The journey to your style - experiment!
No one just walks into photography and, bam, their style is fully developed. It take lots of experimentation before you will be able to confidently say that you have nailed down your identity and image style. The more you go out shooting with an open mind and techniques you would like to try at the ready, the more likely you are to shoot the image or narrative that feels just right.
Here are just a few tips on how you can experiment and continue learning - both in the field and when you are processing your images back at home - until you find your style.
In the field
1. Try shooting the same scene from different angles
Compositional rules are not as set in stone as you may think, and what pleases your eye very well may break all the rules. That being said, it still helps to have a firm grasp on the basics of composition. There are a ton of resources online to help you out if you need a crash course, or just a refresher. Also, finding a composition usually entails moving your feet. It seems logical, but it is something we all forget when we get out in the field. It is unlikely you will discover the compositional options if you plant your tripod in one place. Stay open minded and curious!
2. Experiment with different techniques
There are a ton of techniques that can alter the feeling of your image. Long exposure, for example, can either be used to show movement, brighten a dark scene, or simplify your composition. Minimalism is a style that might fit you - and long exposure will be a great help in that regard. Another example is focus stacking. It can be used to extend your depth of field - either close up or far away. This technique can bring much more detail into focus. As with composition, the internet is your best resource for discovering new techniques and for finding inspiration to get you going.
3. Include people or items to your frame
If you are going for a purist landscape image, then this might not be the right style for you, but including something in your frame can help tell your story, or, as in my example with the iceberg, show scale. It is a great technique for cityscape and architecture photography, as humans can make a building look less rigid. It can quite literally give life to an image.
1. Play with color - or absence of color
When you shoot in RAW, you are coming home with a ton of color flexibility, and editing programs have very powerful tools to help you experiment with color. Whether you want to recreate the scene as faithfully as possible (tip: take some snapshots on your phone to help you remember the colors), or if you want to experiment with color balance and more advanced color editing, starting with a RAW is absolutely essential. The more you play around with color, the more comfortable you will become in editing your images. And keep in mind that the absence of color can also be a very powerful message for your narrative. As soon as you start to play around with color, it is helpful to have a comprehensive guide at hand to help you learn all of the tools available to you.
2. Learn how to edit one (or several) images
We all know the basics of editing. Ensuring our exposure, white balance, contrast, etc are all on point. But remember to keep learning and trying new things in editing. Everything from removing pesky dust spots to combining several images into one, out of this world image can be accomplished with a bit of editing. As soon as you start experimenting with techniques such as focus stacking or panoramic images, then these more advanced techniques become essential to master in order to finish the composition you had in mind when you shot the image. Much of this can be learned through tutorials online, but some of it just comes down to trial and error.
And sometimes, error is just what your photography needs. Your style can be born out of an image you thought was a mistake at first. Finding your style is all about keeping an open mind and not getting frustrated.
How I developed my style
Earlier on in my career, I struggled to really find my own unique style. I always felt like I was getting pulled in different directions. I’d see beautiful images of landscapes and dream of travelling there myself, only to finally get there and shoot way too similar of an image. That wasn’t really taking my photography anywhere. Eventually, I started listening to what my own creativity was pushing me towards, and started going farther away, to explore places that most people hadn’t been to, or even seen before. I started to see that people would react to my images by jokingly saying ‘that feels like it was shot on another planet!’ And that’s when I understood that my personal style was starting to take shape. I saw that my mission was to create images that looked otherworldly, that made people stop and wonder, made people think and feel. While I can’t give you a recipe for truly mastering your own style (there isn’t one!), I think it’s so important to just shoot a lot. That might sound obvious, but there’s really no shortcut to it besides putting in countless hours of being out behind the camera, shooting. Connecting with your subject, getting to know it inside out, channelling whatever message or concept it embodies through your own photographic language. While focus is crucial, diversifying plays its own role. One of the ways I’ve found to help me refine my skills and define my style is by shooting lots of different things. From landscapes, to wildlife, to pro sports and automotive, each of these subjects have taught me something very special. Wildlife teaches me to slow down and be patient, while shooting pro sports forces me to be fast and responsive. Learning techniques for portrait shooting help me in my landscape work. Some people might think this is weird, but when I’m shooting a mountain, my mind processes it as a portrait. I’m thinking about how the light is hitting the face of the mountain, its posture, the shadows, which angle it’s going to look best at, all the lines and textures. If you’re shooting a wide variety of things, you can risk spreading yourself too thin, but on the flip side, it can also help you to build a diverse skill set, and discover what you’re best at. More importantly, it makes you see what common element of your style translates across genres. When you discover that element, it becomes easier to define your identity, your trademark as a photographer. Over time, you’ll find that your identity as an artist is the most important asset you have. Your style will bring about a certain type of audience, potentially interviews, partnerships and brands, or important names in the industry. It will draw out a path for you, and your artistic avenues, along with your creativity, will soar.