Do Photographers Really Need to Have a Unique Visual Style?

Do Photographers Really Need to Have a Unique Visual Style?

This is one of the most important questions that most photographers out there have been asking themselves. We admire the photographers who have their own styles, and sometimes we try to imitate their styles that we like most. We were all taught to try everything, until we find our own unique visual styles. But, is that really important?

Photography is not like painting, cinema, or architecture, and therefore it is harder to create a style and express it on a single image. You can try and use various techniques, and even you can develop your own shooting and post production techniques; however, this doesn’t always result with achieving a unique style. For instance, you can spend several hours on color grading that feels unique to you, but the sad truth is; every time you try, you will realize that, it is already used by another photographer, or maybe it can easily be achieved by a plug-in or a software. It may sound frustrating, but as long as it isn’t your main goal, then there is no need to be upset or give up.

Having a style is definitely an advantage for a commercial photographer. Considering all the effort, experience, sleepless nights, trials and errors, it pays for all as success in the long run. But, what about the fact that everyone is different in terms of perception and application? This leads us to another question: Would you consider yourself a bad photographer just because you don’t have a style? Well, probably not. Beyond any doubt, photographers with unique styles are good photographers, but this doesn’t mean “ordinary” photographers are bad in their professions. So, what is the point of being just like other thousands of photographers out there?

Being a Good Operator

It is always better to analyze your target audience and focus on what you are selling. Probably, 1% of the photographers in the market are hired due to their different styles and the rest can still earn from their photography work on regular basis. Whilst that 1% is usually considered top-notch, and targeted high-end clients, the rest can be still successful and earn decent money from photography. At this point, as an “ordinary” photographer, the key to success in photography business is being a good operator. If you are a wedding photographer, give your clients what they want; if you’re an advertising photographer, create the images that the creative director and the art director want to see; if you’re a fashion photographer, then try to show the garments of the designer in the best way with an overall appealing look. Meeting your clients’ expectations would also provide you a successful career and consistent income.   

The vast majority of clients choose photographers depending on their budgets and availability. For instance; in fashion photography, designers or companies don’t seek originality when it comes to a look book photo shoot. Usually, they just want to show their products on straightly posed models in front of white backgrounds. At this point, your previous experience on handling a similar shoot, your pricing and expected turnaround time of the project would be reason for preference.

Another fact about the market is, everything is changing rapidly and you should always adapt new trends to survive. Remember the stock photos of 90s and early 2000s; business themed images with blue tints were everywhere. Thousands of photographers shot similar images and they all earned money. Now the trend is lifestyle images with warm tones, and majority of stock photographers are going in that direction. Advertising images of early 2000s were mostly HDR-like digital composites, however, now brands seek natural looks with “lifestyle images”, so most advertising photographers shoot lifestyle images too. The transition and adaptation which will provide consistency in your business, would be easier, if you know the drill. Rather than spending time on creating our own looks, following what’s going on out there and what clients want to see would be the primary option. As a matter of fact, we don’t have the time to develop a style in this rapidly evolving era, and it is our curse.


Attracting Art Buyers and Representers


Whether you’re a fashion or an advertising photographer, being represented by an agent or a company is one of the most challenging parts of the photography business, as we all know. It is hard to reach them, and getting their attention is even harder. At that point having a style would be an advantage, whereas you still have a chance to be noticed if you are expert on what you are doing. It doesn’t mean that you have to shoot all kind of photography; you just have to be expert in your specialty.  Besides, as many other represented photographers already said; the key to being realized is consistency, marketing, networking, and personal projects. And yeah, style of course.

To sum up, obsessing with developing your own style may prevent you achieving success as a professional photographer. I’m aware that you have been reading and watching in every media about why style matters, however; in a market where you have to do consistent marketing to build your network and gain clients, you would focus on the variety in your portfolio as an option. Also, you’d also probably heard this from many masters; “only 30% of this job is real photography”, and as they already did, focusing on other dynamics such as marketing and networking is a must. Thus, you would earn the money to spend for your own personal projects where you’d have a real chance to develop a style. Because in most commissioned works, you will be hired as an operator, because of your skills and your ability to complete a project.


  • Do not believe in success stories, most of them are written by PR agencies
  • Focus on the content, rather than the look
  • Try to create interesting ideas rather than glamorous looks
  • Keep your portfolio updated with fresh images
  • Go with the flow, but try to be the best
  • Invest and spend time on effective marketing
  • Stop thinking as a photographer and try to think from the clients’ perspectives
  • Be a good operator




Burak Erzincanli's picture

Burak is a photographer and creative retoucher specialising in fashion and advertising, working with international clients from Canada, Europe and Australia.

Currently lives and works in Manchester, UK.

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It totally depends on the niche you are in.

If you stick to a (your) style it will stop you from being creative

different perspective, and definitely sounds right to me Juergen

Excellent point Juergen, nobody likes a one-trick-pony.


Blahhhhhhhhhh. Knowing trends and your target market means you are running your BUSINESS competently. Your STYLE separates your business from the business down the street that charges the same as you do. Richard Avedon's pictures didn't look like Irving Penn's pictures. Annie Leibovitz pictures don't look like Bruce Webber's pictures. If you want to go contemporary, Sean Flanigan's wedding photography doesn't look like Sam Hurd's or Ryan Brenizer's wedding photography. They ALL have unique style that clearly separates them from their peers and keeps them in high demand with their clientele.

maybe you should read the 4th paragraph once again

I don't know if you NEED your own style, but I can tell you how you (might) get it. Study the heck out of the history of photography. Find works that really speaks to you.

Then, plagiarizer the shit out of it. There's real value in looking at good stuff that moves you, and spending serious time reverse-engineering it so you can do it, too.

I'll give you an example from music: Keith Richards wanted more than anything to play like Chuck Berry. Listen to "The Rolling Stones Now" and you'll hear he succeeded. Not long after he heard the "Satisfaction" riff in a dream....

William Eggleston started out trying to be Cartier Bresson. And in black and white, he got pretty damn close.

Then, he switched to color.

Will you wind up with a distinctive style? Luck probably plays a part, too, but "the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have."

good point Stephen!

A little late to the conversations, but great article! As an aspiring professional photographer, this is exactly what I needed to read to validate some of my thoughts, and also make more sense of them. I think you're onto something when you say the majority of people choose photographers based on budget/availability. I've seen a lot of online talk about "branding, choosing a specific style and sticking with it, etc." and to me, this just doesn't make total sense. Yes, you are so right, if I were in the top 1% I can see how this would be important... But right now I'm growing and learning constantly--the top 1% had to start somewhere too, and I'm sure most got there through trial and error.

I've also wondered--those people who have a consistent style.. How often do they miss out on jobs that they otherwise may have booked had they shown a little more variety in their style? I'd say style is important, but talking with your client about their desires and expectations is probably more important.