Don't Try to Find a Style

It’s so tempting to think that that a successful photographer has to find a style and stick to it. Many popular accounts on Instagram have a consistent look. More than that, they often have an incredibly limited color palette to achieve that consistency. It’s a skill and it can look very good, and certainly give a ‘flavor’ or mood to the images.


It’s really difficult to find something unique though. Of course we tend to imitate, consciously or unconsciously. And that’s not a bad thing either, for learning and developing and exploring ideas. As I’ve probably mentioned before on here, even the Beatles started out as a cover band.


I think there’s another path to follow though.


Rather than worrying about the style of your images, try to figure out what you want to say. Then find the best ways of doing that. It might using a particular style or technique or format or gear to emphasize a message. Or it might be to keep the processing as simple and unobtrusive as possible.


Mostly I don’t really care what someone’s feed looks like. I might look at it when I come across someone new, but after that I don’t mind if any new image they post looks different.


Pretty might win on Instagram, but winning on Instagram isn't success anyway. Winning is doing what you're meant to be doing, being who you're meant to be, saying something that matters. Or maybe success is learning, getting a bit better today than you were yesterday. Or maybe it’s encouraging another photographer and helping them succeed.


Sebastiao Salgado and Gordon Parks are great examples. Each have a style but it’s entirely driven by what they want the images to convey and represent. Their voices are so much louder that their style choices.


There was a dance photographer whose name has escaped me, but she would have dancers coming to her and pointing to one of her previous images, asking to be photographed in the same way. She’d reply that she’d done that already, and why would someone want to repeat the same thing rather than make something new. I love that attitude.


It’s not wrong to search for a style or experiment with styles. But I think the style should be just part of the means of how we express what we want through the images.


(I also realize this is idealistic. It’s somehow pleasing when people compliment us on having a defined style. And probably a style will come in time, as we better understand our preferences and the visuals, and maybe even gear, that best fit the stories we want to tell).



Coney Island, January 2021




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Headshot, portrait, street and documentary photographer in NYC and Jersey City

alastair.arthur@gmail.com

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