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Style Do you have it Are you finding it


Active Member
I read often about iconic photographers being described as having a "style" - an individual characteristic that is evident in their work.

There is often comment by start-out professionals and keen amateurs alike who say they are hoping or working to develop an individual "style".

So I wonder if among members here: do we feel that we have a style of our own; if it indeed matters at all; if we just try to let images stand on their own regardless; if we are trying to develop one?

Do those who are professionals feel their style is critical to their differentiation and success?
I suppose that a photographers own "style" is always subject to change, always learning and experimenting.
Of course, if a photographer has a reputation it is quite difficult for him to change his style but sometimes it is a necessary step to go further.

The other thing about "style" is, that quite many amateurs and pros alike are trying to imitate a certain style of a photographer they like. This might be interesting for learning and get to know how a certain effect can be achieved. But it is poison for a personal style (although there is only a thin line between getting inspired by a photographer and imitating one ...)
Great discussion Flo. Am with you all the way. As an amateur who is satisfied he has "captured" the technical aspects (but still always learning), I suppose I'm now seeking a sense of my own "style".

I hope to see that develop in a way that I can recognise let alone anyone else recognising as mine.

Certainly I enjoy looking at a raft of others' work - for pure enjoyment; to learn and in some way to get ideas or inspiration. But, I'm not in the least bit interested in imitating or copying their style. I actually see no point in that - yes ideas may come to mind, but that's the limit.

Like musicians and even painters, I suppose professional photographers must also adapt to market expectations of their work - market "style" trends. But that adaption, IMHO need not totally change their whole style - rather modify it to suit the new circumstances.

I'm often intrigued how we can so readilly identify some iconic "masters" images; maybe that is why they are ionic or masters of their art.
I agree with most of your words concerning the development of an own style .
But i want to add some ideas . I think that it is very hard to earn good money with art . therefore you must be absolutely outstanding like some of the great american B/W photographers.
today , as a professional you must be happy to be in buisness and the orders you get might not delight you , regarding what you really would like to do . i give you an ex&le . many years ago i met a photographer who was dreaming of beauty and erotic photography . but the orders he got were images for the food industry . he was frustrated as you can imagine . then later, images for furniture catalogues .
i started off with portraits and architecture as a semi professional . later i preferred stills , nature , landscapes and today i love to search my motives on scrap yards and old farms .
What i want to say with that is , that with the time your ideas change very much . still you can admire photographers like ansel adams or clyde butcher , edward weston or other great photographers but you must never try to copy their work . of course their pictures will influence your ideas and you then slowly "develop your own style" . so if you are an amateur , just take the images , which give you pleasure and try to become perfect with what you do . no matter if your friends like it or not.
Since none of us perceive things exactly the same way, and have our own preferences in respect of our subject matter, tools and methods of expression, it could be said that each of us has our own style. Of course that is simplistic, since style may be described as being a particular melding of viewpoint, tools, materials, and technique that together form a coherent manner of expression.

Just to throw a shoe into the works (playfully) as food for thought: Some extreme viewpoints contend that style cannot exist without an audience; that is to say: style is a form of expression, and expression is implicitly an exchange between someone and another. Following that logic: if a photographer creates their work primarily as a form of self-exploration, and neither cares or intends to display it, can they be said to have style? (Sort of a play on ‘If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, did the falling of the tree make a noise?)

But seriously (without being too serious), style to me is a quality that develops naturally through exploration and experience, and if one consciously goes out to develop a ‘style’ then chances are they won’t establish one – or, at least, an internally sustainable one. Ideally it should be an enjoyable process; but it can be painful at times, since it is generally wise to be critical (within beating oneself up) and to ‘skin one’s creative knees’ by being bold and taking risks. Being timid isn’t an effective way of developing a personal style, since it invites limiting oneself to not exploring one’s potential or chosen medium(s) fully.

Is it necessary for a professional photographer to have style? Not necessarily, many professionals are masters of a relatively narrow set of techniques that serve the specific needs of their clientele well and are consistently repeatable. There is nothing inherently wrong with that – it’s a business. As you are probably well aware, such professionals often limit themselves (or become limited) to specific subject matter, and the more successful ones are able to maintain the interest of their clientele (audience) by providing ‘variations on their theme(s)’. The less run-of-the-mill may broaden their repertoire further by incorporating elements of their own personal vision, which is risky business because this may alienate their existing clientele but may also broaden it. If they continue this continuum further, their work may become recognized as being comparatively unique, as having ‘style’.

My best advice to anyone is not to be overly concerned about style. Chances are if one simply allows oneself to have fun with the medium rather than forcing things, and not to be afraid of trying different approaches, style will develop on its own accord. An advantage of being an amateur is that it provides the relative freedom of exploring what one wants to do, and to experiment and absorb the odd oops. Professionals generally don’t have that luxury, the irony being that they are sometimes chained to an established and sometimes tired ‘style’ by their client base.
Thanks for your valuable contribution! I'd like to read more of how you explain your opinion.
Seriously: it has all that could be said in a way that got to the point.
I cannot agree more on what you said about style developing naturaly. It is of course not adviseable to push on a style in the manner of: "That doesn't look like my style, so it cannot be worth it ..." This is true if, as you rightly pointed out, you are not making a living as a photographer with a "certain style". However if you are a professional art photographer you should not limit yourself to the style the clients want to see but to what you feel is right.
to wayne
i would like to join FLO' s comment . really a very valuable contribution . Very well said . thank you .

That 'other' need be noone but oneself. We should indeed be the audience we are playing to.
That ("self-exploration") is the only way we can have a style at all, without it being a imitation (i.e. not ours).

'Style' is indeed something that only comes to light when something is perceived.
Assuming we (the original creators, who's idiosyncracies reflecting in the created work), seeing/perceiving what we do does not count as such, then you could perhaps raise the question about whether it is there or not. (And there is an answer to that, but...)
But that would be rather far fetched, even for a play with simplistic logic (like that 'old' falling tree thing).
So should we waste time thinking about thingies like this? I think not.

As we are indeed dealing with a form of expression, 'style' will be 'compromised' by the anticipated reception the expression will get in a wider audience.
We will adjust our expression to perhaps maximize the 'effect'.

That adjusting can be as extreme as adopting the style of someone else, who we know is 'in favour' at the moment. Imitation.
But at the very least being directed at a particular audience will leave its mark (to make sure i get my message across, i'm now writing in English).

Does that mean that style never is just a personal thing? Perhaps.
Perhaps we never are the 'personal' persons we personally would like to think we are, always taking part in a 'social'/communal thingy.
Yet, as long as we can say "i" and "they" ("me" and "them"?), we will suffer the delusion that style, to be not just an imitation of "how others do things", is (must be even) a 'personal' thing.
(After all, if style is not our unique (!) way of doing things, who are we imitating? And how can it be that there is a truly original 'style' for us to imitate, without we being able to have a truly original style ourselves?)

So style is, like so many things, not one definite thing.

But that's all only looking at the intentional part. There is, of course, another, 'coincidental' part.
For instance, people have a tendency (or rather, in these days of auto-everything: had) to interpret what light meters are telling them either "optimistically" or "pessimistically", consistently rounding metered values towards one particular end, up or down. The results will show that.
Just as other unintentional behaviour, 'habits' grown out of convenience, or whatever, will make itself noted. These things just 'grow' quietly, until someone notices how consistently the same thing shows itself.

For professional photographers it is best to not have a personal style (or rather be able to 'turn it off'), and to be able to produce work in any style required.
Just like a professional copy writer must be able to use language the way that is required by the job in hand, and must keep his/her personal 'style' for that novel-that-will-upset-the-literary-establishment being written after hours.

That is, unless you are at the very top of the business, and can wallow in the luxury of people coming to you, paying heaps of money, to have you do 'your thing' in 'that way noone else can' (they of course can, but don't get payed as much for doing so because it is mere 'imitation', not the 'real thing'. Yet very professional...).
Well put Jurgen.

Like you say even good artists struggle. The painters I know have struggled all their lives and the markets for their products tend to be "up and down and all over the place". Even these artists accept that they need to do "commercial" work - work commissioned that may even not normally interest the artist.

I can only imagine that photographers experience similar but more extreme situations - make beautiful portraits of brides even if they find the bride to be totally unappealing! I suppose that the average professional photographers rely upon 80% of their incomes coming from "commercial" work and the rest might be derived from their passion, style and the art that results.

I also agree that as an amateur I should perfect my skills taking / making what pleases me, even if it does not please others.

But, an objective I have set myself is that by 01.01.06 I want to be able to produce images that others will pay money for and that my hobby is 100% self funding. I'm hoping that my hobby does not starve to death!
Wayne, as the others said - wonderful comments. I must agree and certainly feel that style is something that evolves and not something that is sought.