Every photographer has their own signature style that sets them apart from the rest. Some photos can be moody and dramatic, while others are light and airy. Some photographers prefer a more candid approach, while others like to pose their subjects like it’s a high-fashion shoot.
What Is Style in Photography?
To understand style better, think about this situation: When you look at an Instagram profile of a photographer, you can see a cohesive theme throughout their feed. Their style has something that you can only see in them. If you see their photos somewhere else, like in a magazine, you can instantly recognize them.
This also goes for many famous artists throughout history:
Imagine you’re strolling through an art gallery, and you come across a painting that immediately catches your eye. You don’t have to look at the artist’s name to know it’s Van Gogh. Why? Because of his unique style with bold brushstrokes and vibrant colors.
Similarly, in photography, style is about the photographer’s personal touch and unique way of capturing a moment or a subject. It’s how they use light, composition, and editing techniques to create an image that speaks to their vision.
How Does Style Benefit Your Photographs?
Developing your personal style in photography is no easy feat. It takes experimentation, trial, error, and maybe even a few tears.
Let’s take a food blogger as an example: Let’s say you did find your style in photography. By sticking to a specific style, such as using only natural light for photography and creating a consistent color palette for their posts, the photographer can develop a recognizable brand.
How to Find Your Personal Photography Style?
But to do that, they have to experiment with different techniques to perfect their craft, like experimenting with various plating and garnishing techniques to make their dishes visually appealing, trying out different types of light for their photography, using various prompts that embellish their photos, then finding a target audience for the kind of photography they make, and so on.
By being laser-focused on the experimentation process, the photographer can learn what works best for them AND their audience, ultimately producing work that is not only visually stunning but also meaningful.
How to Develop Your Style in Photography?
Finding your personal photography style may require a few steps, but in the end, they will make you a better and more recognizable photographer.
Start by establishing your genre!
There are two ways to find your genre:
- Focus on your strengths. What are you good at? What do your friends and family always ask you to take photos of? Are you a natural at capturing candid moments, or do you excel at staged portraits? Figuring out your strengths and playing to them can help define your style.
What makes you different from other people? What do you have to offer that no one else does?
- Focus on what you like. Are you into landscapes similar to Ansel Adams? Maybe developing your style in street photography is your jam, and you’re all about capturing those gritty urban moments. Or you’re a portrait photographer and live for candid shots that reveal the subject’s true personality.
When you develop a style, you look outside your work for inspiration. And you do that by studying the work of other photographers who inspire you and thinking about what elements of their style you could incorporate into your own. Take note of what catches your eye and makes your heart skip a beat.
Figure out what specific elements of their style you find appealing: maybe it’s their use of lighting, their approach to composition, or their knack for capturing candid moments.
Get inspired by art and culture.
But inspiration doesn’t only come from other photographers; it comes from other artists and mediums as well. For some, it can be movies or music.
I believe it is also Ansel Adams that said:
“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”
Set yourself apart from others
But while it’s essential to learn from others, it’s equally important to stay true to yourself and your creative vision. You want to avoid becoming a copycat or losing your unique voice in the process.
Finding your own creative style is an act of balance. But how do you actually balance inspiration with your vision?
To find this balance, I would take a hybrid approach. I study the work of others and identify what elements of their style speak to me. Then, I experiment with incorporating those elements into my work, but I always put my spin on it. I ask myself, “How can I make this my own?” or “What would happen if I tried this instead?”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that, voila! I’ve reached the peak and established my personal style forever. This takes us to my next point, which may sound like a bit of a cliche’:
Practice and Experiment
- Practice: You might have heard the phrase “style is a product of repetition.” Well, I think that rings true—you can’t just take one amazing photo and suddenly be considered a photographer with a style. You need to take lots and lots of pictures and do it repeatedly. Keep shooting, keep experimenting, and keep refining your process. Don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to find your voice – the journey is half the fun!
- Experiment: Play with different techniques and equipment, and try something new. Don’t be afraid to play with exposure, shutter speed, and other technical elements to create a look that’s all your own. You may prefer dark and moody images or bright and bold colors.
- Strengthen your creative bone: After mastering the techniques, you’ll see that using shutter speed, ISO, aperture, and histograms/exposure creatively can open a vast horizon of possibilities. You don’t always have to get the perfect exposure. For example, underexposing your photos can give them a moody feel and ease the editing if you want to convey that sentiment.
Develop your editing style
Developing your own style in photography also means having a particular editing style. For example, look at the style of Annie Liebowitz: she is known for her use of bold and vibrant colors in her photographs. She uses editing to enhance the colors and tones in her images, giving them a highly stylized and recognizable look.
The way you edit your photos can have a significant impact on your style. So think about these questions: Do you prefer bold, contrasty images? Soft and dreamy? Warm and cozy? There are endless possibilities when it comes to post-processing, so don’t be afraid to get creative.
Break the rules
Breaking the rules can be done in many ways. For example, it can mean using unconventional accessories in your photography. Street photographers typically use 35mm lenses, but does that always have to be true?
However, breaking the rules goes beyond what lens to use for what genre. It’s about seeing things from a different perspective. Whenever you look at something, try to imagine seeing it in a different way that might not be immediately obvious. Look at shapes, patterns, and colors abstractly.
Some of the most outstanding photographers in history got their start by breaking the rules and doing things their own way. Anse Adams didn’t just shoot landscapes; he made them b&w.
Daido Moriyama is a Japanese photographer known for his gritty, black-and-white images of urban life. His work often features blurred or out-of-focus elements, creating a sense of movement and chaos.
These photography styles would typically be considered “out of the norm.” Or at least they were at their time.
If you’re not much of a rule breaker and you need a little push, here is an idea of how to start:
Well, let’s say you love floral photography. Look up some tutorials online, but don’t just copy them—see if there’s something new you could add to make your photos more interesting! If you’re inspired by nature photography, try incorporating some seasonal themes into your work. Maybe you’re drawn to portraits—try working on getting close-ups or experimenting with props like hats or scarves to create more variety in your work.
Similarly, developing style and vision in street photography might mean (for you) focusing more on things you might otherwise dismiss in this genre. For example, instead of solely focusing on capturing candid shots of people, a street photographer could intentionally seek out moments where humans and animals are interacting in interesting ways.
Think of what concept or message you want to convey
You may want to convey a feeling, express a topic, bring awareness, or tackle societal issues. No matter what the goal is with your photography, know that it ALWAYS has to convey something!
Let me give you some examples:
Nan Goldin was known for her raw, intimate images of herself and her friends – her work explores themes of love, sexuality, and addiction.
Sebastião Salgado is a Brazilian photographer known for his powerful, black-and-white images of social and environmental issues. His work often features people in extreme situations, such as refugees and workers in mines and factories.
Diane Arbus was another photographer who was known for her unconventional approach. She often took pictures of marginalized and unconventional people, such as dwarfs, giants, and transvestites. Her photographs were sometimes criticized for being voyeuristic, but they were also seen as a powerful social commentary on the margins of society.
Vik Muniz uses unexpected materials such as chocolate syrup or trash to recreate famous artworks, creating a commentary on the relationship between art, value, and waste. Jeff Wall’s large-scale photographs blur the lines between photography and painting, often recreating famous artworks or historical scenes in a cinematic style, offering a critique of how we view and represent the world through images.
Lastly, Henri Cartier-Bresson was a pioneer of modern photojournalism, and he is known for his candid, spontaneous photographs. He often used a small, handheld camera to capture fleeting moments of everyday life, such as a man jumping over a puddle or a woman smoking a cigarette. His photographs have become iconic, and they continue to inspire photographers today.
These are just some iconic examples – and they also get us back to the very first point and the importance of being inspired.
I’m highlighting these examples to practice looking for meaning in your photography and never underestimate the importance of your message.
What makes up personal style?
Personal style in photography is made up of a combination of technical skills, creative vision, and individual preferences. It encompasses factors such as choice of subject matter, composition, lighting, mood, color, message, and editing techniques.
Style is about more than just the technical aspects of taking a photo. It’s also about the photographer’s unique way of seeing and expressing the world through their art.
Do photographers need a style?
Yes, photographers can benefit from developing a distinctive style that sets their work apart from others and helps them build a recognizable brand. A consistent style can also make it easier for clients to identify the photographer’s work.
How do I make my photos more aesthetically pleasing?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there are some universal ways to make your photos more aesthetic:
- Consider factors such as composition, lighting, color, and subject matter.
- Experiment with different angles and perspectives and edit the images to enhance their visual appeal.
How to have a consistent style in photography?
To have a consistent style in photography, you should:
- Define your style: Experiment with different techniques and identify what works for you.
- Stick to a theme or subject matter: Choose a particular genre, like landscape or portrait, and consistently shoot within it.
- Use consistent editing techniques: Develop a signature photo editing style, such as a particular color palette or contrast level.
- Pay attention to lighting: Keep your lighting consistent across your shots.
- Practice regularly: Always shoot and edit to refine your style and ensure consistency over time.
Photography style is like your personal fashion sense but for your photos. It’s how you put together your shot – the angle, the lighting, the framing – and how you edit it to give it that personal twist. It’s about finding the parts of your work that you enjoy most, then focusing on those elements and developing them into themes.
After doing this for long enough, you’ll find yourself repeating certain techniques or subjects without even realizing it! This is what will give your work its signature look!
But here’s the thing: just like with fashion, your style doesn’t come out of nowhere. Sure, you might be influenced by what’s popular or what you see others doing, but ultimately it’s a reflection of who you are and how you see the world.
So, finding your photography style is like finding your brand. It’s a journey of self-discovery and experimentation, trying out different techniques and seeing what feels most true to you.