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Developing a Personal Style

excerpt from Natural Design: Image Design for Nature Photographers

by Gloria Hopkins

A consistent, recognizable look across a body of work or a collection of photographs is the result of the artist’s working with selection and treatment of his or her subject matter. This unique signature can identify the artist without aid of the written word; it is known as the artist’s style.

An artist’s style is not to be confused with photographic movements such as the pictorial or straight schools of photography. A personal style is a blend of ideas and motivations, unique perceptions and interpretations, and an expressive use of the medium.

Sometimes an artist will consciously attempt to develop a personal style, and often they are successful, but the process usually occurs over time and with experience. There are also some gifted photographers who seem to have a unique, distinctive look to their images from the start, but for most it usually takes time to nurture and cultivate a personal style.

It is inappropriate for one artist to dictate to others how they should progress while attempting to develop their style. It can, however, be helpful when an experienced photographer points out how to avoid pitfalls that can stunt growth and hinder the development of a unique personality for one’s work. Some aspiring photographers emulate the work of those they admire, but then get stuck in a rut from which they have difficulty getting out. As budding photographers, especially at the stage when you are impressionable, it is easy to stunt your creativity and individual expression by adhering to the practices of others. Photographers who cannot get out of this rut fail to develop a unique style because one’s style is based on motivations, inspirations, understanding of the subject matter, and personal interpretations and perceptions. These are things that cannot be copied.

When you attempt to copy another’s style you will often fail to create powerful images because you cannot duplicate the journey from concept to execution. You can follow the same working methodology, choose the same subjects, use the same gear, and even design similar images, but you will fall short because there was no original idea or creativity behind the image. It is simply a copy of another’s enthusiasm and vision.

You can be inspired and influenced, but to copy the style of another, however successful the attempt, is to doom your work to nothing more than an addition to that which already exists. It will, however, have been created with less passion and less emotion. To make memorable images bearing your personal mark, it is best to use original ideas. Should you do otherwise, the world may be robbed of your unique imagery.

Photographers with widely recognized styles have a deep fondness for their subject matter. They love their subject matter in whatever element and in whatever condition they find it. They photograph it with zeal and creativity. Nature photographers are creative souls and the experienced ones explore their subjects exhaustively and passionately. It is this sense of exploration, discovery, and passion that allows you to grow as an artist and gives your work a unique voice. This lets your individuality shine through, giving your images a signature look that is distinctively yours. It gives the world your style.

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excerpt from Natural Design: Image Design for Nature Photographers

Revised August 2011
Text and images copyright Gloria Hopkins