Fiddling with a swanking new camera, getting a few blurry shots here and there and wondering what your future with your camera is – that is how almost everyone starts with photography. Yet, the trajectory thereon decides everything about what kind of a photographer you turn out to be. Your style of photography, is, basically, who you are as a photographer, and adds just as much meaning to your work as the actual skill you put in it.
One of the most subjective and subtle parts of photography, your style of photography is something many photographers neither understand, nor choose or create consciously. It develops as an accident, in the course of taking the same type of photographs over and over again.
Is that how you want your style to get formed?
If not, read on ?
To aid you with creating your own style of photography, I am sharing a few poignant questions I would often ask my own self when taking some of the most interesting shots. These are also questions I gave a lot of thought to, experimented with, and came to conclusions as per my likes & preferences. It was an answer longer than a yes or no, and definitely something that required thought about where you want to go with photography in the first place.
#1 What kind of photographs do you like the best?
Is it flowers? Sky? Animals? People? In the sun? In the dark? Beach? Food? Ordinary objects? Life as it happens? People at work? Blurry shots? Very closeup shots? Covering a lot of detail? Covering only a part of the scene?
Think. And think from every angle & combination. For eg, it could be a blurry shot of a beach. It could be life as it happens in close up. It could be a flower covering a lot of detail?
You don’t need to define or narrow down your answer to one or even 2-3 things just yet.
All you need to do, at this stage, is give some thought to it. Think about what intrigues you the most.
Setting your style of photography is not an answer, it is a journey, a quest. These questions will merely help you identify what path you want to take, and if at any point you want to change it, how to change it and what it should be.
#2 What are some of the biggest challenges you face in photography?
Is it getting people to smile?
Is it getting the right focus?
Is it getting the right colors?
Is it getting everything right, but not getting the right “feel” or “atmosphere”?
Do you struggle with camera controls?
Or do you struggle with the computer work, the post-processing?
Think of what are the things you still find a challenge, at whatever stage of the photography journey you may be.
This is important, not just because it is helpful to play to your strengths, but sometimes quite the opposite. Sometimes, just solving the one thing you are struggling with puts all the missing pieces in place. For eg, you might be trying to get the focus right, and the moment you get the knack of it, your pictures start turning out how you really want them to be.
It is important to identify these challenges, so you know whether there is a simple way of finding your answer, and where to look for it. If you know what are the challenges you are facing, it is easy to look up a solution. It’s no longer something illusive to be chased.
#3 What do you want to convey through your images?
Is it an emotion?
Is it an activity?
Is it an atmosphere?
Is it a message?
What you want to say decides how you are going to convey it – the means you use.
This question is deliberately after the first two, because all 3 are related, and this is, by far, the subtlest. It often helps to first know your own self a little better through the first two questions, before giving thought to this question.
The answer can change with every shot, but the more you observe, the more you’ll realize, that the answers will start to be similar or overlapping over 20-40 shots.
The answer to this question will also help you identify and play with #1 and #2 from a higher vantage point.
#4 What is the lasting impression you want to leave through your images?
This is, perhaps, the subtlest question of all. The answer to this may not be obvious for a fair amount of time. It might require ardent thought and sometimes, sleeping on it.
The lasting impression is what you want to be known for, like your autograph. If someone sees a photograph taken by you somewhere, it should ring a bell, or give them a sense that this is your work.
You might be able to arrive at the answer to this by going through a lot of your photographs and letting them leave a lasting impression on you. What is the aggregate or overall feeling you get about your work, after going through hundreds of your own photographs? Be honest with yourself. It is quite likely, others will get the same idea or thought.
Changes to this can be brought about over periods of time and experimentation. But, like I said, it is a subtle thing which usually grows over a period of time, and takes shape not just for you, but for others as well, slowly. So have some patience with yourself and others when it comes to this, and try to think of it as a journey rather than a goal.
Identifying your style of photography is not a one-time event, rather something ongoing. As with rock bands and artists, you can change or redefine your “genre” over and over again as many times as you like. It is your way of leaving your mark in others’ minds. It is your footprint, and it is up to you how you want it to look.