In today’s world photography has become mainstream. Excellent cameras have become very affordable and smartphones are 24/7 companions that allow everyone to do serious photography on the spot.
Each second thousands of photos are uploaded to social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) and image platforms (flickr, 500px). And all of us who contribute to this never-ending stream of photographic output hope that somehow our work finds some recognition.
With the growing numbers of aspiring photographers also the amount of educational and inspirational information has vastly increased. Photography magazines, how-to books, websites and blogs provide a wealth of technical knowledge and inspiration for just about every genre of photography that you can imagine. Thanks to this resources teaching yourself the technical and artistic aspects of photography (and even the business side if you want to look at that as well) is not difficult at all if you learn to differentiate the wheat from the chaff. I’m not saying that this replaces the need for a professional education (if you really want to work as a professional photographer you should have a proper one) but for all us aspiring wannabe professionals who dream about generating some cash out of our hobby one day the training material available online or what you can pick up by attending workshops is more than sufficient to get us properly started.
With affordable gear, a wealth of information and inspiration available remains the question what to shoot. I for myself feel attracted to all sorts of genres. Landscape, portrait work with available light or strobes, boudoir, street photography, macro, wildlife, fashion, travel, documentary, you name it. I have tried most of them to some degree or other. Even bought gear (ever heard of GAS – gear acquisition syndrome) to being able to properly do it, inspired by one article or another in one of my many photography magazines, books or on a blog or photography portal site.
The thing is, all of this is nice, some come with caveats that are not easy to overcome (e.g. getting yourself models for portrait/fashion shootings, getting up in the middle of the night to catch the golden hours of landscape photography) so the genres that eventually attract you will narrow down themselves. And if you really want to become good at something you need to focus. Most great artists / scientists have been or are specialists of some sorts. Sure there are exceptions. Bryan Adams is a great Rock Star and also a well-known photographer, but in music he focuses on Rock and in his photography on portraits and fashion.
So how do you focus, how do you find the style of photography that suits your aspirations, that allows you to become good enough that you yourself are satisfied with the results. And again, as long as you don’t have to make a living out of your photography your own judgement of your results is the only relevant criteria. If in addition to that your work finds whatever recognition on social media, image sharing platforms, websites or photography magazines that is just icing on the cake.
The road to discovering your individual style as a photographer is a very personal one. But there are some things can help you and that have certainly helped me. Find out more after the jump.
There is nothing wrong by finding inspiration in other photographers work. Browsing Instagram, 500px, flickr lets you find lots of images that attract you visually but perhaps also from a technical point of view. This goes also for finding inspirations in photography magazines or books. Once a genre attracts you, you can research it in more depth by finding image sharing platform users, websites or blogs that focus on a particular genre. Compare images, find common elements in images “that turn you on”. Identify the names of masters of the genres that attract you, look at their published images and books and study their work in more detail. There is also nothing wrong in trying to replicate their work for yourself in order to understand and master their techniques. Just make sure when you publish your work by whatever means you don’t duplicate their images. But being inspired by other photographers work and finding variations or taking it to the next level is perfectly fine. Have faith in yourself of developing something new out of “external” inspiration.
Shoot what you want to shoot
Shoot what you’re heart tells you to shoot, shoot for yourself, not for an audience. Shoot the scenes that you yourself want to capture, where your senses tell you to press the shutter because something in front of your lens stirs your emotions. Don’t take images because you assume they generate lots of likes on the social networks or image platforms. Repetitively capturing what inspires you personally is the best way to find a focal point for your photography, discover the style of images that are satisfying for yourself as a creator, an artist.
Practice, practice, practice
I’m sure you have heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s Book “Outliers: The story of success” in which the author writes extensively about the “10,000-Hour Rule”, claiming that the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours. I believe there is a certain truth to this thesis. So go out and shoot. The more you shoot and try to implement the things you learned from studying the theory into your practical photography the better you will become. Master your gear and the technicalities first, then improve your creative focus. Then your way of shooting will become second nature, you walk through your days with a “photographic eye”, picturing in front of your eyes what your lens would see. You fall into repetitive patterns that will also show in your images, will eventually show your style.
Be relaxed and evolve over time
Developing an own style will not happen over night, it is rather a road, a process. But if you work on your photography with an open mind, if you explore, experiment and work with dedication and passion and if you are your own hardest critic, your style will develop, evolve and become evident. Enjoy it as a journey and don’t be afraid of any turns your photographic road will take.
In the end, your style will find you!