Editing styles is a topic that comes up really frequently, and I see so many articles and write ups around the specific editing styles that photographers should have. It’s an opinion that that I’ve seen a lot of; if you don’t find your own niche, or fit in with a specific trend, there’s no way your images will be successful. Well, I’m here to say that the pressure to fit in with certain styles and trends is total rubbish. You do you.
The point of this post is to talk through where you can find inspiration for how you want your work to look, how I approach some of my own work, and to try to summarise how I would talk about my own ‘style’.
When I first started seriously thinking about what my work should look like I constantly researched photographers and tried to think about what it was that I loved so much. Was it the colour and texture? Was it the subject matter? Was it the composition and framing? Or was it how each image made me feel?
My one tip for finding inspiration? Look elsewhere aside from within the photography sphere. Over time I’ve followed a whole range of people including artists and illustrators, cinematographers, directors, stage and lighting designers, game designers, as well as paying attention to how things I watch in film and television are put together. By doing this I have a whole range of stuff that I’m able to draw influence and inspiration from. In addition to this no two of these influences are alike and, in all the time I’ve been looking, there hasn’t been one ‘style’ that I prefer over everything else.
Abandon thoughts of style, and go with your gut!
I didn’t pick a certain style to emulate from the wealth of source material I found. Like I said; you don’t need to have just one set look to all of your work and you shouldn’t feel like you have to have one. Instead I started thinking a little more carefully around what look, or skill, I wanted to try to include in each particular project, as well as what, and where I was shooting.
Yes, consider your brief too, but don’t be afraid to advise against going in one particular direction in terms of colour, lighting, or general feel if you know that there’s a better direction to go in.
For example, when shooting a wedding, I’ll usually go with bright lighting, deep colours, and stronger blacks to give each image a satin like texture, and create almost living snapshots of the day. I’ll steer clear of ‘trend’ editing because these images will need to sort of stand the test of time.
When shooting inside a church I’ll look at the light that I have; is the inside a warm orange colour or a brighter, more modern white? If it’s a warmer orange colour, I’ll aim for darker images with slightly softer lighting style, to try to blur the boundary between comforting and ominous (I have a thing with churches and what they mean to different people but I think that needs a whole other post).
If I’m going to take images of a landscape, I’ll see how the light is on the day. If the light is really soft and hazy I’ll use desaturated colours and take down the blacks to make the image feel slightly whimsical. If the light is really strong I usually try to make it feel realistic; balance out the shadows, use deep jewel tones, and lower the contrast slightly. Overcast? I’ll often make the images dark and moody, increasing the blacks and desaturating the brighter colours in each image.
I said ‘usually’ a lot there because I do change my approach depending on what would be most suitable. You limit yourself if you stick to just one approach. Changing your mind, within reason especially if you’re working with a client, is totally fine, and it’s how you develop your skill set.
Take a step back.
Once you have a few different image sets in your portfolio it’s always worth gathering everything together and having a look at your body of work as a whole. You can also invite people that you trust to do this too to get a bit of an outside perspective on what you’re creating.
What mix of things do your images have in common? Is it deep colour or saturation? Are your images dark and moody? Are your images light and airy? Do your images all have a similar texture (glossy, grainy, satin)? Do you light your images in a similar way?
Once you start picking up on these similarities you’ll start to see your own style emerge. It doesn’t come from copying a filter or only editing in one way. It comes from how you see your subjects, and it comes from how you feel at the time (both, of shooting and editing).
What about my style?
Looking at my portfolio now, I’d say that my style is a mix of realism, deep colours, rich tones, with an almost cinematic, live, feel. I’ve been heavily influenced by different cinematographers and the idea that just because an image is ‘still’ it doesn’t mean it can’t make you feel the same way a piece of film does. I want my images to feel ‘live’ in a sense. No matter who they’re for, or what type of commission I have, I want whoever is looking at my images to feel like they’re there in the image.
This wasn’t what I originally set out to do, but the more I’ve created, the more I find myself preferring to ignore trends and just do what I feel is right for what I’m working on at the time.
What about you?
Still looking for inspiration? Here’s a challenge; find 5 new creators to follow that aren’t photographers or retouchers. I bet you’ll find something genuinely exciting, and new, to think about.
If you’re still not sure, get your work together and ask your friends or peers to tell you the first 5 words that come to mind when they look through. It’ll give you the prompt you need to start really getting to know your style.