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?