Let’s not waste any time. What is the most important element in someone’s photography style? The quick answer is repetition.
What you do most, and most consistently, will define your style. What comes naturally to you will ultimately become your style. Your default setting—or, to put nicely, who you really are and how you see the world—will ultimately shape your photography style.
Someone’s photographic style used to be determined by only three factors: the film stock they generally used, the camera and lens they owned, and the subject matter at which they pointed their cameras. Street, portraiture, landscape, journalism, animals, commercial, location, fashion, etc. That was it, really.
Oh, and a massive body of work sticking to those three things consistently over a lifetime.
Nowadays we have so many choices. With so many options, and new cameras and software constantly coming out that are always somehow better, it’s easy to lose your way—in this case, your style. So how does one keep the consistency and repetition in their body of work, when we live in a photography world that is forever changing and changing rapidly?
The answer is twofold: discipline and a list!
What?! A list! That’s right. Plus the hardest part, the discipline to consistently stick to that list. The great news is the list is only three things.
- Camera(s) & lens(es)
- Post-processing or film stock/preset
- Subject matter
This seems absurdly simply, but it’s always easier said than done. After making these choices comes the hard part of actually sticking with them.
For myself, the first thing I did was put all the photographers I was inspired by in front of me and ask the question: what is it that I liked about their work? The answer, for me, was minimal aesthetics, black and white photos, and only shooting using natural light. So I picked a camera body, selected the lenses I used the most often, chose my favorite film stock (Kodak Tri-X 400) and went to town photographing everything this same way.
After a few months of this and reviewing my work—as you regularly should—I found some consistency through the body of work I was doing and started refining it further and further.
The only thing that I’m still stuck on to this day is my subject. Landscapes, street photography, candid moments, still life? Once I figure out which subject matter to focus on, I will have a more consistent style and body of work; for now, I’m happy with 2 out of 3. Like I said: easier said than done.
Committing to one thing is intimidating. It feels scary or even foolish to limit oneself so severely when we live in a world of endless options and abundance. Why in God’s name would you want to take choices away from yourself, eliminating options to get the shot? The answer can be summed up in one word: Focus. Once you limit your choices, you have more time and energy to spend on creativity rather than making choices.
The less time you spend on making decisions when it comes to gear, lighting, and post-production, the more time you have to create and take photographs.
Write out that list, stick to it, and start creating a body of work that is consistent. Then rinse and repeat, over and over, because repetition is the key. Make your photo routine so repetitive that you begin to enter a state of flow when you shoot, and your creative mind will begin to shine through.
Once you’ve reached this point, who you are will begin to reflect into your work. That’s how you find your photographic aesthetic. That’s how to find your photography style fast!
About the author: A.B Watson is a New Zealand photographer based in Auckland. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. To see more of his work, head over to his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram. This post was also published here.