The Journey to Finding Your Style as a Photographer

Having trouble finding your style of photographer? When teaching photography, I often get asked how you even know what your style should be. This is both the easiest and the most difficult question. Let me explain why.

There is often a stage, coming at different times for each photographer, where you know how to use your equipment but wonder exactly what your photos should look like. You start to go beyond just accepting a sharp, properly exposed photo, which means it’s “good.” You want more.

The style is subjective, polarizing and variable. But above all, as a photographer, you are an artist, even if you do not accept this nickname. From day one, you have an idea of ​​what you like, even if you don’t realize it. When you scroll through social media or walk through an art gallery, you see photos and you like or dislike them. You will see in a moment how fundamental this is. Defining your style on your own when you’re just starting out often comes with a bunch of impostor syndrome, wanting to shoot everything and always learning to harness the light that shapes everything we do.

Think about style in other industries to help you apply it to photography. Think about styles of architecture, interior design, cars and fashion and how you prefer them in your own life. Your style starts with what you love.

As a photographer, style can be described as a repeating pattern that runs through your work like a fingerprint. It can take a long time to hone, and as you grow as a photographer, your style evolves and changes over time. The beginning of discovering your style is identifying what you already like, then incorporating those ideas into your work. Over time, this will become your way of seeing things.

However you consume media from your peers, be it Instagram, Facebook groups, Flickr, etc., browse it. As you progress, you will gravitate toward certain images and pass others that do not catch your eye. Create a collection of your favorites.

A camera is a tool, and everyone uses it differently and sees the world in a unique way. Slow down and start analyzing the photos that make you hit the like button. Pay particular attention to photos that make you think, “I wish I had created this. Why do you like these photos, really why? Is it the subject, certain colors or tones, the composition, the editing? If you really like a piece, click and see the rest of this photographer’s work. Do you also like most of their photographs? In your opinion, what characteristic unifies their works?

They say imitation is the truest form of flattering. However, sometimes that just puts lipstick to copyright infringement. I challenge you, however, to analyze the work of other photographers you admire and aspire to become. Find out what you love about their work and then do it for many more. Take the concepts out of their styles and mash them all together to form the clay with which you will create your own aesthetic.

As a nature photographer, I already gravitate towards the outdoors. Knowing what genre feeds your muse helps narrow down what you should shoot. For me, as for most photographers, because it’s key to our work, light plays a crucial role.

I love sunrise light. There’s nothing like autumn in the mountains, when everything is calm and the cold fogs the lakes and meadows. Most humans sleep and wildlife is bold. The trees are a blaze of colors. I love big punchy colors. Mountains protect valleys and lakes, so the sun has to work very hard to climb them. As the sun slowly rises, the light finally spills over the edge of the mountains like a filling cup. It literally pours over the landscape. When I see this kind of light, whether I’m scrolling through Instagram and noticing it in another’s art, seeing it in the paintings of the masters, or being out in the field myself basking in the glow, I know this is my favorite. Best of all is called Alpenglow. When this rose gold optical phenomenon hits the top of a mountain, it takes my breath away. I’ll be happy to wake up early and drive for hours just to see that light.

What in your own life would you hustle for? For what subject, light or rare phenomenon would you go out of your way? Start there, start with what makes your heart sing. Then, when you’re in that moment, remember the camera as a tool. Remember the concepts you love most about other people’s work. Build your photo piece by piece using this foundation.

With nature photography, you can imagine that I am out in the field with a landscape or wildlife plan in mind. If possible, I choose a day with just enough clouds in the sky to be interested in it as well. The cool, angled sunrise light is already giving me the warm, vibrant glow. I just have to capture it. I will also accept sunset if it is clear enough, not overcast. Whether it’s landscapes or wildlife, I pay attention to the position of the sun in relation to my subject to really show that light. I like to see the rays of the sun and the natural reflections do not bother me. Then I start finding my subject and analyzing the surroundings. I prefer layered compositions, so when the location allows, I look for foreground objects to help add interest. For me, a very low perspective is preferred, so I’m often sitting or flat on the ground. In my style, I create a lot of vertical compositions with this look and this method. I want an extremely close and distinct foreground, a subject in the middle, and a supporting but not overly busy background. I also use this formula for horizontal and wide panoramic photos.

Later, in front of my computer, the digital darkroom work begins. I drag my curves to create contrast, dodge and burn, and color correct to try to make my photo look like what I saw in the field. I go for natural but a bit more pop, contrast and deep black, combined with vibrancy to help the viewer feel what I felt. In your own work, you may prefer certain presets, black and white conversions, color overlays, whatever it takes to make your photo satisfy you. Create a formula for how you shoot and how you post-process. Repeat these processes and you’ll create a portfolio of work to be proud of. Just by doing what you love and applying what you like best to your work, your style will emerge.

It all started by questioning yourself to identify what and why you like specific photographs, then intentionally applying that to your own work. This puts you on the path to unifying your photography. Over time, this unification will be the signature that will bind everything together. Someday someone will look at your photos and say, “I wish I had created that.”

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