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Defining Your Visual Style

Perhaps the most important thing we will all do on our photographic journeys is finding and defining our own unique visual style. If you want to be a better photographer, it’s a journey you too must take. Visual style is what separates each of us from other photographers. It’s how we choose to look at the world and present it in our photos.

With enough time and practice, nearly anyone can learn to take a well exposed and composed photo. But no amount of teaching will help you find your unique style. It’s a journey that can and will take years. It’ll change and refine itself over and over. Don’t feel you have to wantonly wait around for your style to develop though. There’s ways to start honing your vision today.

Start with the What

It’s true – style is not what you shoot, but how you shoot it. Learning what you’d like to shoot though will go a long way towards discovering how you want to shoot it. So sit down right now, grab a pen and paper. Go ahead, take a second and go grab them.

Ask yourself the question, “What do I want to shoot?” Take a few minutes to think about it and right down an honest answer. Is it weddings, landscapes, advertising, journalism? Understand that what you may want to shoot could easily change over time. For quite awhile I thought I wanted to shoot landscapes, but that has eventually completely changed into commercial lifestyle.

Whatever it is, don’t ever let yourself think, “I’ll never be able to do that.” If you believe in yourself enough and you work day in and day out to make it happen, you can become the photographer you want to be. Never doubt it.

Ask Yourself Why

Still got your pen and paper? Ask yourself next, “Why do I want to shoot this?” If your goal is to get into wedding photography, what do you love about it? Is it capturing the heart warming moments on someone’s very special day? The laughter and celebration amongst family and friends? Be sure you know what wedding photography entails. If spending 6 to 10 hours on your feet and dealing with a variety of constantly changing lighting scenarios doesn’t sound appealing to you, chances are weddings aren’t what you want to shoot.

What if landscapes are what you want to shoot? Is it the majestic peaks and swells of a range that entice you? The cresting sunset along the horizon? Are you prepared to hike and travel under often rigorous conditions to get those shots?

When you can answer what you want to shoot and why you’d like to, you’ll be on your way toward refining a style.

Find Inspiration and Seek Advice

I’m sure everyone has a few favorite photographers whose work they truly admire. But are they shooting what you want to shoot? If not, find a few who are. Study their work. Try to analyze their images and what exactly it is that you like about them; either the lighting, the emotion, the color processing or one of thousands of other variables.

Find local photographers you admire and don’t be afraid to reach out to them and ask questions or just to grab coffee and talk. Hey they might not always have the time, but sometimes you get lucky and can find a great local mentor. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t ask so many questions and reach out to photographers I admire. You can do the same.

If you can answer the what and the why of your photographic goals, you’ll be closer to developing your own visual style. Know that it will take a long time and a lot of hard work, but if you’re persistent and determined you’ll soon find yourself looking at and shooting the world with your very own personal style.

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Matt Dutile is a New York City based travel and lifestyle photographer. He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce a book on Mongolian nomads. Check the page out to learn more. You can view his website or join in on his Facebook page as well.

  • Roliver Vergara

    Very nice article! Newbies like me will learn a lot from this. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.grtaylor2.com Greg Taylor

    Over time I have been able to develop a style for my music photos that you almost know I shot the photo at first glance. This took a long time. One of the things that helped me a lot was to look at photos shot by photographers I hold in the highest regard. Glen E Friedman and Jim Marshall just to name a couple.

    Go out and shoot photos and think – How would so and so shoot this? After a while you will think that less and less and your style will start to show itself.

    Just Have Fun and Make Great Photos!

  • JH

    Matthew, are you sure you didn’t write down “work with hot girls” as your visual style?

    Good article. Thanks for the perspective.

  • Matthew Dutile

    Pretty sure jh haha! Better work, better models, better work. It’s a build-up.

  • http://www.simplynaturalphotography.blogspot.com Katherine

    Thank you! This is encouraging!

  • Veronica Salazar

    Great article Matt. It helps to ask yourself those basic questions. It’s so obvious that I hadn’t thought about it! Thanks for sharing.

  • http://jasoncollinphotography.com Jason Collin Photography

    To me visual style comes from the angles and perspectives you tend to shoot from most, and then your post processing process.

    The style I have developed over the past two years is a candid style for photographing people, be it street photography (for fun) or portrait clients (for money). I tend to shoot from slightly low angles looking up at people, or at least at their eye level.

    This shot is the best candid portrait I have made yet:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2009/7/27/free-iphone-wallpaper-monday-find-yourself-at-the-beach.html

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/maheshgarg/4406482898/ Mahesh Garg

    I think as a amateur in beginning I was not able to decide my visual style, but shoot what ever I like, think the VS will develop gradually. of course one should select the style he is going to click………from now I will focus on some style…or click what ever is fascinating……………………..will enjoy clicking

  • http://www.reddotustudio.ch hfng

    Finding your own style is difficult. There are so many photographers nowadays that everything has been done.

  • http://danferno.deviantart.com Danferno

    Finding your own style is great, but don’t get stuck in it. You don’t want all your images looking the same.

  • http://www.rookiephoto.com Kyle Bailey

    Another great article from DPS! As I’m new to photography (6 weeks so far – read my blog http://www.rookiephoto.com) I am finding that some types of shots I gravitate towards simply because they are easy or convenient to take.

    I find that I’m wrapping my head around a single idea and taking a ton of pics of that style, currently it is all HDR – here are a few sets of those images (http://bit.ly/RPC-HDR) before that it was a lot of flowers and macro types of images. Next or soon at least I will take a stab at portraiture.

    I like post processing techniques and am playing regularly with a variety of tools to see what works, what doesn’t and what I like personally. Not sure if anything I create has a following or any true uniqueness yet but I am enjoying the journey http://www.rookiephoto.com

    Eventually I assume that I will define a style that is somewhat unique to myself. I think that all of us deliver uniqueness regardless if our photos are reminiscent of others’ work.

    Thanks to everyone who comments on my work, the DPS blog for such great articles and the people who simply enjoy looking at what I post and make available on Flickr. You are all a part of the faceted world that will make up my ‘style’ once I define what that may be.

    :)

  • jc

    This is the type of article I would love to see more of on dPs. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://kafango.com/fortunato_uno fortunato_uno

    my brother once asked me, when i play guitar who do i want to sound like. my answer. ME !!! it’s pertty much the same with photography. i would be surprised to hear that any of the worlds fine artist wanted to be like some one else. rather they thought they had something that set them appart. i like the quote from henry ford.
    “if you think you can or you think you can’t, your right”
    so i shoot away and let time define me.

  • http://www.frombrandon.com fromBrandon

    So this is probably one of my more recent photography frustrations. I really have a hard time defining my style. I know what I like to shoot, and I know why, but I see so many photographers do it so many different ways, and I love all of them! So I find that my style bounces back and forth depending on what mood I’m in or what new actions I may be trying out. It’s almost as if outside circumstances determine what style I may take on a given shoot, and I don’t like that.

    Maybe this will change over time, but I really want “my style” and am having a hard time choosing one.

  • http://www.patbweddingphotography.com/weddings/ Pat

    Great article Matthew. Knowing what it is that inspires us in our photography is important. And finding inspiration and mentors in our specialism will only add to one’s pleasure.

    Pat
    PatB Wedding Photography

  • http://www.jheffnerphoto.com JHeffner

    I think that your visual style develops over time, and your visual style finds you rather than you finding it. I don’t think the visual style can be defined until you get some experience and can look back at your photos. Your visual style is as much a part of your artistic expression as it is a part of your photography habits.

    Also, don’t limit yourself to your style. Your style may be what sells your work, but I would hate to think of the missed opportunities because something wasn’t your style.

    Kyle, you have some good work for only 6 weeks. Give your style some time. It won’t happen soon. I started photography in 1999 using film and a dark room, switched to color film and commercial developers, but gave it up because of expense. I started back into digital in 2005, but never took off until I got a dSLR two years ago. I’m not sure what my style is yet, but people who have seen my previous work can often tell that a photo is mine.

  • CJAYJR

    JHeffner, I agree with you that your visual style develops over time, and your VS finds you rather than you finding it. If you’re known for shooting in B&W, shooting landscape, clowns or cars you’ll probably develop a particular VS. But if you’re a hobbyist – that is someone who shoots for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation, you probably won’t care about a VS. If you’re out to make money as a photographer it’s probably best to learn the rules or think outside the box and strive to be experimental or innovative. Whatever your desire today’s cameras and editing software will help you achieve that goal. Remember when you show your photos to two different people – they can look at the same thing and have different perspectives and both be right! Try to enjoy taking pictures and don’t worry about all the small stuff you may think you need to know because you’ll end up spending so much time reading how to and never actually doing anything. Now go and take some pictures.

  • Raymond Eshleman (Ray)

    I am an American retired, 68 years old and living in my wife’s country, Israel. I have been taking pictures sense high school. I have taken 1,000′s of pictures in my life, if it’s there I snap it. I now have a great desire to adabt at style of my own. I know it’s a little late in life but I would really like to publish pictures on line and maybe sell some at an art show or on line. Nothing big, just to have the satifisaction to know people like my work enough to purchase something I photographed, it would thrill me to no end.
    As for style, I really like abstract photography and the little world. I would like to see what kind of iminagination I have in my old age. I really like micro photography, but I don’t have a Micro lens at this time. Being retired, money is an issue.
    I just purshased a Nikon D5000 and I am learning my way around the camera. I have always done point and shoot, so is not an easy task for me. I want to purchase a Nikon 105mmF/2.8G ER IF AF-S VR micro lens new or used. I am an amputee, no right hand, so AF-S and VR are important to me.
    I am looking for any suggestions or any kind of help to point me in the right direction.
    Have a great day.
    Ray

  • http://www.g1mp3r.com Mark

    It is hard to fine your own unique VS but just as you said we have to take this journey and i agree with you because i am starting to understand what VS would i choose as a photographer. Thanks for the great article.

  • http://dragnrags.blogspot.com Jennifer Moore

    @fromBrandon: Your style CAN apply and remain consistent across types of photography.

    I photograph a few different things, and my interest is commercial and promotional (music, maybe fashion) photography. I also do art and still life and nature photos, however. What I am finding is that there are elements that remain consistent through my work. I favor clean lines and a sense of movement, for instance. Even in some recent crowd shots I took at a local event, in the ones I chose to give to the client, the compositions had a lot of movement in them. That’s the way I crop.

    Also, your color themes and how you saturate or what level of contrast you use or your lighting–all of that, you will find, will become consistent across your whole body of work.

    Hope this helps.
    Jennifer Moore
    JenniferLynn Productions, LLC

  • Michelle

    Matt,
    Great article. I really appreciate reading it. I have a couple of questions: 1) Can you have more than one style or do you usually gravitate to one? Also, I answered the styles questions “I like to tell the story” AKA Photojournalism. Is the other names they are calling it? I think I read somewhere they call it Lifestyle Photography, but it doesn’t sound correct.

    If you or someone could please let me know I would appreciate it!

    Thanks,
    Michelle

  • photoman022

    hmmm, it seem Matthew’s visual style is photographing pretty girls. May I share that visual style too?

  • http://purplbutrfly.blogspot.com/ Chie Sipin-Bjarenas

    an inspiring little lesson!

    I’ve been looking through my own stream and was wondering about mentorship. It’s very difficult if the language of the country you reside in is different from your own – and your grasp of that language is not so strong as to have deep conversations about photography & styles with. Any suggestions, anyone?

Some older comments

  • Chie Sipin-Bjarenas

    February 15, 2011 12:32 pm

    an inspiring little lesson!

    I've been looking through my own stream and was wondering about mentorship. It's very difficult if the language of the country you reside in is different from your own - and your grasp of that language is not so strong as to have deep conversations about photography & styles with. Any suggestions, anyone?

  • photoman022

    May 30, 2010 03:19 pm

    hmmm, it seem Matthew's visual style is photographing pretty girls. May I share that visual style too?

  • Michelle

    May 27, 2010 12:24 pm

    Matt,
    Great article. I really appreciate reading it. I have a couple of questions: 1) Can you have more than one style or do you usually gravitate to one? Also, I answered the styles questions "I like to tell the story" AKA Photojournalism. Is the other names they are calling it? I think I read somewhere they call it Lifestyle Photography, but it doesn't sound correct.

    If you or someone could please let me know I would appreciate it!

    Thanks,
    Michelle

  • Jennifer Moore

    April 29, 2010 02:34 am

    @fromBrandon: Your style CAN apply and remain consistent across types of photography.

    I photograph a few different things, and my interest is commercial and promotional (music, maybe fashion) photography. I also do art and still life and nature photos, however. What I am finding is that there are elements that remain consistent through my work. I favor clean lines and a sense of movement, for instance. Even in some recent crowd shots I took at a local event, in the ones I chose to give to the client, the compositions had a lot of movement in them. That's the way I crop.

    Also, your color themes and how you saturate or what level of contrast you use or your lighting--all of that, you will find, will become consistent across your whole body of work.

    Hope this helps.
    Jennifer Moore
    JenniferLynn Productions, LLC

  • Mark

    April 16, 2010 08:11 am

    It is hard to fine your own unique VS but just as you said we have to take this journey and i agree with you because i am starting to understand what VS would i choose as a photographer. Thanks for the great article.

  • Raymond Eshleman (Ray)

    April 15, 2010 08:51 pm

    I am an American retired, 68 years old and living in my wife's country, Israel. I have been taking pictures sense high school. I have taken 1,000's of pictures in my life, if it's there I snap it. I now have a great desire to adabt at style of my own. I know it's a little late in life but I would really like to publish pictures on line and maybe sell some at an art show or on line. Nothing big, just to have the satifisaction to know people like my work enough to purchase something I photographed, it would thrill me to no end.
    As for style, I really like abstract photography and the little world. I would like to see what kind of iminagination I have in my old age. I really like micro photography, but I don't have a Micro lens at this time. Being retired, money is an issue.
    I just purshased a Nikon D5000 and I am learning my way around the camera. I have always done point and shoot, so is not an easy task for me. I want to purchase a Nikon 105mmF/2.8G ER IF AF-S VR micro lens new or used. I am an amputee, no right hand, so AF-S and VR are important to me.
    I am looking for any suggestions or any kind of help to point me in the right direction.
    Have a great day.
    Ray

  • CJAYJR

    April 13, 2010 03:46 am

    JHeffner, I agree with you that your visual style develops over time, and your VS finds you rather than you finding it. If you're known for shooting in B&W, shooting landscape, clowns or cars you'll probably develop a particular VS. But if you're a hobbyist - that is someone who shoots for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation, you probably won't care about a VS. If you're out to make money as a photographer it's probably best to learn the rules or think outside the box and strive to be experimental or innovative. Whatever your desire today's cameras and editing software will help you achieve that goal. Remember when you show your photos to two different people - they can look at the same thing and have different perspectives and both be right! Try to enjoy taking pictures and don't worry about all the small stuff you may think you need to know because you'll end up spending so much time reading how to and never actually doing anything. Now go and take some pictures.

  • JHeffner

    April 11, 2010 05:32 am

    I think that your visual style develops over time, and your visual style finds you rather than you finding it. I don't think the visual style can be defined until you get some experience and can look back at your photos. Your visual style is as much a part of your artistic expression as it is a part of your photography habits.

    Also, don't limit yourself to your style. Your style may be what sells your work, but I would hate to think of the missed opportunities because something wasn't your style.

    Kyle, you have some good work for only 6 weeks. Give your style some time. It won't happen soon. I started photography in 1999 using film and a dark room, switched to color film and commercial developers, but gave it up because of expense. I started back into digital in 2005, but never took off until I got a dSLR two years ago. I'm not sure what my style is yet, but people who have seen my previous work can often tell that a photo is mine.

  • Pat

    April 10, 2010 05:57 am

    Great article Matthew. Knowing what it is that inspires us in our photography is important. And finding inspiration and mentors in our specialism will only add to one's pleasure.

    Pat
    PatB Wedding Photography

  • fromBrandon

    April 9, 2010 11:04 pm

    So this is probably one of my more recent photography frustrations. I really have a hard time defining my style. I know what I like to shoot, and I know why, but I see so many photographers do it so many different ways, and I love all of them! So I find that my style bounces back and forth depending on what mood I'm in or what new actions I may be trying out. It's almost as if outside circumstances determine what style I may take on a given shoot, and I don't like that.

    Maybe this will change over time, but I really want "my style" and am having a hard time choosing one.

  • fortunato_uno

    April 9, 2010 01:32 pm

    my brother once asked me, when i play guitar who do i want to sound like. my answer. ME !!! it's pertty much the same with photography. i would be surprised to hear that any of the worlds fine artist wanted to be like some one else. rather they thought they had something that set them appart. i like the quote from henry ford.
    "if you think you can or you think you can't, your right"
    so i shoot away and let time define me.

  • jc

    April 9, 2010 10:03 am

    This is the type of article I would love to see more of on dPs. Thanks for sharing!

  • Kyle Bailey

    April 9, 2010 07:18 am

    Another great article from DPS! As I'm new to photography (6 weeks so far - read my blog www.rookiephoto.com) I am finding that some types of shots I gravitate towards simply because they are easy or convenient to take.

    I find that I'm wrapping my head around a single idea and taking a ton of pics of that style, currently it is all HDR - here are a few sets of those images (http://bit.ly/RPC-HDR) before that it was a lot of flowers and macro types of images. Next or soon at least I will take a stab at portraiture.

    I like post processing techniques and am playing regularly with a variety of tools to see what works, what doesn't and what I like personally. Not sure if anything I create has a following or any true uniqueness yet but I am enjoying the journey http://www.rookiephoto.com

    Eventually I assume that I will define a style that is somewhat unique to myself. I think that all of us deliver uniqueness regardless if our photos are reminiscent of others' work.

    Thanks to everyone who comments on my work, the DPS blog for such great articles and the people who simply enjoy looking at what I post and make available on Flickr. You are all a part of the faceted world that will make up my 'style' once I define what that may be.

    :)

  • Danferno

    April 9, 2010 06:46 am

    Finding your own style is great, but don't get stuck in it. You don't want all your images looking the same.

  • hfng

    April 9, 2010 05:18 am

    Finding your own style is difficult. There are so many photographers nowadays that everything has been done.

  • Mahesh Garg

    April 9, 2010 03:53 am

    I think as a amateur in beginning I was not able to decide my visual style, but shoot what ever I like, think the VS will develop gradually. of course one should select the style he is going to click.........from now I will focus on some style...or click what ever is fascinating..........................will enjoy clicking

  • Jason Collin Photography

    April 9, 2010 03:25 am

    To me visual style comes from the angles and perspectives you tend to shoot from most, and then your post processing process.

    The style I have developed over the past two years is a candid style for photographing people, be it street photography (for fun) or portrait clients (for money). I tend to shoot from slightly low angles looking up at people, or at least at their eye level.

    This shot is the best candid portrait I have made yet:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2009/7/27/free-iphone-wallpaper-monday-find-yourself-at-the-beach.html

  • Veronica Salazar

    April 9, 2010 03:12 am

    Great article Matt. It helps to ask yourself those basic questions. It's so obvious that I hadn't thought about it! Thanks for sharing.

  • Katherine

    April 9, 2010 02:49 am

    Thank you! This is encouraging!

  • Matthew Dutile

    April 9, 2010 01:15 am

    Pretty sure jh haha! Better work, better models, better work. It's a build-up.

  • JH

    April 9, 2010 01:05 am

    Matthew, are you sure you didn't write down "work with hot girls" as your visual style?

    Good article. Thanks for the perspective.

  • Greg Taylor

    April 9, 2010 12:46 am

    Over time I have been able to develop a style for my music photos that you almost know I shot the photo at first glance. This took a long time. One of the things that helped me a lot was to look at photos shot by photographers I hold in the highest regard. Glen E Friedman and Jim Marshall just to name a couple.

    Go out and shoot photos and think - How would so and so shoot this? After a while you will think that less and less and your style will start to show itself.

    Just Have Fun and Make Great Photos!

  • Roliver Vergara

    April 9, 2010 12:44 am

    Very nice article! Newbies like me will learn a lot from this. Thanks for sharing.

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