll be able to maintain for years to come. Settling on a style too early or rushing through the process will only limit your creativity and growth, rather than empower them.
Identify your inspiration and goals
Start by determining where you come from and where you want to get to. Browse the work of the photographers whose work you feel inspired by and see what elements they have in common. Try to find patterns that consistently appear across the images, other than the subjects themselves. The wider your search, the more insights you’ll be able to work with. This step will prove extremely helpful once you sit down to write your photography business plan.
Once you have acknowledged the type of elements and techniques that motivate you, see how many of them could be applied to your dream job. Don’t try to put them together as puzzle pieces in order to compose your ideal picture. Rather, think of the elements as independent concepts that your work could benefit from, even if it’s just by using them as a stepping stone on the path to a different idea.
Let your personality shine
Don’t try to be someone you’re not. While this might seem quote obvious, seeing as you’re trying to figure out how to find your photography style, it’s a very common mistake. In most cases, you might not even realize you have created a public facade in the first place. You’d be surprised to hear how easy it is to be influenced creative fads and online trends.
For example, your might feel like your photography style should include a moody look because it’s one of the hottest photography trends of 2019. Unless you feel this style truly represents your personal vision of the world, you might regret this choice after the trend fades in a couple of years. It’s important to focus on who you are and what you want to say, rather than who the current society tides would like you to become. This will allow you to develop your work comfortably and maintain it across your career.
Find a description
It should be possible to sum up your photography style in no more than three words. These can be almost anything, from the feelings it evokes to the tones you use. For example, you could go for “color, contrast, minimalist” or “bright, saturated, high-end“ Refrain from including subject types or specific concepts in this core description. The reason behind this is that these elements will be determined by the genre or type of story you’re shooting.
Try to keep this description as simple as possible. The easier it is to identify your photography style, the faster people will start recognizing it, even if your name is not attached to the image. This is the first step to making a name for yourself in the photography industry.
Set basic guidelines
When it comes to putting together a cohesive portfolio, consistency is key. Once you have defined the elements upon which your photography style will be built, you’ll be able to determine how to make sure they’re present on every picture you take. The most common guidelines include general composition rules, lighting, and color treatment, but you should find the ones that work best for you.
Eventually, these guidelines will come as second nature, which will strengthen your connection to your work and style. They’ll also come in handy when you work with a team, as you’ll be able to easily put your vision into words and reach the desired results with much less hassle.
Make sure it’s the right fit
Much like you’d do with a car you’re intending to buy, you’ll need to take your photography style for a spin before you decide to settle for it. Make sure you feel comfortable with the descriptions and guidelines you set for your work, and that the resulting images meet your expectations. Take your time with this experimentation period, and adapt any details that don’t feel completely right.
Remember that your personal style should be applicable to any subject or scene. You should put it to test in a wide range of settings to make sure you don’t run into creative blockers in later projects, no matter how unlikely they might seem now. As the saying goes: “Life works in mysterious ways,” and you should be ready for it.
Finding your photography style is a huge step in your creative and professional career, yet it’s only one step out of many more to come. Just because you have reached the point in the journey where you're comfortable enough to define who you are as a photographer, it doesn’t mean you should stop working to improve.
Keep on reading about the latest industry news and gear, sign up for online photography classes, and broaden your list of inspirational artists. Strive for improvement and growth, even if it means adapting your photography style along the way.
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