It can be one of the toughest challenges for an artist, especially a new one. It effects your branding, your marketing, your income, and your satisfaction in your work.
It’s not something you can force, but it takes work to develop. It’s the heart and soul of your business, and yet we forget to pay attention to it. We forget to give it the time and effort it needs to bring everything else to life.
It’s your artistic style. Your vision as an individual artist.
It seems surprising that something so critical to the livelihood of artists gets so little attention sometimes. In reality though, its no surprise at all– we are all so busy with our lives and our businesses that we forget to take time to think about the core of who we are as artists. Plus, discovering and developing our style can be downright difficult.
But it’s necessary. Our clients appreciate consistency and I think everyone agrees that in order to be successful at what we do, we need to know what our style is. It’s not fair to our clients to have one style for one wedding, and then change it up completely for the next – we need to produce work that is consistently similar. That’s not to say we shouldn’t keep it fresh and exciting and different, but the core style shouldn’t change.
So, how exactly do you find your style?
Short answer: it’s a journey. It’s not going to happen overnight, and it will be a process. However, it’s a process that’s well worth it. This is a deep question that I know a lot of photographers have and as such there’s no simple 10-step program to finding your style, but I can point you in the right direction to get started.
Step One: Break a Shutter.
The first thing you really need to do is get out and shoot, shoot, shoot (and then shoot some more). Photograph everything – friends, sunsets, trees, buildings – everything. Most of today’s DSLR’s are rated at 100,000 actuations, which means you can take 100,000 images before you break the shutter in your camera. We always like to say that if you haven’t broken a shutter in your camera, you haven’t found your style yet.
As you start out doing this, don’t worry too much about what you’re photographing, just get out there and do it for the sake of doing it. Connect with other photographers in your area and organize impromptu shootouts. Grab friends and photograph them just for the fun of it. Use a teddy bear or an orange to practice different lighting situations in your house. The point here is to start building a catalog of images as well as refine your technical skills in all kinds of different situations, so have fun and just keep shooting!
As you shoot your 100,000 photos, begin looking for commonalities between the images. What images do you love? Why do you love them? What kinds of subjects do you connect with most (babies, kids, couples, etc)? What subjects do you NOT connect with? As you begin to find those commonalities, they will form a picture of who you are as an artist and as a person.
Step Two: Be inspired (uniquely)
As an artist, inspiration is key to the creative process, but you have to do your best to inspire yourself in a unique way. For example, we’re wedding photographers and we definitely have keep tabs on the industry and where it’s going, but we shouldn’t inspire ourselves JUST by looking at wedding photography. Instead, we need to gravitate towards other types of photography and let that inspire us. For me, it’s commercial work that inspires me, even though I don’t shoot commercial work. For Erin, she really enjoys being inspired by magazines and catalog photography such as Martha Stewart Living, Pottery Barn, and Anthropologie catalogs.
Step Three: Get Away
Throughout this process, take time to just get away. Spend time reflecting on life and what you love to capture. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with all the things we have to do in our lives that we don’t take time to just step back, take a break, and reflect on what we’re doing.
So get away, grab a pen and paper, and reflect on who you are as a photographer (which is different for everyone – remember that). Your style is very much about who you are as a person, so take time away to dig deep into yourself as an artist. Even though this is the “Third Step,” I’d say that it’s probably the most important step and should be woven throughout your entire journey.
My challenge: spend 10 minutes TODAY with a pen & paper and just write about what’s going on internally with regard to your photographic journey. Think about what inspires you and what you can do to further inspire yourself. Write about any emotional or artistic challenges you’ve been facing and think through ways to overcome them. Do this same exercise a couple of times a week and let us know how your journey is going!
What other methods have you guys found to be effective at defining your style? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments…
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