The answer is simple:style.
As an artist, you were likely drawn to photography because you have something to say with your work and your style is thex factorthat makes your work unique. It’s the thing that seperates a good photograph from a great one. And doing that consistently, is what separates good photographers from great photographers.
Style is what makes your work recognizable at first glance. It’s not something you will magically obtain one day or something you can decide you want to have: it’s the result of a never-ending process of developing and refining, job after job, shoot after shoot.
Every photographer has been faced with the decision of whether to go with past preferences – the things we know that work – or experimentation – the techniques we’d love to try out but we’re not sure what the result may bring. With every photo you take, you need to make a ton of decisions; technical decisions such as aperture, shutter speed, or white balance. Artistic decisions like poses, composition and angles. These are all opportunities for you to play with. Every time you decide to experiment and you like the result, the choice will become a preference.
As you evolve, you begin to apply your preferences subconsciously rather than something you ‘force’ onto your images. Your preferences accumulate, complementing each other and culminating into the elusive goal: your own unique photographic style.
There is no silver bullet, but if you’re struggling and unsure how to begin discovering your personal photography style, here is some practical advice to help you get started:
Any amazing image, whether it’s a drawing, painting or a photograph, is the result of a harmonious marriage between the eye and the hand. Your eye is what tells you what you want to achieve and the hand is the means by which you create it. You must have good hands (technical skills), if you are ever going to satisfy the eye.
This cannot be emphasized enough. Even if your style emerges subconsciously, it is still a product of your technical skills and expertise.
While there are a myriad of technical skills that you need to be aware of (and there seems to be more every day with the advancement of equipment), there is no skill more important for a photographer than mastering light: photo comes from the Greek word phos, which means light.
You should not only be familiar but possess a strong knowledge of how exposure works, what the effects of lighting on different shots can be. Learn how to “read” light – you need to intuitively know how, for instance, backlighting might affect the image (by causing overexposing, loss of contrast or a flare), how short-lighting can transform the figure of your subject and so on. These technical aspects can make a world of a difference in your work.
The key to mastering your technical skills is repetition and analysis. With time, this skill will become second nature, something you can do automatically without even having to think about it: this will free up cognitive resources which you can lend to experimentation.
Some photographers are gear heads and are infatuated with these wonderful instruments that truly seem magical. However, it is usually a mistake to rely on your equipment to define your style. In the end, they are means and not the end in themselves.
Whatever your equipment consists of, the key to becoming a better photographer and achieving what is in your mind’s eye, is mastering the technical limitations of your tools and figuring out strategies to compensate for them. For instance, there are cameras that might be better at capturing details in the highlights than in the shadows. This might mean you need to settle for slightly over-exposed images to compensate for the gear’s particular limits. Again, practice and experimentation are key to understanding this. Resist the urge to buy new equipment to further your quest in developing your style – it’s likely that your equipment is not the thing holding you back.
We all need inspiration and nothing happens in a vacuum. Maybe you’re inspired by a certain color pallette, architectural elements, geometric shapes or by specific locations. While we all seek to find our own unique style, the truth is you will probably, at one time or another, emulate another person’s work that you find inspiring. That is perfectly ok, especially when you’re getting started. It’s a process. And once you start successfully imitating another’s work, you will be learning a whole lot along the way. You will be finding your voice while reciting someone else’s. You will be building confidence in your skills and when enough time has past, you, like every other artist before you, will have developed your own preferences and just like that your voice will begin to emerge and express itself.
The thing to remember along the way, is to be analytical. Ask yourself why you are drawn to another’s work and learn how to analyze what makes it good. Learn how to speak about art. And if you continue to hone your skills and your voice, eventually you will become an inspiration for other artists.
Most artists always set out to make the perfect image but sometimes you take the perfect image – completely by accident. The best way to create these happy accidents is to put yourself in situations that encourage them. Try pushing yourself to work outside your comfort zone. Challenge yourself to work with a certain lens or just one light and this can yield some of your most interesting work. If you’re open to failure and analytical you’ll be able to discover small successes and perhaps big accidents that you can recreate and add to your arsenal of techniques that will help you define your unique style.
While researching this article I discovered, Josh S Rose, and in particular the following two articles of his. I believe this is some of the best writing about art and photography I have ever read. I bet you’ll enjoy it as well: