5 Steps to Finding Your Personal Photography Style

Children running on beach in the personal photography style of Erika Rigger

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.

Dad holding sun playing in sand during photography session

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.

    Slow down.

    Dad holding up baby daughter over his head photographed in the personal style of Erika Rigger

    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.

    Mom kissing son on the head while daughter smiles at photographer

    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.

    Kids running along the shoreline on the beach at sunset

    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.

    A couple standing in small waves on a beach showcasing Erika Rigger's personal photography style

    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.

    Mother and father swinging son up into the air by his hands on the beach, photographed by Erika Rigger in her personal photography style

    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.

    Newborns’ Perfect Imperfections

    Close up of a scratch on newborn baby's foot

    As a professional newborn photographer, I have had the pleasure of capturing the beauty of countless infants. Usually, I am photographing these beautiful babies only days after they’ve made the hard trek into this world; and that journey can be tough. Bumps and bruises are par for the course, and these “imperfections” are not actually imperfect at all. I love to highlight the small blemishes that come with the transition into life on the outside. These tiny details of your baby are what make them unique, and are part of the beauty of the experience of entering into the world. Read on to see some close-up and personal shots highlighting newborns’ perfect imperfections.

    Newborn Perfect Skin

    Peeling skin on the feet of a new baby
    Peeling skin on the hands of a newborn baby during newborn photography session

    One of the most common newborn features is peeling skin. Rest assured that this is a completely normal occurrence that happens to almost all newborns. Peeling skin is simply a result of the baby’s skin adjusting to the outside world. It’s nothing to worry about, and actually makes for some really sweet and intimate close-up shots. So, embrace those little flakes of skin and let them be a part of your baby’s story. They are merely a part of the transition out of the safety of mom’s tummy, and into the big wide world.

    A Kiss from Mother Nature

    Baby birth mark and umbilical cord
    A birthmark on the back of a baby's leg

    Birthmarks are also quite common and personally, I find them so endearing.  I like to think of birthmarks on newborns as a kiss from Mother Nature on their way into the world. They are a sweet surprise that oftentimes are just for Mom and Dad to see and love. These unique features are what make your baby special. I like to be sure to capture birthmarks during newborn sessions, as sometimes they will disappear over time. 

    Baby Bumps

    A close up of a baby's mouth with baby acne
    A close up photo showcasing a newborn baby's skin

    Nearly every newborn at some point or another experiences baby acne. These harmless little white or red bumps on the face are short lived, and so sweet. I never miss a chance to capture them, because they usually only appear in the first few days and weeks of a newborn’s life on the outside. They are part of what makes a fresh baby look so brand new.

    Unique Newborn Surprises

    A baby's hand with an extra digit on his thumb

    Sometimes babies are born with even more unique surprises. Like a tiny additional digit, for example. In the photo above, this newborn was born with an additional thumb. While it did get removed soon after our session, I wanted to be sure to document how sweet and small and absolutely adorable it was. If nothing else, these parents will be able to look back on that extraordinary little hand fondly for years to come.

    At the end of the day, every baby is different and unique in their own way. Embrace your newborn’s perfect “imperfections” – which aren’t imperfect at all – and celebrate them as a part of your baby’s story. As a photographer, I am here to help capture those precious moments and help you see the beauty in every feature of your newborn. 

    So, if you’re expecting a new addition, contact me or book now and let’s create some stunning photos that you’ll cherish for a lifetime.

    Spring Cleaning: 4 Creative DIY Projects to Try with Extra Prints

    Family in spring flowery garden

    Good news, spring has officially sprung! But now it’s time for the annual spring cleaning festivities to commence. I know what you’re thinking. Cleaning in any way, shape, or form is never fun, nor should it be considered a festivity. But, that’s where you’re wrong. There are plenty of ways to make spring cleaning enjoyable for the whole family. Naturally, my favorite way is scouring old bins for printed photos that are just lying around and not in use. Instead of simply storing stacks of photos, why not turn them into beautiful DIY keepsakes?

    DIY projects are a ton of fun, especially when you involve the whole family. Check out these fun projects to try with your extra prints!

    Scrap-booking Projects

    Scrapbooking for extra prints
    photo sourced from abbymurphyphoto.com

    Scrap-booking is a great way to keep family memories on beautiful hand-crafted pages! If you haven’t created a scrapbook in the past, now is a great time to start. If your kids are still young, this is especially true. They will be more than excited to get involved in the process. Scrap-booking is a ton of fun and all you really need to get started is a large book with a ton of blank pages! You can even get books that you can refill or remove pages that you don’t like. From there, just have fun with it! You can find plenty of fun and colorful paper and accessories at your local hobby store to decorate the pages. I find Michael’s has the best selection of scrap booking materials. I could spend a whole day in that store!

    In the end, you’ll have a stunning work of art full of beautiful memories with the whole family. Use this as a conversational piece in your living room or collect more over the years and add them to your bookshelf. See? Spring cleaning can be fun!

    Transfer your Prints onto Wood

    Wood transfer DIY project
    photo sourced from ssww.com

    Yes, you heard right! You can totally do this in the comfort of your own home and it’s actually pretty simple. Not to mention, you will amaze the kids with your crafting skills with this project! You just need a few materials to get started on your wood masterpiece! You’ll want to have an unfinished piece of wood with a flat surface, a photocopy of your desired image, Mod Podge, water, and a hair dryer. You can find step-by-step instructions here.

    Create a DIY Monogram Collage

    This DIY project is a personal favorite and it’s perfect to test out this spring. If you’re looking to create a decorative keepsake, this is the project for you. Not to mention, it’s a ton of fun and yet another great way to involve the kids. All you need is a solid base. This should be a wooden letter initial representing either your first or last name. I’ve seen them at Target, Michael’s and even JoAnn Fabrics. Once you have that, it’s pretty simple. Take all of your collected prints and glue them down in a way that matches your creative vision. If you’re looking for a nice neutral piece, try using only black and white images instead of lots of color!

    Creative DIY Photo Hanger

    DIY photo hanger to display family photos
    photo sourced from simplelifeoflady.com

    This trendy DIY photo hanger is the perfect way to display multiple photos at once, with minimal skills required. The main elements are a neutral-colored cord or string, and clothespins from your local craft store. The design options are endless: hang photos horizontally in a frame, or – my personal favorite – dangle them from any good old piece of wood. Let your kids help you pick out the perfect stick, and watch it turn into a beautiful and trendy photo display. Spring cleaning for the house and the yard, wrapped into one.

    Spring is the perfect time for photos! If you’re interested in having me document beautiful memories for you, contact me or book now!

    4 Reasons to Display Family Photos

    Family smiling during portrait session with parents and children

    We are all guilty of letting family photos sit in our camera roll or online galleries. “I will get these printed, someday,” we tend to think to ourselves. But, did you know there are major pros to hanging those memories up? Here are 4 reasons to display family photos in your home.

    Family Photos Increase Self-Esteem

    Mom, dad, and baby at one-year family photography session

    Many studies have shown significant impacts on children regarding the presence of family photos displayed in the home. Children experience an increase of self-esteem when they are able to see themselves as part of the family unit through displayed photos. These photos provide a sense of belonging and value. In fact, experts say that if you display photos early, children hold a more solid sense of self by age five. Geoff Beattie, Head of School and Dean of Psychology Sciences at the University of Manchester says “By displaying photographs of our children at different stages of their lives, we are making a very public statement that we are proud of them.” This simple act of printing and displaying family portraits around the home has profound effects on the confidence of children.

    Digital Doesn’t Do Them Justice

    Parents and children smiling sitting on couch

    Many of us store years worth of memories on our devices. While these photos are handy, they do not give the same impact as a framed photo in a living space. It is proven that portraits displayed in living rooms and bedrooms provide a greater sense of belonging and security in children and family members. With no scrolling or clicking necessary, these images provide a constant comfort.

    Decreases Loneliness

    Parents and kids sitting on dock smiling during photo session

    Often a loved one travels, or a family member works out of the home. Therefore, it is easy to see why presenting family photos decreases loneliness. Photos hung around the home serve as a reminder to your brain that you are loved and cherished. Especially when your loved ones can’t be in the home psychically, displayed photos provide a sense of closeness to the people you love the most. 

    Family Photos Reduce Stress

    In-home family photo session with parents and two children

    It’s often not the house itself that feels like home, but the people who fill the walls with joy. Recent studies have shown that looking at photos of loved ones decreases stress levels. It is as if they were in the same room. Coming home from a long day to see walls filled with the smiling faces of they people you cherish most is priceless. 

    We are all guilty of sitting on a treasure trove of memories in our camera roll. I hope that these 4 reasons to display family photos have inspired you to take them from your device to your walls. If you are in need of some updated family portraits, contact me or book now! I would love to help you decorate your home with the smiling faces of the ones you love the most.

    7 Christmas-Themed Photoshoot Ideas to Try with Your Kids

    Kids in Christmas pajamas sitting in chair

    It’s hard to believe that Christmas is only a handful of days away. But, it means now is the time to start celebrating all of the colors, festivities, and – above all else – the photo opportunities! If you love taking photos of your children, you’ve probably already dreamt up a few photo ideas for the holidays. But, if you’re in need of some inspiration, try a few of these 7 Christmas-themed photoshoot ideas:

    Kids with milk and cookies from Santa during photoshoot

    1. What’s Christmas without cookies?

    If you have a little one who loves cookies, dress them up in a cute outfit (maybe an elf!) and capture them stealing a few of the cookies you’ve left out for Santa.

    2. All that glitters

    If your children are slightly older, you can capture some beautiful shots by simply adding a little glitter to the mix. To catch this unique shot, zoom in. Then ask your child to blow beautiful glitter out of their hand.

    3. Create your own Christmas trees

    Do you have a lovely tree outside or live near a park? Dress your kids up and decorate a portion of the tree with brightly-colored baubles. Then, you can pose them underneath it for some adorable shots.

    4. Elves love pillow fights

    For something more playful, dress your kids up in striped pajamas to fit in with the Christmas theme. Then, add some bunting to the room and treat them to a playful pillow fight while you capture the action.

    5. Santa’s sleepy helper

    If your child is still little, you can capture so many cute shots of them while they sleep. From placing them on top of a red Santa sack stuffed with pillows, to capturing them fast asleep on a children’s Christmas book, there are lots of ways to get some sweet, sleepy shots.

    6. The Christmas baker

    Of the many things that are great about Christmas, food is at the top! Try out taking your camera into the kitchen. Then you can capture your children baking in their Christmas hats or favorite jammies.

    7. The reindeer and his friend

    If your pets are a big part of your life, fit your children and your pets with a pair of reindeer antlers, then capture a few fun, giggly shots.

    Kids reading book in jammies

    Christmas is such a fun, colorful time of the year that it’s almost impossible to run out of themes for your photos.  Try a few of these 7 Christmas-themed photoshoot ideas to get the inspiration flowing. Once you get going, you’ll soon think of many more ideas that you and your children will love.

    If do-it-yourself isn’t quite your thing, get with me for a fun family photo session! Contact me or book now to make sure you’re never missing out on savoring memories. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!

    I'm Erika and I am a maternity, newborn, and family photographer based near Wilmington, NC. I'm also a mom to two cutie boys, lover of backyard gardening, candles, chocolate and Amazon Prime.

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