I’ve been thinking about photographic style of late prompted by a few online articles I’ve been reading. There are many photographers whose style is instantly recognisable. I’m thinking David Bailey (at least in his B&W portrait on white background days), Jill Greenberg, David Lachapelle, Helmut Newton and Ming Thein to name but a few. You could see one of their images and probably make a pretty good guess who it was by. Does having a style matter though and is it important to develop one?
As with most things in life developing a photographic style has its pros and cons.
- Pursuing a style gives you a focus in your work and something to work on and develop.
- Having a style helps you build a name for yourself as you’ll become recognisable if you develop something distinct to you.
- Developing a style may help you develop as a photographer and help you concentrate on picture taking rather than becoming too obsessed with equipment.
- Sticking with one style means you may become typecast and considered boring after a while.
- Styles go out of fashion and you could become a has been or worse positively not liked as views on style change (I’m thinking over use of HDR here).
- If you become too obsessed with one style you may end up not exploring new artistic avenues.
- You may chase a style because it is popular and you think will earn you likes rather than trying something new and innovative.
As photography has seen a surge in popularity and advances in digital cameras and software have allowed anyone with even the smallest artistic bent to become above average photographers the need for developing a photographic style is more important than ever. Style is not to do with how a camera or computer software works but is more to do with how we as photographers see and interpret what is in front of us.
In the more traditional artistic medium of painting style has been developed and categorised for many years. Styles of ‘isms’ such as Pre-Raphaelitism, Surrealism and Post-Impressionism are easily recognisable and often associated with particular artists (William Morris, Salvador Dali and Vincent Van Gogh respectively in the case of these three isms). Photography has never been grouped into isms in this way and tends to be more categorised according to its subject matter than style. Does this matter? Probably not though it might be useful as a way of helping you develop artistically to consider what style you follow if only such styles could be identified and categorised (possibly the subject of a future post).
Of course there’s nothing to say that a photographer must develop one style and stick with it. There’s a lot to be said for developing a style, exploring it to its limits then discarding it and moving on. That way we avoid becoming stale and typecast but at the same time developing more as a photographer as we push the boundaries of our knowledge and educate ourselves in new techniques and processes.
The images I’ve use to illustrate this post show a particular style I have been both thinking about and developing over the last month or so. Each time I do a shoot I make sure I get a few images that I know I can work on in post processing to create some images in this style.
The motivation for this style comes from where I started out in photography back in the days of film. Like anyone serious about photography in the age of film I developed and printed my own pictures. My favourite film emulsion of the time was Ilford HP5 a high speed, medium contrast film nominally rated at ISO 400. The great thing about this film was you could really push the ISO up to as high as 3200 giving a grainy surreal look. These images attempt to emulate high ISO processing with the addition of a grungy border that I think nicely complements the style.
I appreciate this type of image is not going to be everyone’s taste, including possibly the models, but then that’s the thing about a style. It’s meant to be unique and a bit different from the norm and therefore runs the risk of being liked and disliked in equal measure.