As photographers start out on their journey, they often emulate the work of others that inspires them. But as time goes on, the urge to create unique images becomes more pronounced. You want to start creating those inspiring images yourself. Ultimately, those who are serious about their photographers will want to develop their own style, something that makes their images recognizable as uniquely theirs.
But when you first start out, that process can seem really daunting.
One of my mentors, Seattle-based photographer Jason Matias, told me about a simple exercise budding photographers can do to help figure out your own style of photography.
What do I mean by “style”?
The premise is simple: Before you can produce a specific style of image, you need to know what it actually is.
Before I tell you about the exercise, I should be clear what I talk about when I talk about a photographic “style”: This goes beyond deciding if you want to photograph (landscapes, people, architecture etc.). Your own unique style is all about the feeling of an image and the techniques used to capture and create that feeling.
“How do I find my own style of photography?”
So, with that at least somewhat cleared up, here is the exercise.
For the next few months, save all images that you see throughout the day that you like and that speak to you in a folder on your desktop. It doesn’t matter where you see them. Don’t think too much about whether one photo fits in with the others in that folder. For now, if you think an image is special and it speaks to you, if you wish you could have created it, put it in that folder.
Once you have at least 75-100 images in that folder, print them out using your standard desktop printer and put them all in front of you on the kitchen table (or any other large surface where you can see them all together). Now that you are looking at them all at once, start writing down overall themes that you see: Is it a ton of images showing trees? Is it a lot of macro/close-up images? Are you drawn toward mystical images best created in foggy conditions? Do you love the effects created when using long exposures? These are your 30,000-feet observations. That is step one. Once you wrote that down, move on to the next step.
Next, pick up each printed photo individually and really analyze it: What is it that speaks to you about that photo specifically? Write it on the back of the photo. Take your time with this process. Be specific. This step is really important.
Once you finished that step for all the printed photos, catalogue what you’ve written on the back in an Excel document or something similar and start looking for commonalities. Sifting through your observations and finding overall trends will be really fun and informative. It will help you define what kinds of photos you are most drawn to.
Now that you know the type and style pf photograph you are drawn to, you can more easily seek out those scenes as you are out photographing. Really force yourself to start creating those images you clearly love seeing. Your photography will thank you.
Take your time with this exercise, and be thorough. I promise this will be one of the best things you can do for your photography.