I’ll admit in this age of the internet/flickr/twitter etc it is had to be create an original style, but I find the multitude of influences on tap allow you to refine how you take photos and eventually come up with an combination of influences that becomes your individual style.
If you have a flick through my recent work, or my stream on 500px you’d be hard pushed to find a recurring theme or style. As a photographer I’m definitely still in the phase of finding myself on the map of the millions of photographers out there. But that doesn’t worry me one single bit and it certainly shouldn’t worry you. Your style will come through consistent photo taking and challenging yourself to push the limits of your photography.
Look at any of your favourite contacts on Flickr, and I mean any of them, even the world famous photographers that you aspire to become one day. Once you’ve got to their photostream go all the way back to the beginning (Trey Ratcliff (aka Stuck in Customs), way back to the very first shot that they uploaded onto Flickr. I’ll be using Miss Anelia’s stream as an example to what I’m trying to get at here because it was her photostream that made me sit up and notice the transition in most photographers portfolios. If you take a look at Miss Aniela’s first photo taken way back in 2005 and in fact the next 5 or so pages of her photostream there is no distinct style or theme to the photos. You certainly wouldn’t guess this photo was by the same person that created this photo. The first five pages or so are snapshots (albeit nice ones) that everyone takes when they are on holiday and not really flexing any creative muscles. As we all do when we first get a camera you play around with it and don’t really come out with anything amazing, but with every photo you take you’re learning more about controlling light and the functions on your camera.
By page 24 or so you can begin to see the transition and comfort with the camera beginning to show, page 25 is where Miss Anelia’s photostream really start to gather momentum as the creative juices start to flow. To the left you can see the photo “reflection” which shows Natalie’s first venture into image cloning, albeit an unphotoshopped photo. You can almost see in her eye’s the light bulb going on, thinking this is something I could play around with. In fact her very next photo is entitled twin bed and show’s the start of how her photography was destined to progress.
It’s all about finding something that inspires you to take more photos. It’s easy for me to sit here and say it’ll come eventually, I’m blindly hoping I’ll stumble upon my passion even as I write this, but if you stick at it long enough a theme will begin to emerge in your work. Until then I’m quite happy trying out and mimicking styles I’ve found on the internet, that’s what brings out the best in any artist. By slowly combining all the styles you’ve seen and enjoyed you begin to pick and choose parts from every possible influence. By trying them out yourself you see what works and what doesn’t, it doesn’t mean any of these styles are wrong or right, you’re just flexing your creative muscles and trying methods you wouldn’t have even considered before.
Before you know it you’ll find something that really get’s your creative juices flowing and you should explore this fully before moving on to your next project. It may come out of nothing, something you thought was a throwaway image put up on Flickr suddenly garners lots of attention and leaves you scratching your head. Something you see as mundane and easy to do could be extremely impressive to a wider audience. Taking inspiration from the available mediums and general trial and error you start to formulate a unique style that you can call your own. I’ve flitted around a variety of influences myself, see this photo in which I’ve tried to mimic the style of isayx3, adding words to my photos and adding saturation and pop to the image. At the time I liked them, but now I look back and see them as unprofessional imitations, but I enjoyed them whilst I did them and learnt something from the experience. See jmavedillo for a photographer that took isayx3‘s style and used it to create his own unique version of it. It all comes from finding something you like/enjoy/admire that you can adapt into your own signature style.
Salina Maitreya (who’s blog is an excellent read if you get chance) is a big champion of having a succinct body of work that demonstrates your strengths as a photographer. By having a signature theme or style that runs through all your work will lend a degree of professionalism and allow a buyer to see exactly what they are likely to get should they hire you.
“With the vision and style and preferred subject matter decided, Look at the images you currently have in your portfolio and on your web site. In addition look at your files and see if any images there match your vision, and create a core body of work. Look at them all together as a whole group… do they say what you do? If you are an architecture photographer who likes shooting intimate spaces with natural light… does your portfolio represent that? Would someone looking at your book KNOW from looking at it that you are an intimate spaces architectural photographer who favors natural light?”
If you’re online portfolio is a mishmash of images with no concurrent theme (which I’ll openly admit mine is at the moment) that adds an extra hurdle in front of any prospective buyer. ”What will my photos look like at the end of this shoot?” By providing them with a vision whilst they are browsing your portfolio you’ve already answered that question before they even get in touch. Obviously there’s room to manouver to the client’s taste, but they’ll already have taken their style in their head and be placing it over their prospective images otherwise they wouldn’t have even got in touch with you. Of course, I’m not in that position yet as I am still finding the one thing that makes my photography stand out, The Purple Cow if you like, thanks Seth for that one. But I’m ok with that because I’m just starting out and I’m enjoying where the journey is taking me.
Coming back to the portfolio you chose to flick back to the beginning of (usually Flickr is the best place to look as there are many photos on there that a photographer wouldn’t put anywhere near their portfolio) look at the last few pages of their stream. This is usually where you can find a photographer in full control of their style and vision applying it to a variety of different genres. You can begin to see the distinct nature of their photography and you would very easily be able to pick out their photos in a lineup even if you can’t quite put your finger on what sets them apart. Another photographer to see a distinct journey is Rosie Hardy, her rise to fame has been published in numerous magazines, but her 365 project on Flickr is an extremely enjoyable ride. From images at the start that are experimental and perhaps a little dull, but all the while searching for a style or a voice. However once she finds it and starts running with it wholeheartedly, it’s amazing how quickly the quality of the images transforms.Hopefully this post will give you some hope if you’re yet to find your own voice amongst the millions of screaming photographers out there. There’s no need to panic, just keep taking photos and I can’t stress that enough. Keep pushing yourself and keep challenging your normal photographic habits, because once you find your voice there’s no end to where it can take you. Please feel free to leave comments about your own creative struggles, I’d love to hear from some fellow photographers but for now I’ll leave you with a quote for Miss Aniela from her interview with Alex Cameron.
“Do you think you have an original style that is your own?
“I think every artist struggles with this, and maybe doesn’t see their own style for a while till it develops, or, doesn’t see it through their own eyes, only through other people’s recognition. One thing I would recommend is to put your work alongside other people’s, especially in things like collections and book compilations, where you collaborate with other artists to show your work. In doing that, I have noticed some characteristics to my work. I’ve noticed it’s often bold, with sweeping shapes in the frame, and I’ve also been told that I use a more varied colour palette than other photographers or self-portrait artists. Whatever my ‘style’ might be, like everyone else, sometimes you love these characteristics that pop up in your work, and accept them as your own; and some days you hate them, and feel like you can’t escape them!”