Reading Mark Graf’s ‘Notes From the Woods‘ blog, the title of this post caught my eye.
It was one of those articles that clicked with something in my mind. It reminded me that I had actually started a train of thought on a similar subject last week, and forgotten all about it. Following on from thinking about style, and what elements of your photography actually impart a style to your images, I started to think about all the photographers whose style we immediately recognise, and how they generally exclusively shoot in that recognisable way.
I wondered if it generally occurs that photographers start off trying loads of different things out, and over time they narrow down their technique – whether that means using a particular length of lens, a single film or processing method, square or panoramic format, or something like that. I know most of my fellow amateur photographers currently cover as wide a range of all those things as possible, and over time, I see that we tend to begin to feel more comfortable, (or productive, or inspired) with some ‘configurations’ more than others and so, work more exclusively with them.
But is it something we do consciously, in a bid to claim our own personal style? Does it actually limit our creativity to narrow down too much in an effort to force something that should be a more natural progression? And when these guys get to the stage – like experts who ‘know more and more about less and less’ – where they are trapped into such a constrictive way of working that it almost becomes a rut, do they continue to grow artistically?
Or… is it at that stage when you have narrowed down your ‘tools’ to the ones you know intimately and use intuitively, that you can create you best, most insightful, least self-conscious work?
Going back to Art & Fear, the author suggests that the mere act of changing a slight portion of the routine, such as time of day, can lead to a ______ block.
I think that, over time, we discover our style. Our style is our innate way of showing how we see reality. For myself, it has to do with the tools that I prefer (my 18-70mm lens), how I use that tool (mostly wide open aperture at 18mm), and how I like to shoot (lots of negative space, small subjects, big open spaces). This is simply how I choose to portray the world, or how the world feels to me would seem more apt. I always feel small, or in awe of the world around me. Always. I’m impressed at its size and power.
So, over the years, my style has morphed to fit who I am today. It will change again and I need not go looking for it. It will find me. I just recently discovered my style, or what I believe it to be, after looking at thousands of pictures while doing keywording in Lightroom. I wasn’t looking for it, I just found it. Serendipity. I was just trying to get organized and my style hit me in the face!
I do believe that we start off trying different things, going down this path and that, trying things that others have done, etc. until we find niche, a comfortable place. At this comfortable place, we stay, play, and enjoy until such time as we move on.
I think of style as the emotions conveyed by a photographer’s work. I think those emotions have less to do with equipment and more to do with choice of subject matter, light, composition etc.
Paul Lester’s last paragraph summarizes my feeling on style and ‘switching up’ nicely. I think we move to a set of factors we feel comfortable with, stay there as long as we feel they help us communicate our vision of the world, and move on when they no longer suffice…