Artistic style is what separates you from other artists of the same medium. But, how do you develop it?
We all start with photography by trying to grasp the basics, but we never really focus on a specific style outright. The idea of finding your own creative expression usually comes with experience. It's usually developed through hundreds of hours of practice, study, and most often, through trial and error. You'll have to approach your craft in different ways to know what works and what doesn't.
Developing a style is not done overnight, nor is it an easy feat, but you will get hints the more you try to experiment. In this day and age, it's easier to find sources thanks to the emergence of online learning platforms and the availability of online learning sessions and group tours or tutorials. This also entails you can cover theoretical knowledge and also practical application. In photography, we all know that theory gives you an idea of the method or outcome, but field application is what gives you experience. This involves taking photos of subjects and the genre you wish to be good at. Both skill and style develop through repetition.
Here are several things I learned along the way that helped me create and develop my own style of photography. Remember that style is different from a whole genre, a personal signature that distinguishes your work as a photographer.
1. Find a Specific Genre of Photography
Specializing in a certain discipline of photography gives you focus. Having a goal in mind helps you drill down specific techniques that are involved in that genre of photography. Say you'd like to master landscapes, then you know you’ll have to study the use of filters and master the use of long exposures. Conversely, these skills aren’t required when shooting portraits. Instead, you'll have to study lighting your subject in-depth when shooting outside or in a studio.
Focusing on a genre helps you collect your efforts and apply targeted learning to get better in the simplest and fastest way possible.
2. Study the Works of Artists You Admire
In this day and age, there are many great photographers, some emerging and others seasoned. Whatever type of photography you're into, there will most certainly be someone who you admire and look up to. Start studying their work — the way they compose a shot, the way they use light, how they process their images, and how they convey an emotion or artistic expression through their works.
Your list of artists will probably change as you learn what style works for you and what doesn't, but studying them is as important as knowing what you like as a photographer. Don't be afraid to connect with them and seek their help. The best way to learn one's craft is to go straight to the source!
Most artists nowadays conduct online tutorials or guided tours, and these are great opportunities to learn their way of photography.
3. Shoot to Edit
Once you have found styles that you'd like to try, you have to learn how to shoot for those styles. Let's say you like to shoot long-exposure minimalist images, then you'd have to learn how to use your camera for long exposures and calculate for the right type of filter to use for those exposures. If you want to try to delve into astrophotography, then you'd have to learn the mapping of the stars and when to shoot them. When you go on a shoot, always remember to shoot for your intended output.
This is also particularly helpful for post-processing. If you take the shot based on your envisioned image, it can save you time in editing.
4. Experiment With Different Techniques in Post-Processing
Let's say you've studied some photos of styles that you like and you've learned how to shoot for them. Then, it is time to learn how to edit for that style. This is where you’ will find out what works for you. You will realize that the more you shoot and edit, the more techniques you will learn or discover. You can also combine techniques to come up with your own editing workflow and style. The possibilities are endless.
5. Use Your Previous Work as Reference
The best way to see if you're progressing is to use your old works as a reference. This gives you an idea of what you liked before and what improvements you've made since creating that image. It's also one way of benchmarking your skills to see how far you've improved. Look at it as an honest self-evaluation. You’ll find that your old works may no longer be as appealing to you as before, which only means that you’ve grown as a photographer. The image below is one year apart and an example of how much change has happened in my artistic style and workflow in the short span of time.
You'll be surprised to see how different your images are and how much you've learned since.
6. Be Open to Changes
Given that you'll grow as a photographer, the experience you gain will definitely elicit a change in your artistic expression and sometimes even your vision, so always be open to change and learn to accept new forms of styles to embrace. This will often require you to explore other ways to express your ideas and even change your whole workflow, but take this in as your own step to personal growth.
7. Find Something You'll Enjoy
Given that the current environment is run by trends, always remember to embrace a style that you love and enjoy. Not everything is all about soul-searching, it's also about trying things that you like. Don't force a style just because it is "in" or it's the norm. Always look for something that will make you happy and proud when you accomplish it. It's different for everyone, so go seek it for yourself and enjoy the moment!