How Can You Define a Style for Your Photography?
“Style has no formula, but it has a secret key. It is the extension of your personality.”Ernst Haas
How do I define a style for my photography? Among all the different types of photography that are available, a huge number of photographers don’t feel like they have yet locked down a style they are happy to call their own. Their work is all very much still in the process and in flux, and maybe that’s what their journey will always be as a photographer.
Here in this article, I will solely focus on street photography, because that’s the genre I most relate to. I have a very strange journey with street photography. My preferences always move along with stumbling increments in figuring out what I want to shoot, and what I definitely don’t want to shoot. That still happens to me as much as it always did – it hasn’t settled at all. I work this stuff out as I go out and shoot a lot, as I try different things and realize what works and what doesn’t for me.
For example, I have tried going out with my non-photographer friends and tried shooting, but that never ever works for me – I find it extremely hard to see compositions around me while talking to them. I rather prefer going out with other fellow photographers or mentors who can guide me in looking beyond my natural perspectives.
However, in that process, I sometimes tend to follow them fully and don’t seem to come up with some unique shots of mine – I tend to lose myself in their vision. In that case, I visit those locations again all by myself and discover it all over again.
“Real style is never right or wrong. It’s a matter of being yourself on purpose.”G. Bruce Boyer
Another thing that I really find helpful is visiting places where many photographers regularly visit and watch them as they take photographs – I don’t interact with them directly, I just silently observe what are the things they are shooting and from which point in space – if I find something interesting, I try shooting it myself once the other photographer moves on with his next shot. It helps me shoot images that otherwise, I would not have shot if I was all by myself.
I think it’s really important to pay attention to the moments around us. We think of our style as working technically – but it’s more psychological. Some photographers see a crowd and dive right in and shoot a really interesting close up portraits, even at the risk of getting their faces smacked – I struggle in situations like that, I tend to lurk around the edges of a crowd and feast on the crumbles.
We need to listen to the times when it doesn’t work for us and respect ourselves. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, but we should to those moments when we say to ourselves, “This isn’t clocking for me. There’s something about it that doesn’t work for me.” It might be our style whispering that perhaps our style is down another path.
For many photographers, street photography has to be about documenting a time and a place, the photograph must feature individuals, it needs to be showing you movement within a space. Yet, there are many street photographers whose compositions don’t have human beings in it, or maybe they have an abstract touch to their work.
Some street photographers even capture human elements in their images by placing them in shadows, so that they can’t be identified. Some street photographers focus entirely on documenting light and shadow.
These photographers often even don’t put a label on their work and classify them into a specific genre – they just leave it to the viewer’s judgments. They focus on shooting what they are attracted to, and they keep doing so, their personal style reveals itself naturally.
You can see this yourself by looking back at your work overtime. Perhaps, go through the work you did in the last couple of years and lay them out sequentially to map the way your own style has evolved. If you shoot a lot, over time your style WILL start to coalesce on its own.
You can go and check my Instagram account – I tend to keep all my posts. So, the earliest of my photos from years ago are still there, and you can see how many different times I have changed track. Some of the over-edited stuff is there too. There are some horrendous looking photos there too.
I myself scroll through it regularly (especially when I feel like I’m not sure about where I am going) I can see my work evolving, almost on its own steam, without me even conceptualizing it – it’s coming out on its own the more that I shoot. I can’t neatly define the style I’m developing, but I can surely see it emerging. If you are just starting out, don’t be hard on yourself. You will have to go through those years of shooting a lot, working out on your style, and over time, you will surely have your own.