I have loved photography for many years, and even before I started making pictures of my own, I had an appreciation for what was, in my opinion, great photography. When I first started out with photography, I found that this lifelong appreciation of the medium was both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, my appreciation of photography created a passion within me to learn, and to work hard at learning, day in and day out. On the other hand, however, my lifelong appreciation of the medium created a feeling of inferiority within me during the first few months (even year or two, maybe) that I would never find my own “style” of photography.
I really think that, once we each find our unique styles of photography, we tend to become more secure in ourselves as photographers. And, the more secure we are, the more likely we are to put ourselves and our photography out there for others.
Maybe you are new to photography and trying to find your style, or maybe you are a veteran photographer hoping to make some changes. Hopefully some of these ideas will steer you in a new direction.
Get your eyes on any type of photography you can find, whether it be online, in a gallery, in a magazine or a book – just look at as much as you can! I wouldn’t even suggest sticking to a certain genre (ie – portraiture, landscape, etc.) but rather, look at everything. Sometimes you will find inspiration from a type of photography that is totally outside of your own genre. Don’t limit yourself to photography, either. You can find all sorts of inspiration in painting, collage, sculpture, and a multitude of other mediums.
Now is the perfect time to give yourself license to experiment. Try things you’ve never tried before, and don’t worry so much about the outcome. You do not even have to share these experiments with anyone, so the pressure is low! Try both things you want to try, but have never tried, and things you think you don’t want to try – sometimes, when you go for something out of left-field, you will be pleasantly surprised, and wonder why you didn’t try it sooner.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Bomb Out
I can’t stress this enough – embrace your failures! It sounds so cliché, but it’s cliché because it’s so true! I am not saying embrace your failures to the point of posting them on your business website (unless you just really, really want to) but rather, accepting them for what they are – steps in the direction of helping you find your style and refine your skills. I guarantee you that you won’t get very far unless you have some serious, epic failures under your belt.
We have the idea drilled into us that we are, under no circumstances, supposed to be copycats, but I have a couple of beefs with this idea: 1) photography, for the most part, is a documentation of what our eyes see…while our planet is vast, we are all looking at/photographing pretty much the same thing as the next photographer, so eventually, subject matter and styles will overlap. 2) The camera is limiting – even with software like Photoshop and Lightroom, there comes a limit on what you can do with a flat image inside your computer monitor. Editing styles will (and always do) overlap. Just because Ansel Adams photographed the American West in black and white hasn’t stopped thousands of other photographers from doing the same thing. They photographed the same subject, but in new ways.
Let me stress that there is a big difference between completely and blatantly copying every single aspect of an image, and taking a certain aspect from an image – whether it be location, camera angle, lighting, post-processing, etc. – and imitating an aspect of the image that is appealing to you, and one that you wish to incorporate into your own photography. You do not want to run the risk of encroaching on intellectual property, but there is no crime in saying, “Wow, I really love the color choices in this photo, how can I create something similar with the resources I have?”
5. Ask for Help
Don’t be shy – ask for help. There are millions of blog posts, discussion forums and YouTube videos that can aid you in your search to find your style, and the majority of them are free. If you are really serious, you can always take a webinar or workshop from a professional in the field whose work you admire.