How do you consistently take photos you love and that others will identify as your photos? It's all about finding your photographic style.
"How do I know what my photographic style is? I take lots of photos, and sometimes I love them and sometimes they are a bit, well, bleh. How can I make all my photos fabulous photos that I love? And how do I take photos that my readers/followers will identify as my photos?" As people in marketing would say, let's workshop it.
You'll need a nice cup of tea (and perhaps a cheeky slice of cake), a pencil and a piece of paper. Are you ready? If so, let's get started.
Step One: Find your fave photos
Find your favourite photos. We are going to be working with these photos in Step Two, so I suggest you choose four or five photos. You are looking for photos you love, for example, photos that grab your attention on Flickr or Pinterest. You'll know them when you see them. Make sure you choose photos you really love – the results of this exercise will only be worthwhile if the photos you choose at this stage are photos you love.
If you already have favourite photos in Flickr or Pinterest boards, that is a great place to start. Otherwise, type in some keywords in Flickr (use keywords that match the kind of work you feature on your blog or your favourite photographic subject) or visit your favourite bloggers' sites.
I visited my Flickr favourites page and put together this collage of some of my favourite photos.
Step Two: Describe your favourite photos
Start with one of your favourite photos. Look at this photo for a few moments. On your piece of paper, write a heading, “Photo 1” and start of list: write down the first few descriptive words that come to mind. Your words can describe the photo or how you feel while you're looking at the photo.
Here are some questions to help you get started:
- Is the photo light or dark?
- Is it soft or strong?
- Does it look warm or cool?
- Is it a close up?
- Are there props?
- Does it have a vintage or modern feel?
You should write down as many words as you like. When you are finished, start a new heading for “Photo 2” and start writing down words to describe the second photo. Repeat for all the photos in your bundle of favourite photos.
Here’s my list.
Step Three: Analyse your list and make a shortlist
Look through your lists. Are there words or concepts that appear consistently across your columns? Words or concepts that are in almost every column? (Be on the lookout for words that mean the same or similar things. I had “light” and “airy” on my lists – to me, these ideas are so similar that I combined them and then realized that one or both of these words appeared in the list for each of my favourite photos!) Write these down in a new list.
Next, are there words that mean the same or similar things that appear a few times, maybe not in each of your lists, but in at least a few? Write these words down on your new list, too.
Are there any words that, whilst they only appear once, you feel strongly are important? Add these words to the new list.
Finally, are there some words that you aren't sure about, or you think are less important? Don't add these words to the new list.
Step Four: Prioritise your shortlist
Now, turn your attention to your new list - this is a shortlist of your photographic style characteristics. Beside each word or concept on your new list, put a number 1, 2 or 3, using the guidelines below:
1 = very important to me (only give one or two words or concepts a number 1 rating)
2 = important to me (you can give three or four words or concepts a number 2 rating)
3 = less important to me, but still significant (give the rest of the words or concepts a number 3 rating)
Step Five - Describe your photographic style
Your photographs should almost always be described by at least one of your number 1 words/concepts from the shortlist you made in Step Four above. When you are taking photos, these are the ideas/concepts that should be the strongest guiding influences. For me, my number 1 rating words/concepts are “light/airy” and “close up/detail”. When I am photographing my work, I try to remember both of these concepts and work to take a great photo being guided by these concepts.
Your photographs should usually also be described by one or more of your number 2 rating words/concepts and often a number 3 rating word/concept.
Within this framework, there is still immense scope for variation.
None of this limits your ability to take any photo you like and it's great to challenge yourself by working outside your comfort zone from time to time. But my shortlist of my photographic style characteristics is a powerful tool to help me take photos I love more often and I hope the above has been useful for you, too.
I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback and to know if this process helped you to find or identify your photographic style.
Happy snapping (and sewing).