I think when many people start in photography they want to try everything photography has to offer. After all, they have this little box of tricks in theirs hands that can create an endless array of magical images. Whether it be a sunburst cascading across a range of mountains or a super macro showing every detail of a bug’s eyes, you soon realise, when you get into photography, that the scope of what can be captured is almost limitless.
Thus, it is only natural, being the inquisitive humans that we are, that we want to try a wide range of photographic styles. And why not, people may find they enjoy or have an aptitude for a certain style of photography they never would have thought.
Here is a small selection of the photos I took when I first got my hands on a decent camera. I just wanted to photograph everything and try every style of photography.
Jack of all Trades and a Master of Everything
Once you have had a play around with some different styles of photography you may focus your attention on a single style e.g. macro photography. However, if you are like me you will want to keep trying to shoot as many different styles as possible and try to get better at doing so. And you probably will notice improvement, after all if you are just starting out in photography, there is going to be vast scope for improvement. In addition, you will probably be starting to embrace the vast world of post-processing, and you will be trying many different types of image manipulation also. But is this really the best way to progress?
Spreading Yourself Thin
Although there is much commonality across the different photographic styles, there is also much uniqueness. As such, with having limited amounts of time, there is a danger of spreading yourself too thin. Trying to master all styles of photography can lead to slow progress, whereas focusing on a single style can lead to vastly accelerated progress but of course that is only in one particular style.
However, you may wish to continue snapping away at everything as many people have this belief that if you are good at a wide range of disciplines it is better than specialising in a single field.
As I progressed through photography I still insisted on trying to get better at a wide range of styles as you can see below.
And, it is not only the category of photography e.g. portrait, macro, landscape etc which you can present but it is the artistic styling of the image. You may be taking both high key and low key images, you may have high and low contrast images, heavily saturated colours or muted colours, the list is endless. But what you are presenting is a wide scope of markedly different images.
Generalisation v Specialisation
This is a wide ranging argument which covers far broader scope than just photography. There are arguments for both sides. However, when people take and present photos to the public, the main reason they do so is to get attention and positive feedback. They want to be recognised as a good photographer. Thus, on the surface, the obvious way to do so is to be skilled in a wide range of photographic styles to show off your wonderful talent. Or is it?
I remember reading a short piece about this years ago in a book. Sorry, I cant remember the name of the book or whether the story was fact or fiction. However, it was about an artist who went for a job interview. As part of this interview they had to bring a portfolio of work. The artist was extremely talented and to show this, they brought different pieces from a wide variety of artistic styles, all of which were of a very high quality. However, they did not get the job. The reason they did not get the job was because they did not have an individual style. The interviewer acknowledged their obvious talent but said that to be successful as an artist it is no good being a Jack of all Trades, you have to cultivate a artistic style unique to yourself.
This story stuck in my head and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Renowned people in any artistic field usually have a very unique style which makes their work instantly recognisable as theirs.
Look at music. One of the biggest bands there has been has been AC/DC. Their songs all have this driving, rhythmic structure. Their two singers Bon Scott and Brian Johnson have instantly recognisable voices. Thus when you hear a song of theirs that you haven’t heard before you can instantly tell it’s them. They created a unique style that was theirs.
Look at the ridiculously popular painter Jack Vettriano. All his paintings exhibit this art deco, ‘birthday card art’ style to them. It doesn’t matter that his brushwork is amateurish and rough, and that the content is superficial and bland, you can still tell one of his paintings a mile off.
I could go through many different examples from all art forms but hopefully you get the idea.
Don’t get me wrong, just by having a unique style doesn’t mean you will instantly be successful. However, what you will have is artwork that is unique to you with an individual style that can be recognised as yours by others.
How to Cultivate a Unique Style?
I am probably not in the best position to answer this question as I doubt I have managed to create a very unique style. I am trying however.
The most obvious way I can think of to do this is to create common elements in your images. This can relate to any aspect of the images whether it be the content, the composition or the artistic stylings.
I think when you are creating an individual style you are going to have to have a fairly standardised routine when capturing the photos. Probably similar camera settings, similar filters and accessories, and you will probably be shooting subject matter which is similar. This should ensure a level of commonality in the raw captures.
Standardised Post Processing Workflows
Another aspect which hugely influences the outcome of the final image is the post processing applied to it. If you are trying widely different post-processing techniques on every image, the chances are that they will not have have much commonality in their final appearance. Thus, it is probably best to formulate a post-processing workflow which gets you a preferred outcome, and stick closely to it.
My Own Style
The scope for creating a unique style is vast and very personal to the individual as it should embrace their own artistic preferences. Thus, it may be best to talk about it from my perspective. It is only recently I have really tried to create this unique style so I am still exploring this.
I prefer to take landscape photos so have focused now on mostly shooting them. I like my photos to be dark and full of drama, so most of my images have stormy skies and are quite low key with fairly high contrast. I prefer muted colours as I feel they add to the drama. I also like to have a specific element within the image lit up as if a shaft of light is cutting through the stormy sky to illuminate them. I feel this helps with composition and draws emphasis to the focal points in the image.
So with that being said, here is a selection of my recent images which I hope embrace this.
Whether you like these images or not is dependent on your own tastes. However, I like them as they not only satisfy my own artistic preferences but also because I am happy that I have managed to at least start to craft this style of mine.
Copying The Style of Others
This is something that a lot of people will do. They see someone else’s images and think they are awesome so they just copy that and in this modern day and age this is easier than ever. Youtube and the internet in general is bursting at the seams with tutorials which cover every aspect of photography and post processing, so if you want to have a go at copying someone else’s work, it may not be too difficult.
Going down this road leaves a bit of a conundrum. If you copy the style of another person who’s photos are good, there is a good chance that people will like your images as well. After all, you are copying a popular style. However, what you wont get from this is uniqueness. You don’t have to look around too much to see some utterly jaw dropping images but these could be from any number of photographers as they all have the same style. I see some fabulous images out there but there is no uniqueness to them at all. How many times have I seen a long exposure shot of Kirkjufell (a mountain in Iceland) taken at sunset with the waterfalls in the foreground. And they all seem to get processed the same way. Stunning images that all look the same.
Instagram and similar such software is a good example of this. These packages come loaded with these preset ‘filters’ as they call them. There isn’t a huge amount of these to choose from and they drastically alter the appearance of the image. And people absolutely love slapping them on every photo. So what you get is the majority of photos on Instagram looking very, very similar. Why? Because it makes them look nice. Does it matter if every second photo now looks much the same?
Is it worth trying to create a unique style?
The conundrum exists that is it worth creating a unique photographic style and risk it not being popular, or is it just worth copying some tried and tested style which you know people will like?
The answer depends on the individual. If you copy a tried and tested style you are probably likely to get some adulation and maybe even a few sales. So, if that is your main desire then this is probably the best road for you.
However, if you want to try and create something that bears your own hallmark, that is essentially the manifestation of your own strong artistic desires, even if it is not that popular, you will go for the other option. Where I am in photography now, I choose this option.
Of course, there are billions of images out there so to create a completely unique style from scratch is maybe asking a bit much. However, as I have done, why not take a bit from here and a bit from there, and create a unique hybrid style. For example, you may like a certain little post-processing trick and you adopt that into your workflow. Just because it is a hybrid of other techniques and styles, doesn’t mean that the outcome of this won’t be a style unique to you.
In the end, you should approach photography in a way that brings you the most pleasure. However, I strongly recommend trying to craft a style unique to yourself. It gives a great amount of satisfaction and can really help you stand out from the crowd.
Thanks for Reading,