We all start somewhere in photography. I would venture to think that collectively we picked up our cameras and began to photograph because of the love, thrill or passion we developed for our creative process that just happened to be called photography.
40 years later I’m still in love with the process. Photographing and creating beautiful imagery is emblazoned in the fabric of who I am. I’ve been photographing for so long that I can walk into any scene and immediately know what I want my camera to produce for me, why, and what settings (in Manual) I need to use to get the results I want. That is now…but way back when, my biggest struggle was creating a photographic style for myself, as most, if not all photographers struggle with. It can be a challenge, for sure!
So, just what is “photographic style,” and how does one create their own photographic style without simply falling for the latest photographic trend, or without recreating the style of another photographer, or worse yet, copying their exact shots AND style? This pseudo-emulation happens all the time and is very sad to me, because inside all floundering photographers are creative people REALLY longing to create!
I define photography much as its Greek origin: “drawing with light.” In the beginning (and even now), early photographers tried to emulate artists who drew and painted. In fact, the word Photography was coined (c. 1834) and used by French artist Hercules Florence who described his art process as photographie – meaning to draw with light – same thing then as now! The process of photography has not changed, it is the styles of photographers that have propelled the art forward. So then, much like artists who draw or paint and develop their own style, we must work to do the same within our photographic art.
I’m going to share some tips that may not be easy to read though do work well; you are going to have to trust me on this! I promise, if you consider my experience and thoughts on this subject then integrate them into your own process of photographing, it will help you to create a style, success in your art and will allow you to build upon that success for years to come.
1. DON’T COMPARE YOUR WORK WITH OTHERS
This will kill your enthusiasm, your drive, your spirit and your ability to create art and your own style faster than your shutter clicks! If you waste your time looking for your inspiration (or happiness, as Dorothy did!) outside of yourself and in other people’s work (or backyards) you are never going to find it.
Comparing yourself and your work to others is a total Ego-based way of thinking and in my estimation, this is probably the most dangerous and damaging thing you could ever do to yourself. Emotionally it can leave you confused about your abilities, induce jealousy and bitterness (why-not-me thinking) and cause you to compromise your ethics. Essentially comparison can make you absolutely CRAZY! So, stop the stalking of another photographer’s blog or Facebook page, stop the “I wish” thinking and pay attention to how icky comparing yourself to others makes you feel.
Instead, look in your own backyard and get out to photograph frequently so you can get your own creativity on!
2. DON’T COPY ANYONE’S SHOT OR STYLE, PERIOD
This is the second most damaging thing you could do because it will ruin your reputation! Why would you do that anyway? If you copy, someone else’s ideas, shots or style it doesn’t come from your gut, your heart or soul – it’s soulless and senseless, and lets face it, it’s rude and downright unethical. Why waste your time and energy and block your ability to get your own creative juices flowing by keeping yourself stuck in the energy of copying? That is beneath you AND your abilities.
3. DON’T JUSTIFY POOR TECHNIQUE AS “STYLE”
You’ve got that fancy camera and you use those fancy-schmancy post-processing trends because you think they look cool, but they are “trends,” nothing more. Allow me to remind you how fast selective coloring went out of style!! Now, I know you know what I’m talking about. My motto is “Just because it can be done doesn’t mean it SHOULD be done.” Every now and then is fine, but filters and over processing does not constitute a “style,” unless it’s a bad one, of course.
Learn photographic concepts; they have been around for a very long time for a reason. If you don’t know the concepts behind a balanced exposure and sound photographic processing, grab a book or take a workshop from the people who are doing photography well (like me!) and learn from them. Don’t copy them, learn the how and why and then integrate that information in your own way; it’ll do your reputation and your art GOOD. Take your time; there’s no rush to find your photographic style. Give yourself time and space, mentally and visually and THEN create the stellar image you want both in camera and in post-processing.
4. BE TRUE ENOUGH TO YOURSELF TO ASK YOURSELF THE QUESTIONS THAT MATTER
Like, “What makes me happy when I photograph?” “What inspires me to photograph?” “What about my work appeals most to me?” “What’s my plan to improve my photographic technique and stye?” “What do I want to do with my photography?” “Do I have the equipment I need to get the job done?” …or more importantly, “Do I have back-up equipment to get the job done?” There are many questions that are important for you to ask yourself, believe me. Some are hard to ask and answer, but be honest with yourself, it’s the best thing you can do for yourself.
Photography has always been a wonderful creative outlet for hobbyists, enthusiasts, beginners, amateurs, pro-sumers, and professionals. Some can make it pay off, others don’t care to. Professional photographers make at least 50 to 100% of their living with their photography, whether that is through photographing events, being a photojournalist, having commercial clients or through their art. If you want to to be a professional photographer then be sure to pack your ethics and respect for your fellow photographers along with your prime lenses and camera. And learn how to price your providing photography and your photographs! Don’t know where to start? Again, BUILD A RELATIONSHIP WITH a professional photographer and then ask them to advise you. But don’t just barge in and ask to suck information out of their brains – have a little respect!
5. LAST THINGS TO CONSIDER
Photograph, photograph, and photograph some more. Read, learn, experiment, BE YOURSELF, be true to yourself, don’t get caught up in ego battles, copying, or looking outside of your own heart for the answers you are seeking when it comes to developing your own style. It’s in there, you simply have to practice bringing it out. You’ll know you’ve acquired it when you FEEL it and see it, and the best part, it’ll be yours, no one else’s. It will be filled with your energy, joy and heart, and best of all, you will own it, nurture and continue to develop it. It’s a beautiful process that can be “birthed” healthily if you approach it healthily.
Namaste, Joanne Bartone Photographer