As I've ventured into photography as my career I have been fortunate enough to have had a couple people who took me under their wings and mentored me. There was a lot of work on my part, learning anything and everything I could about photography, and would then approach my mentors with specific questions. And it is through their guidance and kindness in sharing their knowledge with me, that I was able to take that information and blossom. I have never taken photography classes, I am completely self-taught, and it is through my passion, hard work and persistance that has brought me to where I am today and where I aspire to be. And in an effort to pay it forward, I will periodically be answering common questions I receive from aspiring photographers and addressing them here on the blog.
One of the most common questions I receive is how to find your personal photographic style. Part of becoming a full time photographer is having a particular style to your imagery that represents your brand and is designed to attract a target clientele. So how does one go about finding your style? If you're asking me this question, I'm going to have to preface the answer by saying, you don't. You don't find it, it just naturally develops.
A screen shot from my model portfolio page
Now that might not be what you wanted to hear, because if you're like me, you want a concrete answer or specific steps on how to have a photographic style. Developing your style is like developing a personality. It is something that is representative of your individual life experiences, your dreams, aspirations, failures, quirks, strengths and weaknesses. It is something that is so unique, just to you, that no one else can have the same as you. And having a personal style is crucially important in a creative field. If you are producing the same work and style as many others, then clients will look at who is the cheapest and buy from them. It's the same as if you see a book you want to read at Barnes and Noble and also see it at Amazon, only it's cheaper at Amazon so you buy it from them. When you are a commodity, customers will typically opt for the cheaper price.
Family, children and pet portrait gallery
Differentiating yourself from other photographers in your photographic style is what will set you apart. So you have all these experiences that made you who you are. Now, how do you translate that into a photographic style? You shoot a lot. And keep shooting. It is only through shooting frequently that you will find that you naturally will gravitate towards certain compositions, moods, textures, subjects, lenses and lighting. When we all start, we shoot anything and everything we can. At this point, we're just enjoying photographing. But over time, you'll find your personal experiences, likes and dislikes, guiding you towards being more selective in what you shoot and how you shoot it. Maybe throughout your childhood you spent a lot of time camping and in the outdoors with your family in the summers. You may be drawn more towards landscapes, travel or astral photography. Or maybe you grew up in a conservative small town and was drawn to a cosmopolitan lifestyle. And as you delved into photography, you naturally were attracted to fashion imagery with more of an edge, contrast and bold colors.
In my situatlion, I was raised as the first generation American from immigrant parents. I grew up living in the American culture, but also maintianed my Pakistani heritage. It was a small Midwest town filled with mostly Scandinavian decendants where blond and blue eyes were the norm. My family stuck out like a sore thumb when we would go shopping at the mall, and one summer while swimming at the local pool, someone asked my babysitter if we were Afghan refugees. I struggled with blending in with my friends, but how could I when we ate ethnic food, spoke a different language, and wore different clothes? What was once what made me stand out as a child has molded me into someone who embraces and appreciates other cultures and ethnicities, and it became one of my biggest assets as a photographer. Taking from my childhood experiences, has allowed me to create a niche market catering to South Asians, (Indians and Pakistanis). Having a deep seeded understanding of the culture, traditions and language, gave me an edge over other photographers and has also allowed me to create a personal style which memorializes ethinic heritages through photographs. Many of my clients are either immimgrants or first generation born and raised in the US, and if you peruse my portfolio, you'll see a heavy influence of that clientele. It has also translated into my more recent project and niche of travel photography.
Wedding portfolio page
With all this said, I encourage you to get out there and shoot, and keep shooting! Over time your style will develop and be easily recognizable to anyone who views your portfolio. Take the time to study established and well respected photographers such as Annie Leibovitz, Joel Grimes, and Jeremy Cowart, and figure out what elements contribute to their style. Frequently visit and revisit your portfolio, refining which images you display and determining if there is a clear sense of photographic style or overall feeling to the images. There has to be some sort of common element which creates a harmonious ambiance to your portfolio and as you keep shooting and refining what you like and don't like, you'll soon see your style developing and solidifying.
If you have any questions on learning photography, one on one mentoring, or consultation on building and maintaining your photography business, please don't hesitate to reach out and ask. I also encourage you to submit quesitons to be answered here on future blog posts.