The idea of individual style is central to all forms of art, not just photography. Every person has their own unique perspective on the world, and this fundamental individuality serves as the foundation for all human creation. But when it comes to photography, even bringing up personal style can seem strange. After all, since our work is inherently grounded in reality, is it even possible to have a distinctive style? For professions like landscape and wildlife photography, where you frequently rely solely on the scene that nature presents to you rather than any elements you may add yourself, this question is especially pertinent. How do you add your own personality to a picture that represents how the world once actually appeared? It’s a challenging query. Examining all the details that must be accurately imitated in order to create a convincing forgery (or innocent imitation) of another photographer’s personal style and, furthermore, the repercussions of analyzing and imitating your own personal style, make things even trickier. We’ll talk about personal style in this article and how to incorporate it into your photography.
The depths of personal style are explored in this article. I decided to break them up into three parts since, in my opinion, this subject is best handled in small, thought-provoking bursts rather than all at once.
Here’s how the three parts are divided:
- defining one’s own personal style and the components that go into it.
- talking about the ways your approach and personality are different.
- citing the benefits of adopting or avoiding a personal style.
1) What is Personal Style?
The fundamental tenet of personal style is that everyone has their own unique perspective on the world.
Various components will show out more prominently to different persons when they view the same scene. Perhaps the first thing I notice in a vast area is a powerful waterfall out in the distance. Others may focus on the amazing clouds soaring overhead, while yet others may catch sight of a bird perched on a tree branch. If we were all photographers, the images we took of the scene would obviously differ greatly.
However, personal style goes beyond a single picture you shoot. It’s something that emerges from a broader body of work, a collection of works of art that share a common theme. Jackson Pollock’s body of work could not be regarded complete if he had only ever thrown paint onto a canvas once in his life. However, he produced hundreds of works in that manner, thus it qualifies as a personal style.
It’s true that photography adds to the complexity of things. Photographers are not artists who can splatter paint on a canvas or produce images entirely from their imagination. Even with studio photography, the real environment has a role to some extent.
Not that photography can’t look to diverge from reality, though. Photographers can even aim a flashlight at their camera (either in a dark room or at night) to “paint” a scene that didn’t truly exist. Microscopes can be used to record images that look extraterrestrial. But in both of these cases, a different photographer could position their camera in the exact same spot and get the same picture. Painting, sculpting, or singing truly can’t achieve that.
It is also evident that photographers can have a personal style in the same way that any other artist might, in the sense that their audience may be able to instantly recognize their work. To recognize photographs taken by some of my favorite photographers, or, at the very least, photographs taken “in their style,” I don’t need to see a signature or a copyright symbol (maliciously or as a practice exercise). Their work has a certain originality about it.
So, in my opinion, personal style is essentially an anonymous signature that is inextricably linked to an artist’s creations. Even though photography is grounded in reality, some photographers have a distinctive style that binds their work—or imitations of it—inextricably to them.
2) Which Elements Form a Personal Style?
The broad personal style of a photographer is composed of innumerable components, both significant and minor. There are simply too many subtle influences at work for me to be able to list them all. At the same time, some of the highlights ought to be covered. The list below provides an overview, generally ranking the factors that influence personal style from most to least important:
- Subject Matter
- Color (if in color) or tonality (if in black and white)
- Camera settings and equipment
In post-production, several of these aspects can be modified little or significantly (such as the color palette of a particular image). Others are restricted to the scene that a photographer actually took, barring the most extreme post-processing (such as subject matter).
It’s interesting to note that personal style can be defined by just one of these components, which makes it easy to distinguish between two photographs taken by different photographers. Even seemingly unimportant factors, like your camera setup, can become the focal point of your aesthetic. For example, if you used a 600mm lens for all of your landscape shots, they would all have a sense of homogeneity that would make them stand out sharply.
2.1) Subject Matter
The type of topic that a photographer chooses to photograph will be the first thing to stand out when you study their unique aesthetic.
This can broadly refer to their particular area of expertise in photography, such as portrait, landscape, wildlife, macro, and so forth. The topic is considerably more precise than that, though. The mountains of Northern Canada may be the subject of one photographer’s leisurely photography, while the peaks of Patagonia may be the subject of another. These mountains’ many varied shapes are enough to produce completely distinctive personal styles.
The examples also include well-known photographers. Photographers that repeatedly photograph spiral shells and peppers on a dark background are probably influenced by Edward Weston. Anyone who mimics these aspects is automatically paying homage to one of the most well-known photographers of all time since these topics are synonymous with him (consciously or not — at the absolute least, other viewers will notice the similarities).
2.2) Color or Tonality
Tonality and color are frequently inextricably linked to a photographer’s individual style. You can utilize the same color scheme regardless of the period or topic matter. If the pink tones and gentle contrast are consistent throughout all of your images, those features become essential components of your particular style.
Color and tonality are partially influenced by the scene in front of the camera, but they are also affected by the decisions a photographer makes during post-processing and when deciding which scenes to take in the first place. If the circumstances are ideal, I really enjoy taking high-contrast pictures with dark blue tones all across the image. As I’m doing in this section, if I choose to present numerous images using this color scheme side by side, it might give the impression that blue is an essential component of my aesthetic.
To be fair, black and white photography also fits into this category. Are a photographer’s images all monochromatic? And if so, what are their typical shooting tones and contrast levels? No matter what subjects you shoot, if all of your photos are high-key, high-contrast images, even if you don’t work in color, your personal style will be pretty obvious.
2.3) Character of Light
Despite the fact that lighting is, in some ways, an extension of your subject, it is crucial enough to have its own section. Your own style is inextricably linked to the kind of lighting you frequently use in your photographs.
For instance, perhaps you regularly capture landscapes in low contrast with soft shadows under overcast skies. Or, if you capture the same sights in photographs in dramatic sunset light, with strong directionality and sharp shadows, that would be an essential component of your individual style.
Occasionally, you can probably identify images taken by well-known landscape photographers only by looking at the lighting. One clear example is Ansel Adams. To capture many of his photographs, he searched for particular lighting and weather conditions, particularly cloudy sky and sporadic sunlight, which became a defining characteristic of his work. Although not all of his photographs were taken in the same lighting conditions, he regularly attempted to achieve the sense of drama that distinguishes his work as uniquely his own.
Every photographer must choose how to position the components within their frame before taking a picture. Even if there isn’t a single compositional style shared by all photographers, composition is one of the most critical aspects of making a successful shot in my opinion.
For instance, two photographers would compose their images differently if they arrive at the same area at the same time of day. This is a result of the distinct perspectives they have on the world. One may reposition herself so that she is closer to or further away from her subject, while the other may raise or lower his camera to present a different perspective.
Whether you like his photos or not, street photographer Bruce Gilden gained notoriety in part because of his distinctive compositional approach. In New York City, Gilden takes pictures of people by positioning his camera just a few inches from them, framing their face precisely in the center of the picture, and emphasizing their characteristics prominently. To put it mildly, this approach to photography is not beloved by everyone, but it is obvious that this kind of composition is essential to his individual style.
2.5) Camera Settings and Equipment
A nice photo is the result of the photographer’s effort rather than the purchase of expensive equipment, according to photographers, who like to assert that the camera doesn’t matter. This is very definitely true to a considerable extent. Camera setup and technique still matter a lot when it comes to personal style, though.
If you were using a camera with a shutter speed of three seconds and taking all of your pictures while holding it in your hand, the results would obviously be blurry. However, you could wish to snap photos at the “wrong” settings because they correspond to how you perceive and interpret the environment. Even while other photographers might easily duplicate these settings, it still indicates something significant that a key component of your personal aesthetic could be influenced by the values displayed in your camera’s viewfinder.
Also, I think it’s true that your camera gear can influence your own aesthetic, even though this is a more contentious point of contention. Think about Henri Cartier-Bresson as an illustration. He was well renowned for taking his iconic street shots with a “medium” 50mm lens. This point of view, which was appropriate for the way he perceived the world, has come to represent his creative output.
Although the 50mm focal length is certainly a popular choice for many photographers, it isn’t enough to distinguish Cartier-work Bresson’s from the competition. Nevertheless, it is an integral aspect of his work. Even if a street photo’s tone, subject, or composition makes you think of Cartier-Bresson, you may be sure it was taken by another photographer if it was photographed with a telephoto lens.
However, personal style is an incredibly intricate subject, and this only scratches the surface. You’re on the correct track for the following page if you’re beginning to think about the issue of copying these five components from other people’s work without their permission. I’ll discuss method against personality, the two main approaches to personal style, and when you want (or don’t want) your genuine self to come through in a picture.
You should now have a solid foundational understanding of personal style thanks to this introduction. Consider how it relates to your own work for the time being. Do all of your images share a common aesthetic? Do different subsets of your images, such as all of the ones from an event, share a common aesthetic even when the rest of them don’t? Or is everything mentioned here a strange idea that only loosely or not at all pertains to the pictures you take? Although personal style is elusive and complex, it is a crucial concept to comprehend if you want your photographs to capture your distinct perspective on the world.
Learn more: How Many Good Photos from a Trip Is a Success?