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Embrace the Evolution of a Photographic Style

By all means tell me if you like or dislike one of my photographs. I also enjoy learning new techniques, finding new tools and discovering new ways of seeing the world. But never try to tell me how to ‘pick my style’ like you’re talking about clothes fashion in a Target store.

I’ve heard the tale so often that I should start carrying an airline vomit bag. The hapless photographer is informed by the Flickrati that it’s essential to ‘choose a style’. They’ll say “Hey, man, you need to either shoot black and white or shoot in colour. You need a style. You need to differentiate yourself and your work from the crowd.”

Sorry but that’s a crock of baloney. You don’t ‘choose a style’… you just need to evolve a body of work that naturally expresses a story, a philosophy, an individual way of looking at the world that has your photographer’s fingerprint. And unless you’re a homogenous groupie your own story and perspective should embed into that process. Two photographers with the same camera are always going to see the world differently on their side of the lens… that’s where your style evolves… not in Photoshop. Your style is a retrospective look back over 20 years of hard slog to reveal the essence and pattern within that existing body of work.

Just be aware that the look of a photograph can be emulated – look how fast HDR caught on with the skills fuckfest of Flickr groups. And look how disappointingly mundane HDR has become as a result of that homogeneity of vision. Don’t be fooled by the process… the valuable part of your photography, your style, is an essence of yourself.

Another of those misguided statements is the one that goes “Hey, man, your photo is crap because the subject is in the centre. You didn’t use the Rule of Thirds [or some other preconceived rule].”

So lesson two. Avoid people who throw around dogmatic crap because if you go look at well respected international photographers you’ll see that the subject and context determine where the subject belongs in the photographer’s interpretation. That’s the photograph. And as long as you’re worried what everybody else will think about your work then the discovery of a style is almost impossible. That comes from inside yourself, not from the approval of the in-crowd Flickrati.

If you want to be the same as everybody else in the world join a group. Research shows that group behaviour invariably leads to homogeneity, group think and in-group / out-group dynamics.

Your style and how you shoot photography… beyond understanding the basic concepts… comes straight out of the photographer’s worldview. The way you see a wheelbarrow and the way I see the wheelbarrow open the world up for interpretation. Yes there are over 6 billion people on the planet and a good many are publishing photography of some degree to the Internet. So what? Everybody has a pen and writer’s haven’t given up the ghost that it’s meaningless to produce novels, poetry and screenplays. Every photograph is empowered by the moment and context of it’s conception… no two photographers, in that sense, are identical.

No, I’m not Ansel Adams or Henri Cartier-Bresson or Rennie Ellis or Bill Henson. I’m barely a very ordinary photographer in the footlights of those photography masters… but have a look at their style and tell me they ‘manufactured their style’ as a preconceived and unnatural idea. Each one of them followed their interest, politics and fascination with the world along a completely different path for their own outcomes. They developed their style through doing what they loved in the way they envisioned that work being represented. No more, no less.

So it’s adding that ‘I am me’ to ‘I have something particular and precise to impart to the world’ that will differentiate my work from that of the millions of other camera devotees. So my job isn’t to follow dogmas and it isn’t to ‘choose a style’ off some Target rack like a branding exercise that turns into the box I can never escape from. My job is to figure out what the fuck I have to say… and why I have to say it.

Eventually, patterns reveal themselves. Your style will be what you’ve retrospectively been shooting and putting on walls for the last 20 years because it’s what you do… no different than Hemingway writing because he was a writer. No more, no less.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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