Developing Your Own Photographic Style

Ruins of  structures past lie in the landscape near Höfn in Southern Iceland.

Every now and again there’s a big debate that goes around the photography world concerning the need to discover your own photographic style. The first thing to be aware of is that you can’t successfully or legitimately copy someone else’s style nor purchase one, on sale, for $9:95.

Style, from my way of thinking, defines your work in much the same way that a signature dish defines a great chef or a classic riff defines a rhythm and blues (i.e., rock) guitarist.

Why No Two People Make The Same Photographs

Style is what separates your photography from that of your competitors. There are many, many photographers who photograph people and landscapes. But none of them make images quite the same as I do.

Just like you, I’m an individual. That makes me unique. But perhaps even more important than my individual identity is how I connect with the subjects I photograph and how those encounters are shaped by my own world view.

I work hard to produce images that share the beauty of our world and its people. That, and my desire to help others realize their own creative potential through photography, is why I do what I do.

My friend, Tony Jackson, at the gates of an abandoned cemetery in rural Iceland.

Photography | What’s Your Mission

Do you have a reason for making the photos you do? You’re not just photographing your youngest child. There’s a reason why you make those photos that goes far beyond recording a pleasing likeness or because it provides a convenient solution for Christmas presents for the grandparents.

I think it’s important to spend some time thinking about the photos you make and why they’re so important to you.   

Style Is Not Process

Don’t be overly concerned with the need to have a photographic style. You can’t buy a style and you won’t find it in a Lightroom preset. Your very own, unique photographic style will develop and become known to you overtime and, usually, after the fact.

Icebergs by the far shore of the Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon at the bottom of the Vatnajökull Glacier in Southern Iceland.

Develop Your Style Through The Act Of Creation

Making photos in camera and, for those that deem it to be appropriate to do so, on the desktop is what it’s all about. Photography is very much an intuitive process. Pay attention to your gut instincts and listen to the voice inside you. That’s your creative self, your inner artist speaking to you. It speaks to you from the heart and is the beginning, middle and end of creation. Everything in between is simply process.

Naturally you have to know how to use your camera and, if you’re so inclined, how to process an image on the desktop. But, of the three aspects underpinning your photography (i.e., what, how and why), the most important is why. The answer to that question is at the very heart of your own, individual identity. Discovering why you do what you do involves understanding who you are and your view on the world, and is key to developing your own, unique photographic style. 
My advice is simply to get on with it. Make photos, critique them honestly and work to make better ones. Surround yourself with your best work and let that work inform you as to your motivations, your expectations and your achievements. Consider what you do well and what you love to do well. Think about how you could make images into the future that build on and better define your work.

Meeting that challenge should allow your photographic style to emerge. Over time and by continually examining your motivations, expectations and achievements your style will develop and will become the personal signature that speaks to the world about you, the creator of those images.    

A replica of a Viking village in a dramatic setting near Höfn in rural Iceland.

We Really Do Make Our Own Reality

Everyone seems so concerned with the pursuit of happiness. But life, by its very nature, delivers to us a range of experiences and the emotions we determine for ourselves based upon how we perceive those experiences. It’s just rain, whether it makes you happy or sad is based upon your perception of that event.

Whether negative or positive what matters more than the experience itself is what we make of that experience. We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control what we make of those experiences.

Photographers | Live Through Your Art

Approach your photography as you should your life. For most folk photography should be fun, purpose driven and devoted to the celebration of beauty and the pursuit of a greater sense of meaning and connectedness.

Photography, as a creative pursuit, provides us with the vehicle by which we can actively live and determine the value of our lives through the art we make.

Photography | A Life Of Meaning

Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to live a purpose-driven, meaning-rich life. Above all our photographs need to be authentic, as do we.

There’s nothing wrong with making photos with highly saturated colors, lots of noise or added textures. That is, assuming those elements make for a visually interesting image that allows you to explore the world and/or express a viewpoint.

Good is a subjective term. Nonetheless, despite the destructive nature of the post modern movement, I’m both pleased and relieved to report that basic concepts such as beauty and love remain. Yes, they lie in the eye of the beholder, but they also remain as universal truths. And it’s the desire to find beauty and love, in a world so often bereft of such things, that remains central to my own life’s journey. 

I’m sure our purpose in life is not to be rich or poor, corporate tycoon or employee. Such things are simply circumstances we have either been born into or, for better or for worse, have created for ourselves. If there was one thing we should all come away with, at the end of our time on this planet, it’s a greater understanding of who we are and what our real purpose in life is.

Please ponder the notion of being authentic and how that will manifest itself in the photography you undertake. It would be my pleasure to help you pursue your own, individual creative path through the art of photography. You’re most welcome to contact me directly and, as always, feel free to share this post widely and wildly. 

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru