First, let’s get one thing straight: there is no one in the entire world that sees what you see, the way you see it. You are unique and THAT is your point of differentiation in whatever you do. You do it in a way that only you can. In these days of social media overload it is easy to slip into comparison when looking at others’ “ideal” work. Not only is social media a highlight reel for individuals, it also can be for businesses. I went through the wringer figuring out how to thrive in my photography business and make it truly give me the freedom to earn a living on my own terms. But when I’d look through social media it looked as if every photographer out there was finding their personal photography style, except me.
Photography has been part of my life since my father gave me an Olympus digital camera in 1994. This was just prior to my first backpacking trip around Europe. While there I played with the camera, not even knowing what all the buttons and knobs on it did. I just aimed to capture whatever I saw that moved me in some way. It was pure love. Sharing the beauty and rawness of life has been what I gravitate to when choosing what to shoot and edit. I was new to it and I felt limitless and like a source of never ending creativity!
A few years ago I decided I wanted to feel like that again. I decided to embark on a journey of taking control over my personal photography style and finding myself in my craft again. Here’s a few steps I took to find my personal style:
Decide what is beautiful to you.
One of the first things I did was go through my entire portfolio. Yes, all the way back to 2015 when I began. I looked through all of my images and picked out the ones that spoke to me. I didn’t have to have a reason, I just wanted to choose the images that moved me in someway. What I soon came to realize was that there was a very prevalent theme throughout all of my images, even the ones from the very beginning, when I still was learning how to edit and color-correct. So this wasn’t about editing, this was more about what I captured. I realized that light, of course, was very important. Whether it’s rim light, Golden Hour light, bright sun, or low light, each type of light adds a different mood to an image.
Connection was another big factor in why I chose the images. The image needed to portray a connection between my subjects, or between my subjects and nature, or even between my subject and myself.
Movement was another prevalent theme across all the images I chose. It could be windblown hair, kids running and splashing in water, jumping, or flowing dresses. Anything in the image in which there was movement created a lot of interest for me. By spending time looking at all of your work and deciding what you find beautiful, you can curate a portfolio that is consistent with your style. Including that portfolio on your website will attract customers that want you specifically for your personal photography style. Instead of trying to mimic other photographers styles, or feed into what you think people want from you, this exercise helps you to begin answering to your own artistic soul.
To keep yourself from burning out, it’s imperative that you take breaks to reassess, regroup, refresh. It may seem scary to turn some work down in order to make more space for your creativity. But, your craft and ultimately your business will be better off for it. Turning down gigs or clients that you know aren’t hiring you for your style is the best thing you can do!
Make space in your sessions to slow down, hold space for sweet family moments and capture the emotion. Make space between session to enjoy your process and not rush through edits. By being selective of your clients and shooting more intentionally you will create more work that you love. In the process, you’ll build larger galleries and give you newfound freedom in your client work. You’ll see that finding your personal photography style will start to happen on its own as themes in your work emerge.
Create your style, not someone else’s.
The turning point from feeling like an imposter to a professional was when I stopped creating for others’ expectations. I started creating only for my own. This may seem counterintuitive since we take on clients, and our service is to provide them with beautiful photos. But remember: they have hired us based on the work that they saw on our website, or social media. And that’s what they’re expecting. If you’re showing work that you are proud of and love, then that’s what your clients will hire you for. For example, if the images displayed on your site are usually low light, and edited in a dark and moody style, then that is what will attract clients that want that style. This is super important so you don’t get stuck and burnt out doing work that doesn’t align with your artistic style.
Shoot with intention.
As photographers, we tend to see the world around us in frames. I remember I used to shoot in rapid fire from the moment I arrived at a location until I left. And while I got lots of great shots, they weren’t intentional, and they didn’t have that special thing that made them mine. That told a story. My heart wasn’t fully in it. But, after finding my personal style by observing and contemplating what I find beautiful, I’ve made space for actually composing in the camera, positioning myself for light composition, and that beautiful moment of inspiration. This approach to each session will greatly up-level your work.
Find your people.
There are so many amazing communities of like-minded photographers out there just waiting to welcome you. Find a professional photographer group (whether it be local or virtual!) and get to networking. Bring your questions and bring your experience so you can help others out as well. There are so many creatives we can learn from, bounce ideas off of, and who will encourage us to do the things we sometimes get scared to do – like enter our work into contests or join collaborations. When the fear creeps in it only limits us.
Having a group of like-minded photographers can help reduce that fear. One excellent group to join is the Professional Photographers of America. They offer so many benefits, like in-person and online education, conferences, group chats, webinars, photographers insurance and so much more! To me, it’s an essential resource as a professional photographer. You can enjoy $35 off of your first year of membership by using PPA.com/MyFriend to join.
Personal style will find you.
Whether you’ve been on your photography business journey for a while, or you’ve just begun, there’s always more of you to be discovered and shared with the world. And the same goes for everyone else. We all have our unique experiences, talents and skills to share. Once you begin to put more attention and intention into your photography craft – the reason you’re doing this to being with – you’ll see finding your personal photography style becomes quite effortless.