Magic Monday: Finding the Style (part 1)

It was early 2007 and I was getting married.  Having discovered photography a year before, I was all the more scrutinous when looking for my own wedding photographer.  I was now addicted to photography blogs, photography websites, and found myself following all the latest “trends”.  When I met with my photographer I scoured her portfolio and talked with her about how much I liked “modern” photography and wanted my bridals to be in that vein.  She seemed rather perked at the idea of having a client that didn’t belong to the world of “tradition”.

I booked her for those “modern” bridals and she took me all over Salt Lake City posing in front of graffiti walls, trash laden alley ways, brick walls, industrial factories,  train tracks, and so on.

Now, here is a question I should have asked myself.  “Why would a classical musician who loved formality, knew nothing of pop culture, who prided herself on dressing up, who wore fashion hats to campus back when NO ONE wore hats, and had never followed a trend in her life,… go for a look like that? ”

Simple.

I didn’t understand my photographic style.

I knew my style in relation to every other part of my life.  There was no question about what type of interior design I loved, what clothing styles I loved, music, movies, architecture, even cars that I liked.  The answer to all of those has never included an ounce of pop culture or trend.  My ideals and styles may have never been the latest movement in the world, but they represented who I was.

I now look back at those bridal pictures–NONE of which I ever printed or ever will print–and scoff at how thoughtless I was!  I was trying to be someone I wasn’t!  I was trying to be “cool” and do what I thought was “in” at the moment.

I had never considered before that my own style should be considered when being photographed.

Let me now transfer these thoughts into a photography business setting.  A year later, I was photographing a lot, and working to build up a portfolio.  I had a revelation one day. After taking my subjects to the downtown area for the one millionth time to shoot on the same brick wall, and look for the same grunge elements for backdrops that I always did–because, remember, I was still following trends and styles and doing what I thought I was “supposed” to do–I had a moment of reflection.

I paused.

I asked myself a few questions.

“Remember how something didn’t settle right with you when you looked at your own bridals?  Was it because they weren’t your style?  It didn’t represent you?

Do you think that every person you photograph has a downtown metro style or needs a brick wall background?”

“Are you forcing your subjects to take on a style that may not be who they really are?”

“Are you not bored yet of the SAME THING OVER AND OVER?”

“Do you really like these images?”

and perhaps most importantly,

“WHY?… Why are you photographing here?  Why are you photographing in this style?  Do YOU like it… or do you think its what OTHER people like and expect?”

I changed a lot after that day as I continued to answer those revealing questions.

To me, there are two important styles to consider when you are a photographer:

1. What is YOUR individual style?

2.  What is the style of your subject?

Today’s post will seek to answer the the first question and if I’ve hooked your curiosity enough you can come back next week as I attempt to answer the second!

How do you know what your photographic style is?

As illustrated in my bridal experience, despite photographing a lot, and spending a lot of time viewing images online, I really didn’t know what my style was.  Instead, I was blindly following what I saw many others doing and thinking that the same was expected of me.  (Note the zero amount of creativity in this approach.)

In all honesty, I think finding your style is definitely a journey, and one in which you may surprise yourself with when you finally find clarity.  I am COMPLETELY different now in my current style, than I was when I was shooting as a copier and follower of trends.  Here’s some helpful questions to ask yourself in the journey:

1.  What style of images SPEAK the most to you when viewing photography?

Is it highly stylized fashion? Candid photojournalism?  Documentary storytelling images?  Traditional portraits?  Editorial? etc. etc.

2.  What emotions of the images SPEAK the most to you?

Serious? Whimsical? Romantic? Humorous?  Laughter? Sincerity? Fascade?

3.  What type of images are you the most natural at creating?

Do you have an eye for magazine posing and an ability to glam up your subjects to have serious faces with an element of allure?  Or maybe you have the ability to help people feel relaxed and love to capture a more natural looking feel?  Perhaps you consider yourself a real ham and love to illicit laughter from your subjects or create ideas that will evoke a humorous response from the viewer?  Maybe you’re more comfortable on the sidelines and enjoy the candid elements of photography?  What type of image do you feel you are the most natural at creating?

4.  Discover.

Sometimes the unearthing of your style comes through trying them all on!  I talk about being a copier and trend follower in my early photography days.  For many of us, I think this is part of the journey to discovering your own style.  The important part, is to have a goal to find yourself through the process, instead of just drifting and coasting on others ideas indefinitely.

I have a BM and MM in music composition.  Having a compositional “style” is important in defining your voice as a composer.  Often throughout my education, I received assignments to write in the style of various other composers throughout time.  Some styles I enjoyed, others I had a strong allergic reaction too!  Although I wanted to stay in my comfort zone and write what I knew and understood, what was “safe”, I found that experiencing my creativity with the different styles was important for me to both develop a larger artistic vocabulary as well as define for myself the direction of my own voice.  In the end, I had gathered bits and pieces of elements that resonated with me, and built upon them with my own creativity to establish my own defined musical style.

I believe the photography journey to be the same. Most of us don’t start into this artistic endeavor already having a clear picture of who we are.  It takes work, persistence, experience with success and failure alike, and a core conviction to discover who we are that can uniquely contribute to an art.  We might just find that the journey doesn’t have a final destination, but is rather continuous.  But having a clear direction to travel will keep us on a road of progression.

In the end, its not about the brick walls and graffiti backgrounds (be assured I still shoot them given the proper conditions) but its about being true to ourselves and finding out who we really are.  When that happens, our work takes on more meaning, we progress faster, and we become intentional.  We have a voice, and that voice  can speak with power and conviction in a way that only we personally can convey.

What has helped you discover your style?

avatarBrooke Snow is a Lifestyle photographer in Cache Valley, Utah.  Brooke specializes as a Utah Senior photographer, Logan Senior photographer, Utah Family Photographer, Logan Family Photographer, Logan childrens photographer , Utah Childrens Photographer and is a photography teacher who enjoys teaching private photography lessons as well as monthly photography classes in Logan, Utah.

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