Developing photographic style. Does a photographer choose a photographic style, or does the style chose the photographer? I lean towards the notion that the style chooses the photographer, but it’s a collaborative process. I think our photographic style comes from our artistic Id (our subconscious creative mind). Pretty damn Freudian, huh?
It develops slowly over time, after taking and processing literally thousands and thousands of images. Pretty soon patterns start to emerge reflecting our biases, what works and what doesn’t work to satisfy our own personal artistic vision. This process is somewhat subliminal (at least in my case) until the results and patterns become self-evident.
“Newbie” photographers often think they have to pick a photographic genre and style at the outset. I think this is totally unnecessary and even counterproductive. Unfortunately I know many (way too many) photographers who limit themselves to one genre only. Why is this counterproductive? Because what you learn photographing in one genre can often be applied to photographing in other genres. The net result is your photography improves overall.
Simplistically photography is comprised of three parts: technical competency, artistic vision and business acumen (at the professional level). This basic equation says it all, simple but far from easy. The mastery of these three components can take years, and sometimes they are never mastered. Technical competency without artistic vision is bland; artistic vision without technical competency is a photographic abortion; the lack of business acumen will doom any effort towards financial reward to failure.
Returning to the subject of style I would suggest that photographers shoot everything (in the beginning at least). Shoot prodigiously and as often as you can (you can’t be a photographer if you don’t have your camera with you at all times). If I’m not lugging my big Canon EOS 5D Mark II around with me, I at least have my little Canon PowerShot G15 stuffed in a pocket somewhere. After thousands of shots, in multiple genres, your natural style and favorite genres will begin to emerge. It will be subtle at first, but as times passes the patterns will become more pronounced.
There are so many genres and sub-genres to explore. Here’s a brief list of many that I’ve tried: wildlife, nature/scenic/landscape, street, people/portrait, stock, real estate, photojournalism, black & white, HDR (high dynamic range), business, event, pet, documentary and many, many more ad infinitum. I will continue to shoot in multiple genres, but my favorites have slowly emerged: wildlife (especially closeup portraiture), scenic and street photography (usually in black & white). Other genres have fallen by the wayside: event, real estate, formal portraiture, photojournalism (political & society) to name a few.
So I will further discuss my three favorite genres (wildlife, scenic and street), and provide a few examples of each (these images have been posted many times on my website, blog and Facebook). I will explain why I like the genre, its challenges and what I think my style conveys (hopefully) to the viewer. Remember, style is a personal thing, so this is my opinion and may not necessarily conform to your own (and that’s okay). So here goes, are you ready?
Wildlife Photography. Sub-genre wildlife portraiture. I love that it gets me out into nature. I’m an introvert by inclination, and wildlife photography is a solitary endeavour. It requires fieldcraft to stalk and photograph your prey (the hunt without the kill); you can never get close enough even with a long lens (my wildlife lens is the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM super telephoto). It is a serendipitous activity, you never really know what’s going to happen. Comments on style: I try for the closeup headshot, providing the viewer with a level of detail they rarely see (eyes, feathers or fur). When possible I try to capture a natural behaviour. I want my image to be tack-sharp and crisp, with bright but natural occurring colors. I don’t require environmental context in my photos, I’m more interested in the critter’s personality. Click on images to enlarge for better viewing.
Scenic Photography. Like wildlife photography, scenic photography (landscape, seascape etcetera) gets me out and into nature. Viewing and photographing beautiful vistas never gets old. I am not a formally religious person, but it’s hard not to appreciate the creative genius that is self-evident in these beautiful scenes. I’m fortunate in that I’ve been travelling the world for the past four years, and I’ve been truly blessed with the sights I’ve seen. Not everyone is so lucky, so I value these days of sensory enrichment and satisfaction. Comments on style: I search out the beautiful, but I also realize that the camera cannot record accurately what the human biological eye sees. Therefore my style tries to convey to the viewer what I really saw; through the judicious use of post-processing techniques and software I strive to recreate the scene for all to see (as I saw it), all the while trying to preserve its original beauty and naturalness (this is not an easy task).
Street Photography. Unlike wildlife and scenic photography, street photography does not get me out into my beloved nature. Actually quite the opposite is true, because much of the best street photography happens in big cities and in urban environments. Street photography is not comfortable for me (at all), I am definitely out of my comfort zone. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m an introvert by nature and inclination, therefore I dislike big cities and crowds. So my challenge is being out amongst the people, and trying to capture candid photos of people living their daily lives who don’t want their photos taken. I do like the spontaneity and the adventure, and the surprises (oh so many surprises). Comments on style: I like “traditional” street photography captured in black & white, but I will also capture the occasional shot in color if it’s warranted. The image must convey a story to the viewer, and provoke questions (answered or unanswered). The shot should be candid (not posed), and usually contain elements of environmental context. My style is usually gritty with lots of contrast (the blacks are black, and the whites are white). I shoot street people, but I always try to maintain their dignity. I am not out to exploit, I merely want to document. Street photography is not for the faint of heart.
Developing photographic style. Artistic vision is a personal thing, and should percolate to the surface slowly and naturally. Your style will choose you, but it takes time and patience. If forced, style becomes contrived and fake. You want your own authentic artistic expression to shine through. Don’t be overly concerned with what others are doing. I shared these thoughts and examples not to dictate what your style should be, but rather to provide some insights into the process itself. It’s an internal process, a process of personal insight and discovery. A reminder to click on the individual thumbnails to enlarge for better viewing. Also I invite you to visit my website Indochine Photography at www.IndochinePhotography.me. Until next time happy shooting.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveler