Photographic Style

There is certain set of topics that popular on photographic blogs. Style is one of them: what it is, how to get your own style, etc.

I typically stay away from repeating what has been said already but I have something to add to a conversation about photographic style. I’ve seen a style is often being confused with consistent look, subject or concept.

I can make my images look certain way and say that is my style. Think of Instagram and applying the same filter or set of filters to all your images, or making only HDR, tin type, etc. Can it be my style style? What make it mine?

Once, I remember, I asked a fellow photographer what kind of photography he does and his response was "I do HDR photography". I thought it was an odd way to define your own photography. HDR is just a tool, a software. Defining yourself as HDR photographer is like saying I’m feeding images into this tool and like all that comes out on the other end.

Let’s say I found my own secret recipe to make my photos look unique. Well, it will be unique just for a short while before someone figures out how to reproduce it. Second, I refuse to believe that the sole purpose of a photographer is to feed images into a tool that produces consistent look and the same look can look good on all photos.

Next thing that is often misinterpreted as style is concept, an idea that is implemented in all photos, a subject or set of subjects photographed in a certain way. For example, photos of Lego figurines repeating compositions of famous photos. Or photographing monkeys with interpreted-by-people-as-smile expressions on their faces. Or light painting.

Can the concept be your style? I feel it is much closer to style than image look itself. I’ve seen some amazing photos of water drops with interesting lighting that produced surrealistic images. Concept can be certainly more unique and harder to reproduce than look alone.

The danger though is in getting stuck with one concept and becoming repetitive. There is also a risk of focusing too much on concept and forgetting about other aspects of photography. For example, you’ve come up with a concept of photographing certain subject in a landscape. Make sure that it is a decent landscape, horizon is leveled and light is good.

Somewhat close to concept consistent subject is sometimes referred to as style. Let’s say I photograph only flowers, or waterfalls, or sunsets and call it my style. Same question comes to mind – how this can be my style, what makes it mine? Many other photographers might be photographing exactly the same subject.

So if we put consistent look, subject or concept aside what is left to define style? Style is my unique perception of the world I photograph. There is something ephemeral about images that is common thru all the photos and reveal photographer’s soul. It exposes my personality. It is self expression.

I struggled for a long time to have a style, just like many other photographers did, until someone else defined it for me. After looking at my images that person said that they all look “dreamy like fairy-tale”. That’s exactly how I feel when photographing and it comes thru in my photos.

Now a few years later I realized that the reason I’ve struggled to find my style was that I was looking for the wrong things. I don’t have consistent look, subject or concept. I like to experiment, try something new. Photographing the same makes me bored. It puts my mind in an artificial box and my mind starts a rebellion.

If you struggle to find your style, feel unhappy about what you photograph, may be you should try something new. Maybe you’ve put yourself in an artificial box while your style is outside of that box?

Rhododendrons or Not?

Recently I went with a fellow photographers to photograph rhododendrons which are common on eastern hills of Olympic mountains. We were hoping for fog to have a good separation of rhododendron bushes from trees in background.

There was fog but not where we needed it. The only option left was to use shallow depth of field. My fixed 50mm lens got second life. I had not used it for a while but it was most appropriate in that case since it had the widest aperture of all my lenses.

Rhododendron
Rhododendron

The other options was to let it blend with with forest, make it part of it.

Spring Green
Spring Green

Did I mention there was fog but not where we needed it? Well, we ended up spending most of the time photographing that fog that was somewhere else:

Fog Over Lowlands
Fog Over Lowlands

Fog Over Puget Sound
Fog Over Puget Sound

Freeway Poppies

California poppies can be found in Western Washington only along roads. I’ve spotted one of such places along one of freeways while driving my son to gymnastics. The hills was burning orange covered with poppies.

The next morning I woke up a little bit earlier to get to that hill and photograph poppies before work. I parked the car at the nearest parking lot next to a store and walked to that hill. The poppies were as good as the day before – an island of the Nature beauty in the middle of a city.

So, there I was, lying on a ground photographing poppies with cars passing by at a high speed. Here are a few photos I took:

Photo Accidents

Sometime I find a photograph just by accident. Like this one.

I was photographing flowers in a forest. The flowers were across a small creek that I could not cross. So, I was photographing with my hands stretched out, composing by looking at a live view on a screen on the back of my camera.

As my hands got tired I let my camera hang on a strap. That’s when I saw reflections down in the stream on the screen. I was immediately captivated by interweaving mesh of branches and interplay of continuously changing reflections in a moving water.

Flower Hill

As I wrote in my previous post (Good Night, Ladybug) there is a hill close to my house that has various wild flowers blooming every year. Here are a couple more photos that I took at that hill recently.

Good Night, Ladybug

I love the place where I live. There is a hillside not far from my house that surprises every year with a grand display of various wild flowers.

It changes every year. The first year I moved here it was covered with California poppies (well, I’m not in California, I’m in Washington, nevertheless we have occasional California poppies here). The next year it was covered with lupines. The year after that it was red poppies. Then chamomiles. This year it is a mix of various flowers.

I don’t know what’s the secret of this hill but I certainly appreciate the opportunity for close up and macro photography that the nature gives me.

Here is a photo I took at that hill recently just after dusk at twilight. The ladybug settled in chamomile flower for the night and the flower was slowly closing up.

Good Night, Ladybug

Soft Light

There is no such thing as bad light.

When I just started photographing the only good light I knew was a sunset or sunrise. Then I added daylight with sunlight breaking thru the clouds which was creating an interplay of shadow and light on the ground. But for longest time I thought grey overcast day is bad light that is not suitable for photographing anything.

Well, I was wrong. I just did not develop my eye enough to see what a beautiful soft light an overcast day can give. That’s the best light for photographing deep in the forest where direct sunlight falling down thru a thick canopy of leaves and branches create extreme contrast.

Overcast day on the other hand creates nice soft light that is smoothly descending thru every opening and canvasing the ground with soft highlights.

What a perfect opportunity to photograph this flower that is blooming deep in Pacific Northwest forests whole spring and summer. I love its perfect triangle of three petals and three leaves.