Photographic Style: Should You Really Be Searching For It?
As we grow in photography, there comes a point where we understand enough about the technical aspects of photography that we begin to shift focus towards our the more aesthetic aspects of our work. Style is what we being to strive towards: We want to define ourselves apart from other photographers. Alas, there is no shortage of articles about how to find your own photographic style with all sorts of advice about what to work towards or what equipment to buy or practice drills that might help. I remember struggling hard to “find” my style. Yet the more I grow as a photographer, the more I believe that quest was a bit unnecessary.
Style is an evolution. I believe you're born with style. It won't be fully realized or refined, but style is something that is within you. It is made of the things you like and the things that affect you emotionally. Certain colors (or even lack of color) will appeal to you differently. Some subjects will be more appealing to you than others. You may prefer grain, high contrast, high key and strong vignetting. Maybe you like photos that have a grungy feel or are as smooth as silk. Maybe you like things so smooth that they look almost like a cartoon. These aesthetic qualities appeal to you in every aspect of your life. It's in the way you dress, the way you decorate your home and it affects the way you react to spaces or even people. Without any bit of effort, these things – these predetermined and ingrained elements that build up your personality – will affect your work. The style is already in you. You just need to realize it and let it show.
So really, your quest is really a matter of learning the technical aspects of photography. Skill and experience is all that's holding you back. These are the barricades and the limiting factors that you are up against. As you continue to learn and as you put in more time, these barricades will be lifted, enabling you to truly create the works that are in your mind. This is when your style – which was already within you – starts to come out. This is refinement. And all it takes is time and knowledge.
Maybe we are deceiving ourselves when we convince ourselves that we're ready to start looking for a style. Perhaps that is our own ignorance leading us down the wrong path. It's a problem, really, because we end up slitting our time between gaining knowledge and this forlorn quest. We therefore lose time looking for the grail when the best way to find it is to keep learning and to keep shooting. In the end, our photographic style reveals itself; whether we want it to or not.
Keep shooting and everything will simply fall into place.