1 – Introduction
In photography our personal style is the visual expression of our personal taste and personality. Your personal style defines what your photographs and your prints look like.
Our style is characterized both by what we capture in the field and by the work we do to the image in the studio. It is characterized by the choices we make in the field and the changes we make to the digital capture in the studio. These choices and these changes represent a transformation of what the camera captured into what we see and feel either at the time of capture or later on in the studio. What we see and feel is defined by us and does not necessarily refer to the natural world. It can just as well refer to our personal world, whatever it consists of.
Deciding what to include in the frame, when to capture the photograph and what to change during processing is central to the process of developing a personal style. One way to find out if we have a style is to ask ourselves what we changed in the transition between reality, camera capture and final print.
A personal style is a look, a way of treating color, contrast and composition that is unique to us. If we develop a personal style our prints will be different from the prints created by all other artists. We may capture the same landscapes as other photographers but through our processing we will make the visual representation of these landscapes uniquely ours.
A personal style is not the copy of another artist’s style. No matter how perfect it might be a copy will always refer to the artist who created this style. It will refer to us only in so far as our work reminds viewers of that other artist’s work.
Our personal style is based on your taste. So the question is: “What do we like?” Do you like high contrast or low contrast, low saturation or high saturation, simple compositions or complex compositions, something else?
This image and the other two example images in this essay are representative of my current personal style. The before and after versions are provided for you to compare, contrast and inspect the differences between the original and the final image. These differences are numerous and do not stop at correcting color and contrast. They address the structure of the image itself, affecting both the image format, the composition and the contents.
Our personal style is also based on our character. So the question is: Who you are as an artist? Are you loose and spontaneous or are you precise and composed when you create art? Are you interested in details or do you prefer an impressionist approach in which details are less important than the color palette or the overall visual effect of the piece? Are you a purist who limits image manipulation to what could be done in the darkroom or are you a trailbreaker who is eager to use the full arsenal of digital manipulation possibilities? In other words are you willing to stretch a mountain to make it taller by adding 1500 feet to its height or are you only willing to correct the color balance and the contrast of that mountain?
The answer to this question is yours and yours only. The fact that some people like manipulation and others do not must not influence your decision because in art, no matter what you do, there will be people who like what you do and people who don’t like what you do. Therefore, if your goal is to develop a personal style, the decision to do specific things with your work and to give a specific look to your images must be yours and yours only. All other considerations must go out of the window, no matter how hard taking this decision is.
The desire to please others rather than please ourselves is deeply engrained in us for reasons that are rooted in our cultural upbringing. However good art originates in the artist’s desire to please himself or herself and in knowing that there is a waiting audience out there who will enjoy viewing our art just as much as we enjoy creating it. The critics, the unhappy and all the negative people who are unable to make compliments no matter how much we bend over backwards to please them are best left in the darkness of a closet we will never open, or in the bright daylight that they desire to bring upon themselves through their criticism. Let them attract attention to themselves through their negativity and let us attract attention to ourselves through our positivity and through the work we create, unencumbered by obligations of any sort, unwilling to please others at the cost of displeasing ourselves, of ignoring who we are and of hiding our personality.
2 – Influences
Our personal taste affects which artwork we gravitate towards. The art we admire, collect and display in our home is the art we like. When we decide to create art the artwork we collect and display in our home becomes an influence we are submitted to because, knowingly or not, we want to create art that looks like the art we admire. It is therefore important to ask what are our influences are For example, which work influences us and has an impact on us? Which artists do we like most? Which art movements do we gravitate towards and, within a specific movement, which artist’s personal style do we prefer? Who do we follow? Who do we want to emulate? Who are our heroes?
Make lists of the different aspects of art that you prefer: art movements, specific artists in these movements and personal influences be it other artists or parents or people you know. List what art you collect and display in your home, both the artists you already collect and the artists you want to collect in the future. All this, and anything else you want to add, are what makes you the artist that you are and what will make you become the artist you want to be.
3 – Letting go
To create art that is personal we have to let go of the desire to reproduce the work of other artists we admire. Usually the desire to copy other artist’s work and style originates in the desire to fit in, to receive compliments for our work and to avoid criticism. This is all fair and square but we need to move on if we want to develop a personal style.
Admiration does not imply copy. The link between the two is created by us for reasons of insecurity. To move on and be able to create our own work we have to let go of being concerned by what people think of our art and by what people expect from us. We also have to let go of fear of criticism and artistic insecurity and find confidence in the belief that what we do is legitimate and important. Above all we have to let go of creating work we think we should create and instead create the work we want to create.
We have to believe that our art matters. That it says something important, something that needs to be said, something we want to say because it matters to us and we love saying it. We have to let go of the fear that no one will like our work and learn that there is an audience waiting to see our images. We have to believe that this audience exists, that it is real and that we just need to connect with it. We do so by showing our work, in print form preferably because there is nothing more impactful than a fine art print.
Personal style is about being ourselves and letting our personality come out through our images. This is rarely an automatic process because over the course of our life we acquire a number of beliefs that hobble our creativity and prevent us from expressing ourselves in a way that is unique to us. The outcome is that our creativity is stunted and we have to recover it in order to become creative artists.
Creative recovery takes the form of making creativity part of our daily life for the rest of our lives. In order for this to happen we have to let go of a lot of things that are holding us back. Success in acquiring a personal style depends on it because these things, if we continue minding them and thinking about them, will make it impossible to express ourselves and say what we want to say. This is both a difficult process and a lengthy process. Not only is getting rid of these beliefs challenging we also have to deal with the fact that as we get rid of one thing another thing surfaces, one that we did not know had been affecting us.
4 – Some of the things I let go of in order to create my images
To help you on your creative recovery journey, here are some of the things that I had to let go of in order to feel free to create images that make me happy. These are all important but are listed in no particular order:
- Letting go of the fear of reformatting the image to a vertical instead of a horizontal format.
- Letting go of the fear of stretching part of the image vertically or horizontally.
- Letting go of the fear of modifying the color in such a way that it strongly departs from the colors present in the original scene.
- Letting go of the fear of modifying the contrast level in such a way that it strongly departs from the contrast present in the original scene.
- Letting go of being concerned with potential criticism from people who favor a traditional approach to photography.
- Letting go of the fear of saying that my images are manipulated.
- Letting go of feeling obliged to show the location the way it looks in reality.
- Letting go of the fear of creating images that depart from the film-based aesthetic paradigm.
- Letting go of the fear of creating an aesthetic based on using the entire digital toolkit at my disposal instead of using only the part of this toolkit that duplicates the film aesthetic paradigm.
- Letting go of being concerned about following a new paradigm that strongly departs from the film-based paradigm.
- Letting go of being concerned with what critics might think or say.
- Letting go of believing I must take into account the opinion of those those who don’t like my work.
- Letting go of the opinion of those are not part of my audience.
- Letting go of believing I cannot photograph landscapes handheld.
- Letting go of believing I must use a tripod in low light situation and long exposures situations.
- Letting go of believing I cannot do in-camera HDR.
- Letting go of believing I cannot capture image in jpeg format instead of raw.
- Letting go of believing I cannot create low contrast images in a high-contrast situation.
- Letting go of the belief that good photographs cannot be created during mid-day.
- Letting go of believing I could not make a living doing what I love.
- Letting go of believing I need to spend more time in the field than in the digital darkroom. With film I spent zero time on processing. It was done by the lab. However with digital processing it is necessary to spend more time on processing than on fieldwork.
- Letting go of the opinion of people who believe I do not have a personal style.
- Letting go of the fear an image will not sell because it is manipulated.
5 – Conclusion
Art is what we want it to be. It is what we like, not what other people like and definitely not what others want us to make. This means that success in art comes from being ourselves. The more we express our own taste and sensibility the more personal our art will become.
Creating art does require courage: the courage to create your own reality and to defend it in front of those who challenge it and dislike it. To the negativity of those who do not see the value of our work we must oppose an unflinching positive belief that this reality is valid and worth our efforts.
The secret of creativity is learning how to spend our creative time wisely. Personally I made the decision to focus on what I like to create and to give my attention to people who enjoy my work. The implications of this decision is that I do not create work I do not like and I do not give my attention to people who do not like me or my work. Although this decision is personal, I encourage you to follow a similar approach.
6 – Workshops with Alain and Natalie Briot
If you enjoyed this essay you will enjoy attending a workshop with us. I lead workshops with my wife Natalie to the most photogenic locations in the US Southwest. Our workshops focus on the artistic aspects of photography. While we do teach technique, we do so for the purpose of creating artistic photographs. Our goal is to help you create photographs that you will be proud of and that will be unique to you. The locations we photograph include Navajoland, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, Zion, the Grand Canyon and many others. Our workshops listing is available at this link: http://beautiful-landscape.com/Workshop-home.html
7 – About Alain and Natalie Briot
You can find more information about our workshops, photographs, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to our Free Monthly Newsletter on our website at http://www.beautiful-landscape.com. You will receive 40 free eBooks when you subscribe to my newsletter.
I create fine art photographs, teach workshops with Natalie and offer Mastery Tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing, business and marketing. I am the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style, Marketing Fine Art Photography and How Photographs are Sold. All 4 books are available in eBook format on our website at this link: http://beautiful-landscape.com/Ebooks-Books-1-2-3.html. Free samplers are available so you can see the quality of these books for yourself.