Developing a Style

I am fond of bird feet and a friend once told me that showing a bird’s feet in my photographs has become part of my style.

A consistent, recognizable look across a body of work or collection of photographs is the result of the artist’s manner of working together with selection and treatment of subject matter. This unique signature look can identify the artist without aid of the written word and it is known as the artist’s style.

An artist’s personal style is not to be confused with photographic movements such as the pictorial or straight styles of photography. A personal style is a blend of ideas and motivations, unique perceptions and interpretations, and expressive use of the medium.

Sometimes an artist will consciously attempt to develop a personal style, and often they are successful, but it will usually happen naturally over time and with experience. There are also some gifted photographers who seem to have a unique, distinctive look to their images from the start but for the rest of us it takes time to nurture and cultivate a personal style.

While it is inappropriate for one artist to dictate to another how to grow photographically and develop a unique style, it is helpful to point out how to avoid some pitfalls that can stunt our visual growth and hinder development of the personality of our work. One of these is to allow the act of copying those we admire for the purpose of education to grow into a rut from which we have difficulty emerging. As budding photographers, especially at the learning stage we are impressionable and it is easy to stunt our creativity and individual expression by adhering too long to the practices of another.

great egrets fight
Backlighting is a favorite light to shoot in (you can see this in my bird photographs). Backlit bird feet? Could not resist.

Photographers who cannot get out of this rut fail to achieve their own style because an artist’s style is based on motivations, inspirations, understanding of subject matter, and personal interpretations and perceptions, and these are things that cannot be copied.

When we attempt to copy another’s style we fail to create images with equal impact because we cannot copy the journey from idea to execution. We can follow the same working methodology, choose the same subjects, use the same gear and even compose in the same way, but the image will fall short because there is no original idea or creativity behind the image. It is simply a copy of another’s enthusiasms and visions.

We can be inspired and influenced, but to copy the style of another, however successful the attempt, is to doom our body of work to nothing more than an addition to that which is already there, created with less passion and emotion, and certainly less inspiration. To make memorable images with our own personal mark, it is best to use our own ideas for the world is robbed of unique imagery and the precious visions and gifts of the artist when we copy one another.

Photographers with widely recognized styles have in common a deep fondness for their subject matter. They love their subject matter in whatever element and in whatever condition and they photograph with zeal and creativity. Photographers are creative souls and the experienced explore their subjects exhaustively and passionately and photograph them in every possible manner.

It is this sense of exploration, discovery and passion that allows us to grow as artists and gives our work a unique voice. This lets our individuality shine through our photographs, giving them a signature look that is distinctively our own, our style.

Backlit turtle feet … the best.

Text and images copyright Gloria Hopkins, All Rights Reserved