Find Your Style

Photograph of a Bull Bison in Colorado
American Bison Bull on the High Plains of Colorado.

Every photographer has their own style, their way of seeing a scene, their way of capturing the image. I think it’s easier to look at another photographer’s work and see the common relationships between their photos and get a feel for their style. When we look at our own work, the picture literally becomes a little less clear. At least that was true for me when I first began photographing wildlife many years ago. I never try to replicate the style of another photographer though.

There are many things that make your style unique, or maybe even not so unique. I believe that one of the keys to my photography has been to understand who my audience is and to maintain a consistency in how I compose and post process my images. It’s basically a mindset that I have developed over the years with what I want to see in my photos and then sticking to the plan.

While out working with some friends recently, I was making photos of a scene that involved a forest of stark tree trunks as a primary compositional subject. While talking about the scene with one of the photographers I was with, she made a comment to the effect “going for that blurry tree trunk shot are you?” I told her “no, I don’t do artsy-fartsy shots” I knew what she was thinking, her mind went to the composition of blurring the tree trunks, which has been a popular technique by many over the years. An abstract take on a scene, drawn from previous examples that were stored in her mind. Nothing wrong with that, that’s what she saw. That type of composition never entered my mind though. My mind was elsewhere, based on what I’ve trained my eye to see and capture. Not that one is better than the other, but we don’t all see the same photograph even if we are contemplating the same exact scene.

These days, and I have probably shifted over time, I look for compositions and subject matter that will give me a very depictive image of an animal or scene, based on what I intend to do with that photo. To a significant degree, I’m looking for images that would be good stock photographs, as that’s what my primary purpose is for my images at this time.

For me, my best selling photographs are depictive in nature. Technically nice, clear, clean, uncluttered images of an animal or subject. Easily recognizable, representative of that subject in a way that buyers will immediately look at if they are looking for a depictive image of that subject. I know what I want to photograph, what it should look like and how to make it look the way I want it to look. From years of experience, I know who my buyers are too. I’m aiming at publishers. People looking for photos to be printed in newspapers, magazines, books, websites or as advertising. People looking for specific images in the style I use.

The point is, I’ve always analyzed my own work and have fine tuned my style to make the images I think will sell to my customers. I’ve done a fairly good job of achieving that end result. Not to say that my style hasn’t or won’t change, as I’m always looking for something better or a way to improve. But the well learned lesson here is to always analyze your own work and determine if what you are getting out of a scene is what you want it to be. A good photographer should have a purpose and a solid method of getting their results, and never rely on chance or good fortune for their work. Chance and good fortune do play into things from time to time, but it’s a determined approach and consistent technique that will win the day over the long term.

Find your style, fine tune it and master it. Don’t be afraid to be hard on yourself and don’t be afraid to make an honest assessment of what you are doing. We should all try to grow and improve, but we have to be true to our own vision and not rely on the visions of others for our methods or inspirations.