How to Develop a Unique Style for Your Photography

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In today’s world, everyone has a camera. It may be as simple as the camera on their phones, but they still have one. This means that millions, maybe billions of people are taking photos every day. What does that mean for you? It means you have to compete with all those to make your images stand out. You have to find a way to be different, but how? The best way is to develop a style that is uniquely yours.

When people look at your work they instantly know it is yours, or someone trying to copy it. Your style is how you become known and how you make yourself stand apart.

How to Develop a Unique Style for Your Photography

Looking north along the Harbour Esplanade.

What does having a photographic style mean?

Basically, that you do something to your images that make them different, whether it is done when the shot is taken or in post-processing, or maybe both. Whatever it is that you do, you want people to know straight away that the image is yours before they see the name. There should be a similarity between all your images and they look like they belong together.

It almost goes against the grain of what humans are like and our need to conform. If you want your images to stand out you have to find a way to make them different to what everyone else is doing. Think about how you can work that is not the same. It can be about photographing the same thing, but you do it your way.

When I was in art school we were told over and over again that nothing was original anymore. Anything that you wanted to do had already been done. It is true in most cases, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to find a way to work that could be different.

How do you develop a style?

Ask any artist or photographer that has their own distinct style and they will give you a different answer. For most, there will be something that drives them to create work in a particular way.

There are four main things to consider when developing your own unique style; why you are doing the work, the subject matter, the technical process, and post-processing. Let’s look at these individually and see some artists who work that way.

How to Develop a Unique Style for Your Photography

A long exposure of a building in the Docklands.

Why are you doing it

This is a bit like an artist’s statement in that you know what you are trying to do with your images. Many artists work this way. They understand what they are trying to achieve and have a look or story they are trying to get.

Australian artist/photographer Tracey Moffat looks at indigenous people and culture, and how they are understood culturally and socially. She says she is more interested in creating her own realities than dealing with reality. From the start, Moffat has an idea of what it is she is striving for.

My own work starts with the idea of what would the world be like without humans. I find places like Pripyat, the worker’s town that was evacuated after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, fascinating. It has not been lived in since, and there is a quietness in the images that I find quite appealing. I try to photograph places with no people in them to see if I can imitate that silence. At the same time, I like to create a world in my images that doesn’t seem quite real.

How to Develop a Unique Style for Your Photography

Off the street at the entrance of a building.

The subject matter

Usually, someone who is developing a style, or has one, will have a certain subject matter that they stick to – it might be mountains, the night sky, or waterfalls. It will be what they want to photograph and they tend to only do that thing. While some can be that strict with themselves, most photographers have a few things they like to photograph. However, that doesn’t mean that all the images will fit within that same style.

One of my favorite painters, Rick Amor, does a lot of architectural paintings. He creates his own realities in fictional cities, but he also likes to paint scenes from the beach and he does a lot of self-portraits. There is variety in his work, and each has its own style.

It could be said that I like architecture the most, but really, what interests me is the hand of man. I find anything that man has built or destroyed interesting. I tend to concentrate on cities, perhaps because I live in one, and it is easy to get there to take photos. However, if you were to look at my Instagram page you would see that I also like to photograph anything with water in it. Many images do not fit my subject, but you can’t always do art images and I do like photographing other things from time to time.

How to Develop a Unique Style for Your Photography

Etihad Stadium closed.

The technical process of taking images

The best way to get your images is knowing how to use your camera and getting the best out of it. There are photographers that rely on their cameras to give them what they want and the technical details become very important. The art of photography comes from the technical aspects.

If you are a technical photographer then you would be looking for a specific technique that you can use that will help give all your images the same feel. What that technical aspect will be is completely up to you. There are a lot of photographers that are striving for an image that is very technical, and the creative part isn’t necessarily that important.

You will find that many landscape and nature photographers are more technically driven. Matty Smith, an Australian underwater photographer, does his best to get everything in camera. He likes to reduce how much post-processing he has to do, therefore it is very important to him that he gets what he wants while out in the field, or under the water.

I am not a technical photographer. I don’t let the technical aspects of photography dictate my image. That doesn’t mean I don’t know them, they just don’t mean as much to me.

Using Post-processing

You will find that technical photographers don’t do a lot of post-processing, while others will use it a lot. There are no rules about what you should use, but you will find that many photographers that have really distinctive styles get their look through photo editing.

Brooke Shaden is primarily an artist who uses photography to create her own look. She does portraits in different settings and often uses costumes for them. The thing that sets her apart is her post-processing. She has a distinctive style that is hers. You will see lots of images that are similar, but they are usually people who are trying to imitate what she does.

My work is mostly created with post-processing. I have things I like to do to images, and playing in Adobe Photoshop is as much fun to me as taking the photos. I spend far more time processing than I do taking the images. I like to play with the light to see what I can do with it and for me, an image is complete when it looks almost like a movie still, not quite real.

How to Develop a Unique Style for Your Photography

La Trobe Street looking to the Bolte Bridge.

Artists who have their own style

There are so many photographers that have very distinctive styles and if you want to develop your own style you should look at their work to see what they do. See if you can find inspiration.

Here is a list of photographers that have, at some stage, influenced my photography and helped me to develop my own style.

There are a few for you to start with.

How to Develop a Unique Style for Your Photography

The Harbour Esplanade looking down the tram tracks.

Should you copy

It is so easy to copy what another photographer does, especially if they teach somewhere, but should you really copy what they do? There have been photographers who have done that and everyone just says, “Oh they are copying so and so.”

It is okay to copy what a photographer does to learn some new skills, but ultimately if you want your own style, one that is uniquely yours, then you need to work out what to do with your own images.

I learned a lot about developing a style and working as an artist through my fine arts degree. I also watched a lot of videos on how other photographers created their work. I would pick up tips and then see if I could apply them to my own work. I experimented with what they did so I could use it, but also so it would look different.

How to Develop a Unique Style for Your Photography

Near the end of Collins Street.

How to develop your own style

Go through all the steps here and see which apply to you. Work out what you want your work to be about and how you can get a look that is you, or so others know it is yours without having to look for a name.

Remember, that for your style to be uniquely yours, it needs to be different to what others are doing. It can be something simple, or perhaps more complicated. It won’t happen straight away and may take you quite a while to develop your own look.

You might find that you start one thing, and then change. It is normal, and in the beginning, it will change quite a bit. It will also evolve over time. What I am doing now is quite different to what I was doing 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Some might say that it is has changed a lot in the last two to three years.

As you start thinking about it, you may also find that you already have a style and are not even be aware of it, which is what happened to me. It took me a while to see what my style was, though many others could see it before I did. However, I know it now and understand it better.

To see how you progress places like Instagram can be perfect. You see all the work there and it is easy to look at the images together and over time.

Finally

Just experiment and try things. You never know where it will end up. Also, don’t always listen to others, especially for approval, do your own thing and eventually others will come around to it.

Have you developed a unique style for your photography? How did you do it? Please share your comments and thoughts below.

leannecole-developing-your-style-44

A long exposure over the water at Docklands.

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Leanne Cole is a fine art photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. She loves Melbourne and photographing it, along with other parts of the state. She likes doing architectural and environmental photography. You can find her on her website or on Instagram.

  • Joel

    Nice article and some stunning photos, but don’t you run the risk of them all becoming the same photo after a while? When does personal style become repetition?
    Your photos are always terrific, I’m just asking.

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  • Thank you Joel, glad you enjoyed it. I think you will find most people who develop a style do grow and the style changes with time. I know the work I’m doing now is quite different to what I was doing 5 years ago, and completely different to what I was doing 10 years ago. It does change, and it should. I think I would get bored if I just did the same thing over and over. I hope that answers your question.

  • Joel

    That’s a good point. I guess things move along and so can styles. Nice work on the cityscapes once again. I really do like the post work on those images.

  • They do and they should change with time. Thank you so much. This is pretty much new work for me too, I’m starting to move in a new direction.

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  • Darrel Kolsky

    Thanks for that interesting and thought provoking article Leanne. Developing my style is a concept I’ve struggled with, partly because I think I’ve been confusing style and genre. I love photography and want to experiment with and learn all sorts of genres, and I don’t want to limit myself to one or two, but when I think about it I guess it’s possible to have a similar style across several genres. In my mind I haven’t identified my style yet but I find it interesting when people comment on photos I have posted online and say they knew It was one of mine before they read my name. I guess this means I have the makings of my own style but I can’t see it clearly yet.

  • You’re welcome Darrel.I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to do different genres. Many artists do more than one, so I wouldn’t work about that. If people are saying that to you then it sounds like you have style and don’t know it, same thing happened to me.

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  • Tim Lowe

    I don’t think it’s all that simple to copy other photographers. But trying is a good way to understand their unique techniques. Putting another arrow in your quiver is never a bad thing. Just adopting the style of another is though.

  • Interesting article. I know that, when starting out seriously with my photography, I was all over the place, trying different things and certainly in the early days producing work that was unoriginal yet thrilling nonetheless simply because I learned how to do things while making it. These days I’m still learning but I feel more confident overall and have settled into a style that pleases me. Returning to film shooting three years ago helped a lot with that.

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  • That is wonderful to hear, so happy to hear that it has helped you.

  • I think I said that Tim, you could copy to learn, but you shouldn’t copy in the end. You should always develop your own style.

  • I can so relate to what you are saying Richard, I think that is how many of us start out. Learning is the key and it is something I’m doing constantly. That is interesting about going back to film. I started in film, didn’t like it, love digital, but starting there did teach me some valuable lessons. Good luck.

  • Thank you, as you say, learning is the key. Film has been good to me because it has slowed me down and made me a more considered photographer, and that’s carried over to my digital photography as well. I take far fewer photographs overall than I used to but far more of them are pleasing.

  • Learning is definitely the key, that is interesting what you have say about film. Good if it has worked well for you, anything is good if it helps you. That is fantastic.

  • Rick Hyde

    Great article Leanne, as you say developing your own style is just experimentation, trial and error, and studying other artists and photographers.
    I took a series of images of Sydney with my trusty Nikon AW100 (because it fits in my shirt pocket) when I was over doing some training 3 years ago and then processed them in Lightroom and OnOne. I ended up producing some pretty handy presets for future editing, and you’re right it is fun.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e5cf61d57ef4e8f6955ceae3beee0c58f63f96c6410cdc1996bd91d72a1303bd.jpg

  • Thank you Rick, glad you liked the article. That is great to hear and you just never know where experimentation can lead, and look what you have. Thank you for sharing your image with us, it is great to see.

  • Joenathan Tanumihardja

    Btw, how do you decide which style suits you best ? Like for instance, i have just learned about colour grading and how to apply colour tone and mood into my pictures. But learning that, makes the picture looked less realistic and vivid than how it supposed to be.

    Thus, i am now conflicted on how to post process my photos. Should i go for realistic, sharp, vivid picture (technical) OR a cinematic, less realistic one (creative) ?

    Thanks before

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