Is Consistency Actually Important? What Even Is It?

Is Consistency Actually Important? What Even Is It?

Consistency is undoubtedly important for many reasons. For those that want to develop a style that makes their work identifiable, defining what consistency means to them is a crucial step. For some, consistency may not matter at all. 

When I lived in CHS, I went to a work happy hour at a bar that also turned out to be a vegan donut shop, bread bakery, classy restaurant, coffee shop, and late-night bar all in one small space on the busiest street in town. The business model was so all over the place I wondered just how many weeks it would be around; time measured not in months… not in years… but weeks. By the time I walked by the shop again about a month later, it had closed up and BBQ restaurant opened up in its place. It tried to be too many things to succeed. Photography can be much of the same way. 

The Different Types of Consistency 

Just a couple months ago David Justice wrote an article on the importance of consistency. I agree with everything he said and I think he touched on some key points. However, I think there’s an opportunity to expand on the broader idea of consistency. In brief, Justice argued that consistency in the culling and editing of images allows people to understand what your work is and what they can expect should they choose to work with you. Of course, in the most extreme examples of inconsistency, someone would likely be upset if the photographer whom they hired with a specific concept of the end product in mind handed over results that deviated not only from the product advertised but also from image to image.

The fact of the matter is that there are many different interpretations to consistency when evaluating a portfolio. On the macro level, there’s consistency in content (i.e., weddings, portraiture, landscape, etc…). However, I would argue that is too vague. Let’s say someone is a landscape photographer – can a specialty be refined more? Sure it can. Even within landscape photographers, someone could specialize in aerial photography, mountain photography, etc.. It’s like someone telling me they’re an engineer. My first response would be “what kind of engineer?” They’re an electrical engineer? What type of work? Do they work in robotics? Or for a power company designing outage protocols? Oh – they design guitar amplifiers.

Beyond just simply being a wedding photographer, there’s consistency in color palette. That is, consistently delivering the same level of warmth, crushed blacks, amount of environment, etc. Beyond editing style that Justice addressed, I would argue that another important aspect of this is consistency of the photographic equipment used from job to job. While someone could change the tone curves or adjust the sliders for all of the colors, there are nuances between two lenses of even the same focal length. To deliver work with a strong degree of consistency, I would argue one would need to regularly utilize not just lenses of the same focal length, but use the exact same lens.

How Much Consistency Is Too Much?

I believe there is something to be said for having too much of a good thing. Let’s say someone is a portrait photographer – if they were so consistent so as to deliver the exact same photograph over and over, that would be boring. Obviously, there needs to be some degree of variation within the same shoot. So let’s say someone is a portrait photographer who has an incredible 10 shots from a session and they go on to the next session and produce the exact same 10 shots for someone else, then in another session they produce the same 10 shots as before. Still boring, right? At some point, there needs to be variation within a shoot and between different shoots. 

With that said, I have been trying my hand at studio portraiture and I have been striving to produce the same image more than once between shoots. At this point of the learning stage, I think it’s a challenge to produce the same thing twice for two different people with the same camera, lens, and film. While no one would reach out to me to produce identical work I’ve already done, I think it’s a challenge in pursuit of control of a photographic pursuit I’m still new to. 

Who Should Consistency Be Important To?

I think this is the most important question in all of this. I mean, do you actually need to produce consistency in your work? Are you professional photographer? I’m not and I’m happy for it. The fact of the matter is that as someone who is in this as a hobby, I can happily produce work of whatever I like, whenever I like, however I like, and it doesn’t affect putting food on the table or keeping the lights on. As such, if I want to take a color landscape one day and black and white portrait the next, I can. Even on Instagram, I post different things from day to day. I would even argue that to a certain degree, a lack of consistency is a good thing. Without exploring different styles, genres, editing styles, and photographic equipment, you can’t find your interests or skill sets that set you and your work apart. 

Consistency in Analog Photography

If you’ve read up to this point and you’re wondering how a film photographer could be consistent in the same way a digital photographer can be, I understand your confusion. I still own a digital camera and use it to dry run some of my film shots – particularly on 4x5 or anything in the studio. The fact of the matter is that I’ve been in love with photography of the analog variety and in that, there’s very little guarantee you’ll be able to reproduce the same shot twice. In fact, there’s a lot of time and energy finding favorite film stocks.

Even once you find them, there’s likely to be a fair amount of variation in how they render colors. Whether you over or underexpose by even 1 stop can change saturation. Instead, other analog photographers that I look up to have consistency in the content the shoot, the pattern in which the publish their content, and consistency in the amount they post. It’s a different type of consistency but it’s consistency nevertheless. 

Do you think consistency is important in photography?

James Madison's picture

Madison is a mathematician turned statistician based out of Columbus, OH. He fell back in love with film years ago while living in Charleston, SC and hasn't looked back since. In early 2019 he started a website about film photography.

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"While no one would reach out to me to produce identical work I’ve already done." Actually, I get asked for that quite frequently. She's seen it in my portfolio and wants one just like it. It may be boring to me, but for the client, it's the only picture like that she has.

I look at photographic consistency like consistency in golfing or bowling, neither of which I've ever been very successful with because I can't achieve consistency. Every time I swing the club, I do it differently from any other time; every time I roll the ball, I do it differently from any other time. Consequently, I never know exactly what's going to happen, which means I can never make anything happen the way I want it to happen.

Being able to do exactly the same thing every time means you can introduce a specific change and accurately predict the result (as can a good bowler or golfer).

If you can achieve consistency successfully, then you can be inconsistent successfully as well.

Well said. It is the idea of being able to exercise control that I've been pursuing in trying to create replicate shots in a new creative outlet, which for me is studio portraiture.