Picture This: In Search of Style
Photographers can develop a recognizable look that sets their work apart.
By Earl Nottingham
I’ve often been told by others that my photographs have a certain “style,” and that even without seeing my name alongside the images, it’s evident that they’re mine. This has always intrigued me since I never consciously set out to develop a style or particular look to my images or patterned my work after someone else’s.
However, after spending some time perusing the images made by friends and colleagues on social media, in addition to revisiting the works of well-known photographers, it became apparent that each photographer does exhibit a distinct and recognizable style, whether amateur or professional, and regardless of the subject matter.
Style cannot be determined by a single photograph. It gestates over time as a body of unified photographic work grows, gradually revealing a visual consistency that allows us to recognize a photographer’s work. For example, the style of Ansel Adams is quickly recognizable because of many of the common denominators he utilized, such as shooting grand landscapes with a large-format camera and black-and-white film, combined with his Zone System method of negative exposure, development and print processing.
Typical common denominators that can define style are:
A photographer may be drawn to shooting one type of subject, such as landscape, wildlife or portraits, and may specialize in specific subjects, such as hummingbirds, waterfowl, macrophotography or still lifes.
Camera Equipment and Techniques
The choice of camera equipment and techniques can help define the “look” of a body of work and hence its style. Equipment can range from a camera phone to a large-format film camera and anything in between. Lens choice can also help define a style, as many photographers gravitate to using one focal-length lens at a predetermined f-stop. Case in point: As I was once shooting a desert landscape with a 24mm wide-angle lens stopped down to f/16 for maximum depth of field, the person next to me was using a 200mm lens at f/2.8. They both provided great images that were as individual as the photographers.
A photographer may prefer to shoot at a certain time of day or with a particular quality of lighting such as a clear or diffused sky, or use artificial light or modifiers such as strobes and reflectors. Additionally, the sensitivity of today’s camera sensors opens up new opportunities for shooting in low light or nighttime situations. This allows many photographers to express themselves in ways previously unattainable, such as light-painting scenes at night against a starry sky.
Everyone sees a scene differently and composes it in the viewfinder accordingly. One photographer may capture the drama of a wide landscape while the other sees delicate beauty in a close-up detail. Composition can also be interpreted by where the subject (or focal point) is placed in the frame — dead-center or off to the side following the rule of thirds. Many photographers prefer to break the rules by using very asymmetrical composition such as placing a horizon in the bottom seventh (or less) of the frame.
A digital photo file (especially a raw file) offers an almost infinite variety of creative looks in post-processing, limited only by the photographer’s imagination. They can range from minor color corrections to impressionistic, painterly looks.
Style, as evidenced by an individual’s photography, is a graphic distillation and manifestation for others to see who we are and how we interpret the world. It comes naturally — sometimes with conscious effort and sometimes not. No two photographers have the same style, nor should they. Vive la différence!
Please send questions and comments to Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more tips on outdoor photography, visit the magazine’s photography page at www.tpwmagazine.com/photography.
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