Photography School: Visual Style
When you’re trying to get work as a freelance or professional photographer, you really need to look at how your photographs look.
I don’t mean simply looking at them, I mean looking at them as a whole. Do they all have a similar “feel” to them? Something that will make people think of you when they look at it?
Photographers are hired based on a certain “look” that their work has. It’s what separates you from the other photographers out there (And there are a LOT of other photographers out there) and it makes your work unique and valuable.
I can’t stress this enough; Your work needs to have a consistent look across the board, they have to scream “I took these,” not “Anybody could have taken these.”
It’s all about practice. You won’t get your signature look over night, it’s something that photographers struggle with every day. Now don’t be dragged down by shooting everything “The same way,” it doesn’t really work like that. It’s about how you approach your subject matter. Take a look at these photos:
I took both of these photos, but stylistically they have almost nothing in common. The first image was taken very recently, after I felt established comfortable shooting things a certain way. The second image is from a long time ago when I was shooting senior portraits in small towns. These days, I couldn’t even imagine shooting something the way I shot this second image, it just wouldn’t feel right to me.
So here is a list of things you can do to help you establish a visual style for yourself:
Copy another photographer’s style.
This may seem like cheating to some, but it really helps. Pick a photographer who’s work you admire and make a list similar to the list you made before, of things that give him or her their visual style. Really analyze their images, what’s consistent? Low contrast? Strong side-lighting? After you have spent a good deal of time analyzing, attempt to copy this style.. You can either copy the visual style, or copy the image directly – either way you will be in for a huge challenge. If you really want to challenge yourself, take your favorite photographer’s style and use it to shoot subject matter that they never shot. If they shoot people, shoot still life or landscapes.
Pick 3 or 4 things you like to see in photography.
No more, no less. These things can be “high contrast” or “Low depth of field” or “Very saturated colors.” Make sure they are all based on photography, nothing general like “People” or “Landscapes” etc.
Then go out and shoot everything you can this way. If you feel you need to give yourself an assignment like “5 portraits in this style” then do so. Be a ruthless editor. Stick to your style like it’s a contract, and throw away any images that deviate (even slightly) from your chosen visual style.
Don’t get too comfortable.
After you have shot a lot of things in the visual style you have chosen, take your style write up and write down the exact opposite of what that style is. If it was high contrast, make it low contrast. If it was low depth of field make it high depth of field. Make sure you make the subject matter the exact opposite as well. Then go and shoot it.
I am writing this after coming off of doing a particularly challenging assignment. Over the weekend I was doing landscape photography of sports fields. It was hugely challenging for me – I had to use wide angle lenses instead of normal or telephoto. I had to shoot in low contrast light instead of medium to high – it was crazy! But overall I think it was good for me, and going out of your comfort zone will be good for you as well. I’ll post the “Recreational Landscape” series later this week.