So far we’ve covered shutter speed, depth of field, aperture and the Exposure Triangle. These are the main building blocks of taking the pictures you want with the effects you have in mind. Once you learn these basics and understand your camera well enough to actually take some photographs and be pleased with the results, spend some time and thought finding your photographic style.
Finding your Photographic Style
Style is something that you can let happen over time and come about on your own, or you can consciously pick a style you’d like to emulate and work toward developing it.
There are many different styles of photography, and there is nothing to say that we need to be locked into one style or the other. Your style may depend on your mood, the situation, or the message you are trying to convey with your photograph. In general, however, we tend to be drawn to one main creative style over the others. Here are some examples:
Documenters tend to take it as they see it. They try to incorporate their artistic expression into the scene as the scene actually unfolded before them. To a Documenter, their source of satisfaction comes with taking the scene as it naturally occurred and depicting it in an artistic way. Most of their time is spent behind the camera in producing the photograph; not behind the computer in creating the final image. They do not generally enhance, add or delete things in the scene that were not there when they took the picture. They may crop the image in post-production to remove distractions or to highlight the subject, but they will not go to extensive lengths. Think of them as photo journalists who want to take the best possible photograph of the scene they are trying to document.
Develop your True Style
For many of us, we start out this way until we learn more of the creative aspects of what the camera can do, or what we can change in the photo editing process. Then they may venture out into other realms and develop their “true” style. Some of us, tend to remain in this category. I’ve been taking pictures for decades, and still think of myself as a documenter. Documenters record the scene as it was when they took the picture. They don’t invent things that were never there. I tend not to change sunsets to blazing red skies if they were not colorful, or remove objects that cluttered the frame. I try to take the photograph at a vantage point that will make it the best possible picture in camera, not fix it later in the editing process.
I’ve been known to forgo a shot because the real-world scene did not match what I wished it were in my mind’s eye. That does not mean that I never crop an image to “de-clutter it”, or punch up the color, exposure, or contract a little. But I don’t go overboard making the image something that did not exist in reality, or “air brushing” skin tones to make Aunt Mildred look like a super model. To me, the challenge is creating that perfect photograph as it naturally occurred –not creating something completely different in post-production.
The modern artists are the folks on the opposite end of the spectrum. They view the camera as a tool to create their art. Photography to them is a beginning point, not an end. Post-production is where they spend most of their time. They may completely change the colors or exposure in the photograph; add objects, people, scenery that were never in the original, or remove things they find do not contribute to their vision of the final image. Perhaps layering several images into one composite image, or if they decide a building, tree, person is not wanted, they simply remove it. They may completely change or add elements to the photograph that only exits in their own imagination. These are the creative types that think of the photographic medium as their canvas to produce their art. And with the amazing technology available today, both in the camera and on the computer, they can create images that only exist in their mind’s eye.
The experimenter is always trying to do something new and different. Close to the Modern Artist, they attempt to use photography as a beginning, not an end. Most of their experimentation, though happens in the camera –not the computer. They may hold the camera at a strange angle (rather than holding fast to the old tenant that the horizon MUST be parallel to the edge of the frame). They will try extremely slow shutter speed, or a very fast shutter speed to capture the motion effect they are after. Likewise, they will use depth of field in different, sometimes surprising ways. Some very unusual photographs can be created by using your camera to the extremes of the features made available. This is why camera manufactures are continually coming up with new features, more extreme options built into their cameras to attract people to buy the latest versions of their gear. Most of us (especially us Documenters) will never use these features.
Which type are you?
Where do you fit in the infinite variations along the scale between documenter and Modern Artist? In the beginning, when we are first learning the techniques and basics, we are all documenters. Some of us prefer to stay in that realm. Once you know the equipment, the basics of photography, the rules of composition, you may decide to begin breaking those rules.
Know the Rules -Then Break them!
I maintain that all rules in the art world are there as mere guidelines; they are meant to be broken to create a desired effect. It’s best, however, to first know the rule, understand why it’s a rule, and then purposefully decide to break it. This discerns the true artist from the hack. Someone who never strays from the rigid path of the rules will certainly have the ability to become a good Documenter. But, breaking the rules when they are broken purposefully will make you a good Artist. And sometimes it’s just plain fun to break the rules. The wonderful thing about photography is that you can break the rules all the time and no one will haul you off to Photo Jail.
But, know the answer to the question when asked: “Why did you hold the camera at such an odd angle, when conventional wisdom is to make the horizon line in the picture perfectly level and parallel to the edge of the frame?” The answer you give will determine if you get “A” for Artist, or “H” for Hack stamped on your forehead.
Finding your Voice
Once you decide what style of Photographer you are most comfortable with, then you need to find your “voice”. Every artist, in whatever medium they choose, has a voice. A writer, painter, dancer all have that subtle quality that makes their style unique to themselves. This is not meant to limit your style or constrain your technique to only certain methods. It’s meant to give you the freedom to be uniquely yourself. When taking pictures of people, do you like them to be posed, smiling, all very controlled and neat? Or do you like the chaos of candid pictures that capture the emotion and feeling of the moment? For landscapes, do you like the static scenes of the vast panorama with a well-placed tree in the foreground framing the shot – or do you like storm clouds rolling in at dusk giving a foreboding quality to the scene?
Shake things up!
Once you are comfortable with your style and voice, don’t be afraid to shake things up once in a while. Like the country singer that produces a cross-over pop song, you can find a whole new style or voice. It keeps things fresh and stimulates your creativity. Once again, it comes down to knowing what the rules are –or what your style is –and purposefully breaking the rules or conventions. Your only limitations are the limitations you place on yourself!
Go. Find your Style. Find your Voice. Shake things up!
Then share the results.