As I was thinking about the different styles, I wondered if we realize our own style. Are we aware what our style is? Do you try and develop "your own style"or do you just wander through different styles? Is style the opposite of pornography: you know what it is but you don't know it when you see it? I think that style is something we develop as we grow into our particular field of art. It is much like a muscle. As we work on it, our style becomes more defined, more easily recognized. In today's era of branding and marketing ourselves, we need to stick out from the rest of our fellow artists. If I ask you, "WHAT IS YOUR STYLE" could you answer? If you cannot, then you're not taking full advantage of your skills. You're not developing your art to it fullest. Now I'm not asking what type photographer you are. You could be a street photographer, or someone who photographs nature, people, night images, travel or landscapes. You still will develop a style. Well, at least in my opinion you should if you want to stand out.
When I first started out as a photographer, I read all the great photographers' books I could find. I was mostly into nature back then, so the photographers who were some of the gods (at least my gods) were : Adams, Rowell, Porter, Muench and Shaw. All great photographers that I did and still do look up to today. Some of my early film work tried to capture their style. Not a bad thing but I just mentioned five distinctive photographers and I was knowingly and unknowingly copying their work. I do not mean I went to the same places and tried to find the exact spot where they stood and set the same readings on my camera. What I mean is that I would try to use their influences to shape my work. This is not a bad learning tool. I am not saying it is the wrong thing to do. What I am saying is that you eventually need to take ingredients from the greats and from all other areas of life to make your particular style, sing.
For years I really could not answer the same question I asked you. I really didn't know my style. How do you define your style? How do you create your own style? Heck, at times I was just trying to learn the science of photography; how to get a proper exposure, how to insure a sharp image, is the lens cap off? Believe me, I was just trying to get an image that was in focus, properly exposed and interesting.
Photography, (painting with light), is a mixture of two distinctive fields: science and art. These two fields do not usually seem to go side by side. But in photography, you must master both sides. If you master just the science part, you will get sharp, well exposure images. But they will not have any soul. They will not hold the interest of the viewer.
Have you ever eaten in a restaurant and after say to the person that ate with you, "The food was okay. It was cooked just the way I asked and seasoned all right but I'm not really in a hurry to go back." The person who prepared your meal was a cook but not a chef. He fed your stomach but not your soul. You would eat their food if you were starving and none other was available but you would not even think about going back to the same restaurant again and spending your money. It is the same with your photography and other art. If you do not learn the art, if you do not have "it" in you, then your images will never quite have what people will want to see over and over again.
On the other side, if you "see" the world through the eyes of an artist but do not learn the science of photography, you will have the same problem, maybe worse. You might compose an image that no one else saw that particular day, even though they were standing next to you, but if your exposure is way off or your image is blurred then people will not ever "see" what you saw.
You might ask me, what's your style? Do you know what it is and what influenced it in you?
I think I do. My style is based in three parts:
Composition, Color and Contrast. Let's take them one at a time.
COMPOSITION; I realized over the last few years that I tend to compose my images, both in camera and in post production, in what I guess would be now called 'letter box'. Did I just develop this when the new letterbox TVs were introduced? No, it started way before that. When I was a young boy I loved the movies. Like many young boys, I particularly liked westerns, especially John Wayne westerns: movies like the "The Searchers" and " In Her Hair She Wore A Yellow Ribbon". These movies were shot in the western United States and the imagery included the beautiful full expanse of many of the western canyons and prairies. In the "Searchers", directed by Jon Ford, parts were filmed in Monument Valley Arizona and Utah. I did not realize till years later what an influence these films had on me. The "Searchers" in particular, I believe influenced my early years in many ways. It is a wonderful complex film. Ford depicts racism in the way the Indian are portrayed. The lead character, Ethan Edwards (Wayne) searches for his niece who has been abducted by Indians. So many emotions are going on in this film below and above the surface. I honestly think it helped shape my feelings on racism. In later years, I would move to Arizona and visit some of those same valleys. It is an area that is still very dear to me.
A few years ago, I noticed that I was composing many of my images in a cinematography style heavily influenced by this and other films of the era: the wide letterbox view. Why do I like this so much? I like the full story it tells.
I want to convey what I saw, a person or animal in the forefront of an expanse of scenery but showing the viewer what the person or animal is seeing. Not just nature images but even in street photography it is possible. I think this young women is the most interesting part of this image. Cropping it this way allows her to be the focal but you get to see where she is, what she is seeing. It tells a story.
This is a very subtle difference but I think it brings more focus on the egret, eliminating some of the water.
This was cropped in camera. I could have used a different lens, come closer and made the bride and groom the main focus. But they really were not the story I was trying to tell. What the story was is having all their family and friends there to celebrate with them. The wider angle accomplished that.
You might have noticed that in all but this last image I used the "Rule of Thirds" which is one of the most often used rules of composition. I almost always use the rule of thirds but not always. These rules are made to be broken in the appropriate image. Which is the appropriate image? I believe that's up to the photographer's eye, part of their style. I also believe we should make images that we like (unless we are being paid for a particular project to be photographed a particular way).
The rule of thirds is part of my style. To understand the rule of thirds imagine the lines of a tic tac toe board on top of my images here, other then the last one. Although I could make the point that in the last one the main point of interest is not the bride and groom but the young very demonstrative young man to camera right point at them. The most important part of the image should fall in one of the four intersections of the Tic Tac Toe board.
As you can see composition is a large part of my style and I photograph with that in mind for every shot. Then when I import into Lightroom the first thing I decide on is if I want to refine my compositional choice.
In my next post, I will deal with the second part of my style; Color