Find your own unique voice, is the most difficult challenge as a photographer, even more if photography isn’t your primary source of income. If you are a professional photographer, your goal is to take good pictures and meet the needs of your client. But if you are aiming to be recognised as an artist, you need to stand out of the crowd in some way.
Greatest artist in different disciplines, not only photography, have developed a unique style that make their work immediately distinguishable, even for a non trained audience. Look at the work of Martin Parr, Saul Laiter, William Eggleston, Steve McCurry or Michael Kenna: you don’t need a signature below the picture to give the correct attribution. Same thing for the paintings of Kandinsky, Miró, Picasso, Matisse or Cézanne. Or for the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Beatles, Tom Waits or Iron Maiden.
So, what can you do to find your unique voice in photography? Here are a few practical suggestion you can work on to develop your own language. Keep in mind you can’t really define your unique style in a few days. Even if some artist was able to propose his unique voice from the very beginning of his career, sometimes this process requires time and a great effort.
Shoot more (and look less at others work)
If you are like me, every time you look at the work of another photographer, you want to somehow imitate him/her style. Especially when I started considering photography more seriously, I used to constantly look for others work online to find inspiration. I soon found out this is the best way to loose motivation and get confused.
Every photographer use his own feeling and sensitiveness when taking pictures. And feeling and sensitiveness are the result of life experiences, that are different for everyone of us. These are impossible to imitate, and quiet frankly it is pointless, unless you want to produce a copy of someone else work. This is an obvious point but sometimes we tend to forget it.
Instead, spend more time shooting and less in front of the computer. The more you make pictures, the most you’ll refine your technique and will create your unique style, changing and adapting it every day to meet your aims as a photographer. Furthermore, the more you shoot, the better you’ll understand your camera and you’ll become more able to get exactly what you want from it, in order to accomplish your artistic vision.
Look at your personality
If you just know you love photography and take pictures, but you are still not sure what’s the right style for you, the first thing is to look for something adequate to your personality.
You are a bit of a lazy person, or for some reason you don’t like long walks in the countryside, in this case maybe landscape photography is not for you. Try shooting urban landscapes, you still have to walk a lot, but at least you can take a bus.
You are a bit shy and struggle to get along with strangers, maybe documentary photography is not your genre, especially if you have to document people in some way. Maybe you are more of the street photography type.
You don’t have patience in directing people and explain them how to pose, maybe portrait photography could be a bit struggling for you. Maybe sport photography is more appropriate for you because you don’t have to direct people, “just” document what is going on the field.
Every photographic genre require some specific skill that you can in some way learn, but you don’t want to compromise with your character. Keep this in mind to identify your one.
Find your style
You still don’t know if you enjoy the most to shoot portraits or street photography or landscapes or still life or macro. The only way you have to solve this dilemma is to experiment. But don’t make the mistake of doing it without focus.
Start for example with landscapes, and stay focused on that for one month. Don’t make the mistake of shoot landscapes, then on your way back home do some street photography, and when at home make some portrait of your cat. Stay stick on a genre and keep doing it until you really get bored and you are fully aware you no longer want to keep doing this.
You need to stick some time with a genre because, in the first days, you can’t really expect to get great results. Take your time to properly investigate the photographic style you are practising.
Look at your old pictures
I already spoke about that in a previous article. If you already have an archive of photos in your hard drive, or printed ones in a box or an album, go for a deep review of them. Doing this on a computer using a software like Adobe Lightroom is probably easier, but any software with the ability to tag your images can do the trick.
Once you reviewed and tagged all your pictures, you’ll probably be able to identify some common topic among the tags. This is a good starting point to deepen into some specific genre. If you find out that cats are a common subject in your pictures, maybe it worth to better investigate it. There is nothing wrong in make pictures of cats, just put afford to master it.
Don’t look for perfection
If you are moving your first steps into photography, and you post your pictures in some photo critique forum, most likely you’ll receive comment like “the picture is not perfectly exposed”, or “the object is out of focus”, or “you are not following any composition rule”.
A picture with a story works far better than a technically perfect one. I am not saying that photography rules are not important, but if you pay too much attention to them you’ll risk to loose your focus point. Try to give more importance to your subject rather than to the technical aspect of your pictures. Furthermore, try to master the technical aspects one by one, for example, only curate the exposure for some time. Once you are confident working on the exposure start working on framing. And so on.
Edward Weston used to say “Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk.” This makes the idea perfectly.
That’s it, did you expect anything more complicated? Finding your own voice in photography is just a matter of persistence and keep experimenting. Then you will start to express yourself naturally, without thinking too much on what you are doing. Use the form below to let me know your thoughts about it.