Can I get an amen from every artist that has struggled with personal style?! I know I’ve struggled with it, and I sometimes still do despite what others might see as success and stability in my career. Every human being seeks recognition and identity, yet sometimes it feels like we’re just running in circles, chasing a target we can’t pin down and ending up exhausted. We’ve all heard things like “theres nothing new under the sun” and we’ve all seen people accused of “copying the greats”, however I believe any modern artist can create ideas of originality from within themselves, and in time, develop their own unique style.
Lets start with a beginning.
We’ll save the personal style talk for later, you must begin with trying things in the first place! On so many occasions I’ve tried to start an idea and never finish it because “Its not like other things I’ve done”. You have to take control and crush that tendency! I’ve found that in any inspiration drought, and especially when I was first starting photography, I had to push myself to simply CREATE. Find something you like as a subject matter and just start taking pictures. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or completely thought out, it just has to get you stretching your creative muscles.
To this day, when I’m completely drained mentally, emotionally or physically, I’ll just pull out my camera and snap shots of myself. The way the light falls or the items around me start to blend together and ideas form, and suddenly I’m covered in leaves and floating through the air; or I just get a nice new headshot for my profile picture, but regardless, I’ve created something!
Don’t worry about speed, enjoy and explore the process.
Early in my photographic career I had a tendency to get extremely impatient about how my abilities as an artist were developing. I can assure you that five years ago I was no expert and nowhere close to producing work worth a second glance (don’t believe me, just check out the progress over the years in the images below). It can be very frustrating to have elaborate imaginations but no practical skills to bring your ideas to life.
The best way to combat that frustration is to start small and with patience. Start by working with directing a model in natural light. Then work your way up to adding a single prop. Learn how to work a single light and how that interacts with a model and a prop. Move on to a larger scene and add more props, or start adding complexity with hair and makeup. Master each level before throwing yourself to the wolves with an unmanageable task! The more time you give yourself to grow the less frustrating the process will be and the more likely you are to stick with it! It took me 3 years to finally create a piece that lasted in my portfolio, but all the practice shots before that were worth getting me to where I'm at.
Drumroll please… Determining a style!
Now that you’re putting in the effort and enjoying the process, are you ready for the secret? Well, its really no secret at all and rather just like anything else in life. The more you put effort into something, the more you learn how you’re naturally gifted! Take baseball for instance; as you grow up in a league and try batting, infield, outfield, catcher, etc, etc, you start to learn your strong points and abilities. If you’re the absolute best at catching, perhaps you belong in a role with a mitt. And perhaps if you can throw a 98mph ball, you belong on the pitchers mound.
The same is true in photography to an extent; some people are more inclined to tell an imaginative story while others prefer showing raw reality. Some are geniuses with natural light while others are wizards of lighting equipment. Some can transform a scene from mundane to surreal through editing techniques while yet others can develop the crispest film you’ll ever see. The truth is, we all have inclinations towards one style or another and we can find those specific attributes by exploring the many wonders of this field.
The importance of personal style.
For me, finding a style began with patience and exploration. I didn’t focus on style in the beginning, but rather the development of my abilities and interests. Acquiring a style was like a natural growth process. There was nothing I could do to force it, and copying someone else’s just wasn’t an option. To set myself apart, I simply made things that I liked and tried to capture ideas from within. Over time, I gained habits with lighting, composition, depth of field, editing, and so on, which all have become part of my style. I had a natural leniency towards the storytelling, whimsical, surrealistic and now I feel as though I can look back and see a progression to a distinct style.
Now that my “style” exists, it certainly affects what I continue to create and I find an importance in tying my work together to form a cohesive body. However, I don’t believe the way I create is necessarily the way for everyone, or that I should be bound to it forever! The world of art would be quite a bore if everyone did the same exact thing and I find the differences in creativity to be the most intriguing. I think what is more important than finding some distinct style is being happy and invested in what you create. Why create if the process has no meaning to you or others? So you want to create film today and digital tomorrow? Go for it! Want to shoot in a studio this week and a forest the next? Have a party! Just make sure that you’re doing it for a reason- to learn, to share, to inspire, or for the love of it!
Before long, your style will just be the awesomeness that entails your life. Take hold of what you do, even if you decide not to do photography or even art. Just be sure to own it and enjoy it. You are your own style, you are your own boss, you are your own conqueror of the world, and if you devote your whole self to your passions, your style will just shine through. So, what do you say? Can you see a style that has developed over the last few years? Are you working on the learning stages that will produce a style? I’d love to hear about your journey! Comment below and lets share our journeys together!
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