I have been thinking recently about what it means to have ‘your own photographic style’.  The concept is nothing new to me, but I have been coming across it more and more.  On the Royal Photographic Society in the section about distinctions, it says under FRPS: “An obvious personal style is expected at this stage.”   So what is a personal style and how do you go about developing it.

One of the things the most successful photographers have is that they have a consistent body of work – by this I mean it’s not about one single image.   Successful photographers have a style that is recognisable.  Let me give you some examples as to what I mean.  Let me pick three photographer’s whose work I admire.  Show me an image by Martin Bailey, Andy Marshall or even Rick Bradbury that I have never seen before and there is a high chance I will know it is by that particular photographer – why?  Because their work is distinctive and consistent.  Could I tell you exactly what it is that make an image distinctive of a particular photographer?  Maybe, maybe not.  It would be an oversimplification to say that Martin Bailey’s wildlife and landscape images have a very natural look to them, or that Andy Marshall’s architecture images are full of wonderful details or that Rick Bradbury’s portraits have deep shadows.  Often they do, but not always.  So what do these three photographers have in common?

Consistent Composition & Processing

It’s about how an image is composed, the way it is processed, the choice of crop and even about what they choose to leave out of the image.

From listening to Martin’s Podcasts, I know a little of how he processes his images.  I’ve never seen Andy process his images, nor Rick for that matter.  But from looking at the results I can tell that they each must have a consistent approach to how they approach post-production work.  It might be easier to use myself as an example:

I know I process my images in a particular way. I favour a slightly more contrasty style to that of some other photographers, I tend to ensure that images use the full gamut of brightnesses, I like to see colour with a bit of saturation to it and I am very careful about how a crop an image (both in camera and in post-production).  Does this mean all my images look the same? No.  Do I process every image exactly the same why? No.  But these are common themes to my processing – like the characteristic brush strokes of an artist.

Tightly Edited Portfolio

All three of the photographers I’ve mentioned take great care to make sure it’s only there best work that you get to see.  That’s a lesson to all of us.  Someone one said that you will be judged by the worst image in your portfolio.  Think about it – if you show a portfolio with 9 amazing images and one duff one.  It is the duff one that people will judge you on.  Effectively you are saying that you never took another image as good as the first nine – because if you had wouldn’t it be there instead of that 10th image?  Better to show just the nine.

Worth taking a look at the portfolios of the three photographers I mentioned and ask yourself how your portfolio measures up.   If necessary be brutal, remove the dross and just show the amazing images you have taken.  (And before anyone say it, I need to do a similar exercise on my images!)

Shoot what you love

Ok, professional photographers don’t always have the luxury of only shooting what they love.  You have to shoot what the client wants.  But regardless of that, when you are on your own, and developing your skills you can choose.  Shoot what you love shooting.  When you have a passion for a subject it will start to show in your work.  Because you love the subject you will want the images to be the best they can be.  You will naturally want to keep shooting your chosen subject not because you love photography but because you love the subject.  The more you shoot a particular subject the better you get at it, and your results become more and more consistent.  Being consistent in your approach is one of the key steps to developing a personal style.

Rick has a real passion for portraiture and is shows in his work.  Andy knows buildings from their foundations to finials and he delights in sharing this knowledge with others through his photographs.  Martin teaches and mentors photographers, but what makes him a good teacher is his endless enthusiasm not just for camera settings but the wildlife and landscapes he is capturing.

For me, I love travel photography and I love theatre photography and I like to think these two generes are the ones that produce my best work.

So what about you and I?

Don’t try to create a personal style, it will never come if you try to force it.  Instead, concentrate on the three things I have mentioned:

  • Consistent composition and processing;
  • Tightly edited portfolio
  • Shooting what you love

Over time you will develop your own style.  You will probably be the last person to notice when it is there.  That’s because you are too close to your own work.  You are more likely to notice when an image you are working on doesn’t fit with the rest of your portfolio.  If you are lucky someone will tell you that you have a specific style.   I remember the first time someone said to me that they could always tell when an image was one of mine.  That was the point when I knew I must have a personal style to my images… even if I was still struggling to see it.

Until next time, keep MAKING great images,

Ian.

PS.  If you want to check out the work of the three photographers I’ve mentioned in this blog post you can find their work here:

Martin Bailey : https://www.martinbaileyphotography.com/
Andy Marshall : http://www.andymarshall.co/index
Rick Bradbury :  http://www.rjbradbury.com/

PPS.  If you are wondering about the image.  No reason.  I didn’t have a particular image in mind for this blog post – but I knew I needed something that would catch the eye… something to make a bit of a splash.  It was taken in Madeira on New Year’s Eve.