What exactly does it mean to find your photography style? How does one even find a photography style? Perhaps an acid trip in the desert? While this mind altering experience may open your minds eye, it’s probably not the best plan to find your true style. You need to think more about your aesthetic and what you like about photography more generally. What photographers do you admire? What about their pictures do you like? Do you prefer the high-key whimsical look? Are you really into black & white? These are the types of questions you will undoubtedly need to search your soul for! Once you know what you like you need to figure out how to create your very best version of this vision. Repeating this process over and over again will make you a very skilled photographer. As you try new techniques you will discover new ways to create your version of art and this is why practice is paramount.
In fact it’s really our experience with photography that defines our style more than anything else. Learning camera settings, using different equipment, trying new compositions, posing techniques, different lighting schemes and choosing our post producing methods all influence the outcome of our images. With so many variables in the mix, photography is a true art form that requires significant skills to achieve outstanding results with regularity. It’s just not as simple as having a good camera, plenty of family members that are attending the weddings we photograph have good prosumer cameras. Yet they hired us. Why? Because as professionals we have defined a consistent style through the experience and time we’ve invested into photography. Not only must we talk the talk, we must be able to recreate these results over and over in any situation to ensure the happiest of clients!
Tons of practice and effort is put into becoming a professional at anything. Some top performers are just born with traits that are beneficial to their specific craft, which makes it easier for them to naturally excel. While others may come from a family heritage and their skills were bestowed upon them through everyday teachings growing up. Or perhaps like me (Mathew) you had no idea you were into photography until the day it accidentally happened to fall into your lap. Whatever the case may be you have the passion and desire to create. Fantastic we applaud your enthusiasm! In this article we’ll cover the four pillars of success in defining your style. Mastery in any art in never truly attained, however obtaining strong skills in these areas can turn you into the photographer you aim to be. With enough time devoted to these subjects incredible results can not only be obtained, but repeated with regularity.
Our first pillar of success is obtaining a strong knowledge of camera settings and knowing it inside and out. Lots of great books on this subject exist, however for us “Understanding Exposure” by Bryan Peterson, was a pivotal learning aid. Being well practiced and familiar with your camera settings must become second nature. Once these settings become ingrained into the photographer, the photographer is free to truly create and it makes all the difference to the final outcome. It’s very difficult to focus on creating the image in your mind if you are caught up trying to figure out what settings are best for the current situation. You must invest part of yourself into your photographs and to do this you MUST get past the settings. Practice this art form a LOT and in every condition imaginable until using your camera becomes the same as breathing.
Ok, so you’ve focused on learning all the skills you need and have a strong camera knowledge. Congratulations! Mastering concepts like the exposure triangle, WB, focusing methods, etc are all major achievements on the road to defining a style. Once these skills are achieved no longer will the focus be to learn the settings, the energy must go into perspectives, angles, lighting, and all the other variables that create a strong and compelling compositions. As you traverse this puzzle of style definition you will undoubtedly land on practices that you visually enjoy the outcome for. More and more of these practices will follow as time goes on until you have your own custom skill set. Eureka! This is vital to defining your style and you are closer to creating imagery like you have never imagined. This is the second pillar to photography success and many professional artists attend universities to obtain the knowledge required to fully understand these concepts. Obviously we won’t be able to recommend a silver bullet to understanding these concept immediately. However, we do recommend reading as many books on compositions as you can get your hands on. Even today with solidified process we continue to read these type of books with great frequency. Everyone does things a little differently and learning from other photographers experiences can help you grow as a photographer too!
Some of us are naturally charismatic, while others are much more introverted. Whatever the case may be, becoming a professional portrait or wedding photographer will require that you interact with people in such a way that their true happiness can shine through. This is really trial and error for every photographer and we will each work with people differently. For us we tend to naturally build a rapport with our subjects and try to continually build confidence by complimenting often. We also try to smile wide for the entire session, as we find this is often reciprocated in a natural way. In addition we have developed a series of skits or situations our subjects can carry out to take their minds of the camera and capture true joy. While, posing people into exact positions isn’t our cup of tea, plenty of other photographers will direct their subjects into perfectly posed positions and that method also creates incredible results. Neither method is right or wrong. But with time every photographer finds a way to pull out the emotion they need in their photograph with the subject they are working with. This is the third pillar of style definition and for some the most difficult.
The final pillar is the post production process, this step can direct the outcome of the photo more than any other step! The post production process will constantly improve regardless of how much skill you have in post producing now. This is due to technology. When digital first came on the scene the darkroom was the photographer’s studio. Less than 15 years later you’d be hard pressed to find many photographers that still run darkrooms at all. Technology is constantly bringing us new ways to look at our pictures, edit our pictures and share our pictures. This is wonderful, but also means you must always be learning and never become to complacent! For us photographers the post production software selection process is pretty simple as only a two real competitors exist Lightroom and Photo-mechanic, with a vast majority of us using Lightroom. One might think this would make the post producing process the same with everyone using the same software. However, with literally millions of knob, dial and slider combinations in addition to plugins and presets the options are literally endless. While lots of preset systems exist to emulate old film looks or punchy landscapes the final decisions lies in the hands of the photographer.
Once you have a strong handle on camera settings, composition & lighting, posing and post production you’ll have all the building blocks required and a new style will be born. This road never truly ends, so keep tinkering with more equipment, new or old. Try other camera systems or different lenses at new focal lengths. Not only will this keep photography new and fresh it will create a symbiotic relationship between you and your camera that will allow you to focus on your subject. Having these skills will naturally make the photographer feel more comfortable in all shooting situations. This will undoubtedly put your subject at ease and can propel your photography to its peak, limited only by ones imagination! Continue this path, focusing on these pillars and your journey to photographic ecstasy is eminent!