What is Style?

Dear friend,

A question I’m curious about: what is style, why is important, is it important, how do you define style, and how to determine your style?

According to wiktionary, “style” comes from Latin “stylus” (which means pen, a pointed instrument or a tool for writing); stilus.

From the proto indo European, it means “to stick, compress, or condense”.

Thus the way I interpret style; it is your ability to make an impression on someone. Your style is your personal stylus; your own pen and tool to express yourself!

So I think the problem is this: we too often consider style with aesthetics, and to have other people recognize your photos.

However I think we should think about style as your ability to make an emotional impression on someone.

Also, style should be your ability to imbue your own soul into your artwork or what you create.

I also think style is mastering your own aesthetics for yourself. It’s about knowing what aesthetics taste good and look good to your eyes; and creating art which you like to look at!

In photography this means,

Make photos that you like to look at!

If you like looking at your own photos, you’re a good photographer.

Switch it up

I do believe having visual consistency within a certain photography project or during a phase of your photography is good. But don’t become a slave to a certain visual aesthetic or look. For example don’t be a slave to only black and white or color; if you desire, do both!

Is having style important?

For myself, I believe the strength and worth of a photographer is this:

His or her ability to make an impact on the viewer.

Whether the impact is positive or negative isn’t so important to me. To me, it’s better to provoke a negative reaction than a mild or no reaction.

In other words,

Better to make a photo that 100 people intensely hate and 1 person really really loves, instead of making a photo that 10,000 people “mildly like”.

Consistency versus variation

With aesthetics and style, try to balance these two things:

  1. Consistency: Within a certain photography project or essay, keep the same aesthetics. Same camera, lens, film, or post processing or filter style.
  2. Variation: Mix up the subject matter, the distances in which you shoot, or the type of images.

For example in my SUITS book,

  1. Consistency: I kept the same aesthetics (all color, Kodak Portra 400 35mm film, and 35mm lens) and also shot all men in suits.
  2. Variation: Different scenarios and distances and compositions.

The objective in your photography is this:

Avoid boredom.

Only that but,

Stay motivated to keep shooting!

Challenge yourself

I started making photos in 2010, and dedicated myself to monochrome until 2015. In 2016 until now, I’ve been having more fun shooting color!

I think in photography the best way to keep shooting and having fun is to challenge yourself in a playful way!

And also, shoot photos which visually stimulate you! If you’re enjoying the process of making photos, you’re never gonna run out of motivation to make photos!

Your life might be long; so why waste it trying to impress others with your photos?

My final suggestion:

Impress yourself with your photos, then share those photos with others.


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