I keep hearing this word a lot lately in reference to Wedding Photography, and to a lesser extent, Portraits.
Style… Webster’s defines it as:
- 1.a manner of doing something.”different styles of management”synonyms:manner, way, technique, method, methodology, approach, system, mode, form, practice; More
- 2.a distinctive appearance, typically determined by the principles according to which something is designed.”the pillars are no exception to the general style”
- 1.design or make in a particular form.”the yacht is well proportioned and conservatively styled”synonyms:design, fashion, tailor, make, produce”winter sportswear styled by Karl and Derrick”
- 2.designate with a particular name, description, or title.”the official is styled principal and vice chancellor of the university”synonyms:call, name, title, entitle, dub, designate, term, address, label, tag; More
Going by those, I suppose one can say a style can have a named appearance or a conformity to it, but, I don’t really think style is such a generic commodity when it comes to photography.
Wedding Photography, and Portrait Photography are not a commodity. May as well put up Webster’s definition on Commodity too:
- a raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold, such as copper or coffee.”commodities such as copper and coffee”synonyms:item, material, type of produce, product, article, object, thing, artifact, piece of merchandise; More
- a useful or valuable thing, such as water or time.”water is a precious commodity”
When we talk about Wedding Photography in terms of “I want the Light and Airy Style”, we’re making it a commodity, something anyone could offer, something common, without its own distinction and void of personality inherent in it by the maker.
I’m not saying being a Light and Airy Photographer is bad, I’m simply saying that promoting yourself that way is. Same goes for Dark and Moody and Orange and Teal.
If you, as a photographer look into marketing at all, and you should, the first thing you will be told is…
Find what makes you unique and use that to separate yourself from the others.
If that is the most basic rule of being a professional photographer, why are so many trying so hard to become just like everyone else?
Conformity and Art do not go hand in hand. I do not define myself by the standards of others when it comes to my style.
What is a Photographic Style after all? Is it something you just adopt and say, “This is me now.”.
I don’t believe so!
Style comes from experience, it comes from your own experiences, your life, your choices, the good, the bad and the ugly. They all culminate in how you see the world, and what you choose to photograph and in those photographs what you choose to highlight or remove.
When we adopt a “style” like Light and Airy, we’re restricting ourselves and pigeonholing ourselves into doing things the way someone else expects. Now, of course I realize that consistency is important in photography, but growth is also.
Any photographer that stops learning or growing or changing their style over time is destined for failure. I am constantly evolving, and every time I do, I realize something more that I had no idea of even existing in the past. I literally learn that I didn’t know how much I didn’t know. If I can still learn after all these years, anyone can.
So next time someone asks, “What is your style?”. Try to come up with 3 words that describe you, your work, your work ethic, your approach or your thoughts. After all, those are what make you different from the next person with a camera hocking their wares.
A photographer should be more than a camera and a Lightroom Preset. “Light and Airy”, “Dark and Moody” and “Preset #42” aren’t styles. They offer nothing to the client as to how you view the world, what your vision is, and what you produce.
Take a look through Instagram sometime at Wedding and Portrait Photography. I keep seeing the same scene, over and over. Backlit, white sky, couple in a generic pose, devoid of emotion, story or uniqueness. Nothing that says who they are. The photos could literally be of anyone.
It’s time for that to change. In this day and age we have the best equipment available ever to photographers. Why not use it to create something evocative, something that makes people look and say, “Oh! That’s so [insert client name here]!”? Take back style and make it your own. After all, it’s the one thing no one can take from you… your individuality.