Photographic Style - A How To Guide

Photographic style that challenges our sense of space in ruins near Höfn.

A photographic 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.

The image made near the town of Höfn in southern Iceland juxtaposes the ruins of a man made structure with the spectacular natural landscape location in which they’re set.

The photographic style I’ve used has allowed me to challenge the sense of space in this image. I’ve achieved this in the following ways:

  • By photographing from a slightly elevated position so as to minimize much of the mid ground in this image.

  • By comparing and contrasting elements within the stone wall with areas of similar tone and texture in the background mountains.

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 or purchase one, on sale, for $9:95.

Photo Style: It’s An Individual thing

A photo style is one of the fundamental aspects that separates your own photography from that of other photographers.

There are 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 and that fact is key to my own, individual photography style.

But perhaps even more important than my individual identity is how I connect with the subjects that 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 with an ever wider audience.

That, and my desire to help others realize their own creative potential through photography, is central to why it is that I do what I do.

My friend, Tony Jackson, in an abandoned cemetery in the Icelandic landscape.

Photography | What’s Your Mission?

This photo shows my friend, Tony Jackson, at the gates of an abandoned cemetery in rural Iceland.

The remains of human structures in the natural environment is a key theme underpinning most of the images in this post.

Do you have a reason for making the photos you do?

There’s a reason why you might photograph, for example, your youngest child that goes far beyond recording a pleasing likeness.

Even the fact that, by doing so, you’ll have a convenient solution for Christmas presents for the grandparents doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

I really 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.

Watch it develop, but don’t try to force it out into the open. That’s the sort of mistake that causes a lot of photographers to copy the look associated with other, more successful photographers.

But what’s the point of that. In the process of doing so you’ll put yourself at risk of producing photos that no longer reflect your own, unique world view.

Icebergs in the Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon at the Vatnajökull Glacier in Iceland.

How to Create Your Photographic Style

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.

It’s your creative self, your inner artist that’s speaking to you. It speaks to you from the heart and is the beginning, middle and end of creation and your own journey in life through photography.

So much that occurs in between is simply process.

The above photo features icebergs by the far shore of the Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon at the bottom of the Vatnajökull Glacier in Southern Iceland.

Composition is key to my own photographic style. You can see it in most of the photos I publish.

In this case the awesome power and potential danger associated with the landscape is balanced through the symmetry within the composition.

You can see that in how the larger icebergs on either side of the frame balance each other.

Symmetry is also evident in the sense of harmony and cohesion that’s brought to the image through the reflections in the water and the predominantly monochromatic color palette within the image.

Naturally you have to know how to use your camera and, if you’re so inclined, how to process an image on the desktop.

I consider the three most important aspects underpinning your own develop as a photographer to be as follows:

1. Subject and Genre

What is it that you photograph?

2. Technique and Process

How do you go about making those photos?

3. Point Of Difference

Why is it that you feel you absolutely need to make the photos you do?

Needless to say the most important of the above questions is why. The answer to the question why is at the very heart of your own, identity.

Discovering why you do what you do involves understanding who you are and your own, individual world view.

Believe me the answer to the question why is key to developing your own, unique photographic style.
My advice is simply to get on with it. Here’s some tips that I’m sure will help you.

  • 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 best work.

Working through this process, point by point, will allow your photographic style to emerge.

Over time by continually examining your motivations, expectations and photographic achievements your style will develop.

You photographic style will become the personal signature that speaks to the world about you, the creator of those images.    

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 associated emotions.

What’s critical to understand and accept is that we determine those emotions for ourselves based upon how we perceive those particular experiences.

In other words it’s just rain. It might well make your hair fill with moisture and balloon into something resembling an afro.

If you’re caught out and about when it’s raining, and you don’t have an umbrella or raincoat handy, there may not be a lot you can do about it.

You’ll get wet and your hair may frizz up.

But whether the rain or what happens to your hair makes you happy or sad; non-plussed, elated or frustrated is based, entirely, upon your perception of that event.

Please remember while we cannot always control what happens to us, we can control what we make of those experiences.

This understanding is central to the Human Condition.

Photographers Live Through Their Art

Approach your photography as you should your life.

For most folk photography should be fun and devoted to the celebration of beauty and the pursuit of a greater sense of meaning and connectedness.

The value of our lives is evidenced through the relationships we form and the art we make.

I know my own photographs explore that fact and I believe the photographic style I’ve developed serves my mission to make beautiful, life affirming images.

The photo of the replica Viking village was made in a dramatic setting near Höfn in rural Iceland.

The similar tonality in the building and the adjacent mountainside, together with the building’s turf roof, help ground the structure in the landscape in a way that allowed me to explore interesting similarities and differences in the scene.

There’s the similarities of tone, shape and texture evident in the building and the surrounding landscape.

Contrast that with the differences between the natural landscape’s topography and the man made structures within the scene and you’ll see why I wanted to make this photo.

Sure, it shows a replica Viking settlement. But that’s really just a collection of interesting objects. What makes the image fine art is that the subject of this photo is really a study in composition.

That’s what it’s about and the reason why I was drawn to make it. What’s more the photographic style with which I approached the making of this image was central to realizing this result.

Photography | A Life Of Meaning

Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to live a purpose-driven, meaning-rich life. Above all else 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 visually interesting images that allow you to explore the world, ask questions or express opinions.

Good is a subjective term. Nonetheless, despite the destructive nature of much of the post modern movement, I’m both pleased and relieved to report that basic concepts such as beauty and love remain.

Yes, the concepts of beauty and love lie in the eye of the beholder, but they also exist as universal truths.

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 our true purpose in life.

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 and develop your own photographic style 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