Part 3 – Developing Your Style
Not knowing what your style is can be frustrating and crippling to your career. Your work will lack focus and prevent you from becoming great. I talked in part 2, Why You Must Find Your Style, about my frustration as I entered the work force after college. This frustration created a huge mental barrier and gave me an excuse to not shoot as much as I wanted to or should have. Although I never gave up photography or even the love of it, I did shoot less and often wouldn’t touch a camera for far too long. I became a teacher ( not a photography teacher) and the exploration of my craft took a major backseat. My job was no longer photography and my focus was on becoming a great teacher. I spent time researching being a teacher, watched other teachers interact with students, and stole things that they did to add into my style of classroom management. I constantly was evaluating myself as a teacher (and if we are being honest I was not good for at least 4 or 5 years), asking students their opinion of what I was doing and listening to them talk about other teachers, and understand their needs as the client. I needed to understand my teaching style so that I could become the best teacher.
As I got back into shooting more I realized that the same practices I put into becoming a better teacher were the same tools I needed to use to get better at photography. To become a better photographer I had to self-evaluate, borrow from other artists, understand my market, and work on my craft, a lot.
Self-evaluation is crucial to discovering what your style is. You have to look at your work from an unbiased point of view. It is so hard because you either want to love everything you do and aren’t willing to be critical of your work or you hate everything you do and you see every flaw. Both of these stances just lead back to that frustration we talked about earlier. Realistically we probably fall somewhere in the middle. I now realize my work has flaws and that is ok. My images are not all perfect and they need work and refining.
Once you get past this part of self-evaluation you can dig into the stylistic elements. The hardest part of this is differentiating style from genre. Remember genre is content and style is how you put the picture together. What angle are you shooting from, do you follow rule of thirds or leading lines, high contrast, or maybe you only shoot color? Dig deep; look at the elements that show up constantly and pay attention to what you do during the editing process. Self-evaluation is a valuable part of discovering your personal style. However, you must have enough work to be able to evaluate yourself and your style.
Shoot a Lot
You can’t self-evaluate without work to look at. You can’t really understand your style with just ten pieces of work, but it has to be hundreds maybe even thousands of pieces of work. To truly have a style that is consistent and understandable you must shoot a lot. If you know the genre you want to shoot then focus on that content and see how your style develops or where the continuity is. However, if you can’t find the continuity throughout your work you need to shoot more and really evaluate the pictures that draw you in. Shoot, evaluate, shoot again, evaluate and then borrow.
Borrow From Others
Steal or borrow from what others are doing. Let’s be clear here, recreating what someone else does makes you unoriginal and really a jerk. Seeing what someone else does and adapting pieces of their style and implementing it into your work is part of art. Do you like the editing style of a specific photographer? Take that style, adapt it, twist it, and change it to fit you and your style. Style has to be authentic to who you are so be careful with this piece of the journey. It is very easy to get lost in others work and just recreate.
Understand Your Market
In the end understanding your style is a must because there is a market that you have to fit into. You have to know that market that you are trying to fit into so that you can know whether your style fits. If it doesn’t fit you have to adjust. You always have to be willing to adjust. This doesn’t mean you have to give up being creative or an individual. This also doesn’t mean you can’t be innovative or on the forefront of a movement but reality is if you need work now you have to be willing to adjust and fit what the market needs now. If you are not willing to adjust; then be patient and be as crazy innovative as you can be. It is rare for a market to change to quickly meet one artist’s style.
Find It and Developing It
The journey is long; it takes time to find and develop your style. Evaluate, shoot a lot, borrow from what others do and understand the market you are trying to get into and you will find your way.