How to Cultivate Your Own Style in Photography

Style: the impression you stick on your viewer.

What is ‘style’?

Interestingly enough, the word ‘style’ comes from Latin: ‘stylus’. It literally meant stylus — the pointy pen-object used to write.

So perhaps in the past, “style” was thought to be seen as:

The ability to identify one’s handwriting.

Or better said,

The ability to recognize one’s writing, without explicitly being told who the author is.

Style in photography

Now in photography, our stylus is our camera. And the impression we create on the viewer is the impact.

Essentially impact in photography is this:

Your ability to leave a lasting impression on the viewer.

The stronger the lasting impression you have on the viewer, the better.

Why have style?

So let us transition to this next point:

Why have style?

What is the practical use of style, and how can it benefit you as a photographer-artist?

Well, I can think of several reasons. Some reasons which come to mind:

  1. If you have a discernible style (aesthetic of how your photos look), people will respect you more as an artist, and get more excited to see your future works.
  2. If you have a certain aesthetic style-framework in which you’re working in, it is less stress for you– and you can just focus on making pictures. For example, its easier to just stick to black and white and focus on taking pictures, instead of having to decide your aesthetic every time before you go out and shoot photos. By sticking to “one camera, one lens, one processing aesthetic” for an entire year– you can focus on the truly important: making photos.
  3. Very rarely does one art-piece, photograph, or painting make a strong and lasting impression on a viewer or the public. Generally it is the entire body (corpus) of work that an artist does in their lifestyle which creates a powerful impact on others. For example, we only know the work of Claude Monet through his thousands of paintings. We know the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson through his numerous ‘decisive moment’ styled pictures. We know the work of Raphael through his elegant and powerful compositions. Thus, don’t expect to make a name for yourself as a photographer-artist just through one picture. You need MANY pictures; a strong body of work to make a lasting impact as a photographer.

How to discover your own unique voice or style in photography-art

Everyone already has a certain taste or aesthetic style-approach. For the most part, we all have a certain artistic taste. The problem is that most of us cannot explicate what our own taste is. Thus the first step is this:

We must be able to declare openly what our artistic-aesthetic taste is.

For example, all children know what their favorite ice cream flavor is. But do you know what your favorite photography-art style is?

For myself, I like simple and elegant aesthetics. This is why I have loved black and white photography for so long — the ability of monochrome to simplify my pictures. But I also like elegant — and I would categorize my pictures which have soul as being elegant.

More recently, I’ve been drawn to high-contrast and juicy color photos. Why? To me it is a new challenge– to be able to contrast and juxtapose different colors, and for myself to also understand color theories in photography — such as opponent theory in color theory, and I am still learning through practice, trial, and error.

Simple ideas to cultivate your style in photography

  1. Stick to one camera, one lens, and one post-processing style for a year.
  2. Start your own personal photography project; something you really care about. You can do it for a week, month, year, or even longer!
  3. Determine what aesthetic you like. Stick to one filter, one post-processing style, or one preset (feel free to use any ERIC KIM PRESETS) and stick with it.

Your style is cconstantly in a state of flux

The last point I want to make is this:

Don’t become married to one aesthetic style for the rest of your life.

Your style, outlook, and personal philosophy changes day-by-day, hour-by-hour. We are constantly changing, evolving, and in a state of flux — both as biological beings (consider all the chaos that goes inside our DNA and atoms inside our body, even at the celluar level), and consider all the chaos that happens to us with our jobs, families, and current affairs.

I say experiment with all styles. For myself, I have experimented with high-contrast black and white digital photography, high-contrast film 35mm photography (Kodak Tri-X pushed to 1600), medium-saturation 35mm color photography (Kodak Portra 400), high-contrast digital photography, or medium-contrast VSCO A6 photography on a phone.

Also recognize that your style can also be categorized in terms of the subject-matter you photograph (what you photograph). For example when I started I was all about the ‘decisive moment’ candid black and white street photography, then later black and white flash street photography, then color flash photography, then color urban landscape photography, then super-close street portraits on RICOH GR II in macro mode, and now more recently exploring everything photography.

Never stop experimenting, exploring, and evolving!


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