Style

Style has no formula, but it has a secret key.
It is the extension of your personality.

Ernst Haas

My eleven year old daughter has told me that she can always recognize one of my photographs, even when they’re with a load of others, like on the Korowal school website for example.  This is because they have a certain style.
Someone who’s just started in photography recently asked me how long it took to ‘define’ my ‘style’.
The honest answer to that is that I don’t really know though at a guess, probably two to three years if we’re talking about what I present to you when I take a photograph right now.
But style is not just about ‘seeing’… it’s about showing who you are through your artwork.  It’s an extension of your personality.

But how can you develop a style?  And why should you?  Is it really that important?

If I gave you a load of photographs from Ansel Adams, Yousuf Karsh and Jerry N. Uelsman, (three of my photographic gods) you’d have no problems sorting them out because of their difference in style.

Creating a style is about a unique way of ‘seeing’.  The way you see things is the way no-one else sees… and the way you see is coloured by who you are.

 People don’t watch enough. They think. It’s not the same thing.
Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri, above, has it totally on the nail when he says people don’t watch enough.  As a photographer, you need to see whatever it is you see and the only way to do that is watch.
It always amazes me how many photographers copy other famous photographers styles.  I see it time and time again in the exhibitions I visit.  There’s nothing really wrong with this legally.  It’s a good exercise to produce something ‘in the style of’, and you’d probably get asked to do this if you were at art school or doing a photography course… but for your photography it’s not your vision you’re using, it’s theirs.
Developing your own style isn’t about copying someone else’s style, it’s about knowing who you are, the way you see and letting your work become an extension of who you are inside.  If you make a living from copying someone else’s work, you’re not including your own personality in that.

Everyone seems to use Photoshop these days.  PS is full of filters, actions, and techniques.  These are not new and throwing the latest PS technique over your shots won’t give you style.  PS is merely the software version of what has been available in the darkroom for many, many years.  Often, working in PS or other software manipulation can lead to new discoveries… new ways of processing, but PS is not a style in itself.  It’s a medium… Something that can help you achieve your personal style.

I know of some photographers who PS the hell out of their shots, when the shot that came out of the camera first was absolutely fine and good.    Did it need to be re-coloured, softened, sharpened, actioned, etc?  Nope.  Leave it alone.  Let it speak for itself.
There’s a pressure here… ‘What do you mean, you don’t use PS?’  ‘Really?’
Yes, really.  I have PS.  It sits here monolith like on my computer and wow, it’s a great tool, but I rarely open it for any of my photographs.  It’s not what defines my style.  If you’d be lost without digital manipulation tools, then why is that?

And as regards my style, I’m not sure that I have entirely finished developing it.  To say that I’ve finished would be an acknowledgement that I’ve stopped growing as a person, and that’s just simply not true.  Whilst I guess my personality has pretty much set, my growth as who I am has not.  If I look at my very early photographs, they’re very different to what I do now, technically and in style.
I’m still journeying.
My only advice to those who are developing their style… keep taking photographs, keep making mistakes, don’t be afraid of making errors, keep learning, keep experimenting but most of all, enjoy it.

Style isn’t a destination, it’s a journey.


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