Hue, 2017 #cindyproject

Dear friend,

Many of us are trying to find our “style” in our photography.

1. Photography style

Hue, 2017 #cindyproject

But what exactly is “style”?

For me, “style” in photography is about consistency of subject-matter and consistency of aesthetic (how the photo looks).

For example, if you want to build a definite “style” in your photography — seek to work on a photo project, where you focus on a specific subject-matter. You can focus on a specific person (personal documentary), you can focus on a certain city (your own hometown), or you can focus on a certain social issue.

For consistency of aesthetics — you want to be consistent with your equipment. For example, I recommend (for a certain photo project), to stick with the same camera, same lens, and the same “look” (either black and white, or color). This allows you to be less distracted in terms of your equipment, and allows you to focus on your subject-matter (what you want to photograph).

2. Should I have a “style” in my photography?

Sapa, 2017 #cindyproject

Perhaps a better question we should ask ourselves is this: “Should I have a style in my photography?”

It is up to you.

For some photographers, they prefer consistency in their work.

For other photographers, they hate consistency in their work.

Ultimately photography is all about knowing yourself. You need to photograph what works for you — rather than listening to the advice of others.

I know for me personally, I like to have a balance between consistency in my work, and also variety.

I have consistency in my work by sticking to the same camera, lens, and aesthetic within a certain photo project.

I have variety in my work by working on different projects. And for each new project, I decide a new camera, lens, (film or digital), or other factors.

3. Creative constraints

eric kim street photography hanoi ricoh gr ii-0003866
Ha Long Bay, 2017 #cindyproject

I feel the best way to be more creative in your photography isn’t to have unlimited options. Rather, if you really want to be resourceful and innovative, you need to put constraints on yourself.

For example, kids who grow up poor (and don’t have iPads) learn how to make their own toys. They are more creative than rich kids who just play Angry Birds on their tablets.

Photographers are more innovative when they are limited with their gear. The photographer Aik Beng Chia started off shooting with an iPhone— because he couldn’t afford any other camera. This allowed him to innovate within the constraints of the early smartphone cameras (iPhone 4-series). He focused more on light, composition, and textures to make great images— rather than use the camera as a crutch.

I know a lot of other photographers who complain that they can’t make good photos because their own town is boring. But William Eggleston is famous for taking interesting photos of his own boring city.

You don’t need to own an expensive camera, live in an exotic city, or be born ‘creative.’ Rather, seek to be a photographer now. You are in the best possible situation to make good photos now. You don’t need any extra equipment besides what you already own in order to show your soul through your photos.

4. Shoot yourself

Sapa, 2017 (photo by Cindy)

I feel the best way to show your ‘style’ in your photography is to bare your soul. If someone looks at your photos, and they can tell what kind of person you are— you have achieved your job as a photographer.

Too many photographers now don’t show themselves in their photo. I know for myself, I have started to make better photos the more personal I made my photos.

I want to embed my soul into my images. I do this by photographing my loved ones, photographing myself, or photographing strangers on the street who I either interact with or feel their emotions.

A photograph without your soul doesn’t have your stamp of authenticity on it. That is what the world lacks— authentic photographers, not ‘good’ photographers.

5. Style is overrated

Eric kim hanoi street photography
Hanoi, 2017

I know I’ve been talking a lot about style in this article— but honestly, I think this over-obsession with style can hurt you creatively.

Just be authentic, and be yourself. Photograph what interests you, and don’t listen to any rules from others. Rather, create your own rules for your own photography. Create your own ‘creative constraints’ for yourself— and you will find more fun through the self-imposed challenge you set in your photography.

6. Assignments to find your style

My Mom / Hanoi, 2017
My Mom / Hanoi, 2017

Here are some concrete assignments you can work on to make your photography more personal, and to show your soul through your photos:

  1. Personal Photography: Only photograph your loved ones for a month, and make the images as artistic and personal as possible.
  2. Do a self-portrait series: Either photograph yourself by putting your camera on a tripod, by photographing yourself in the mirror, your reflection, or your mood.
  3. Empathize with your subject: Photograph your subjects like if they were yourself. Feel their emotion, mood, and mind-state. Connect with them on a deeper level with your photos.

Photo Journal

If you want to make your photos more personal, invest in a copy of “Photo Journal.”