Updated: May 2, 2020
What makes some photographers work instantly recognisable? What defines a photographers style? How do photographers achieve this? These questions all relate to a photographers method or approach to the art of photography and a journey that ends with a selection of images they can call their own. This whole process has an infinite number of possible actions that eventually offer an insight into the photographers thoughts and like art, the artist/photographer can choose how his or her work is perceived.
Let's start at the beginning. What genre/subject of photography are you interested in? Personally, like thousands of photographers my interest has always firmly sat within landscape photography. This influence could relate to the family trips away in Scotland, The Lake District, Snowdonia, Provence, The French Alps and The French Riviera. From the age of 6-15, I was lucky enough to experience these beautiful locations and envelop myself into the landscape by getting out and about into the fresh air! This influenced me in later life and now I have a profound desire to get outside and record the sights that I see using a camera so these 'memories' can be shared with others. Then comes the format of camera and each and every keen photographer I meet has a very strong view on his/her choice of equipment. SLR, Digital SLR, Medium Format, Large Format, Pinhole, Nikon, Canon, Sony......the list could go on and on. But we should always respect each others choice of camera/equipment, as this will certainly influence and reflect the photographers individual style, which is personal choice.
Other photographers! Yes, we all do it, we spend hours flicking through books/magazines, online portfolios, image databases, visiting exhibitions, instagram, flickr, 500px, the list of inspiration goes on. But are we comparing ourselves or looking for inspiration? There are certainly sites that stroke ones ego, where photographers will spend days liking and commenting on other fellow competitors images in the hope the favour is returned and they can earn the respect of the online community. I did this for a number of years, but then realised I wasn't really progressing as a photographer and always felt deflated looking at others stunning imagery! But the one thing that has changed me over the years, is the number of photographers work I follow (a handful) - Peter Lik, Jonathan Chritchley, Ansel Adams (of course), Nick Brandt and Michael Levin. All these photographers highly influence me because I thoroughly enjoy looking at their work. I do not directly copy their style, but inter-grate techniques, imitate simple composition and reflect the equipment used in the field. This inspiration offers me the direction I need in order to build a recognisable style - but I'm not quite there yet.
So we've looked at genre, equipment and artist influence. What else is there? How you shoot in camera is a massive part of the finished print and this will most likely be influenced by what we have already discussed. However, there is one important subject I'm yet to touch on and that's location. Some photographers will research, research, research and others will step out into the wilderness and search for that eluding composition. Personally, I'm both. But what I try to achieve is a composition or search for a location that differs from others, or choose a prefer angle and not always being attracted to the impressive familiar visa's. So you find your location and you frame your image, this could be impulse, rule of thirds, lead in line, layers, tonal, detail, contrast....the list goes on, but this is a large element on the finished image and will certainly help define your style.
So you've braved the elements and come home with a selection of images or in some cases, nothing! Let's be positive, the images you've shot are now ready for post processing and you're excited to view them on the big screen. I have to admit from personal exprience, this is another subject similar to the equipment debate. There are the analogue traditionalist who still shoot everything on film and consider the digital world the anti-christ and then the extreme HDR fanatics who push every pixel to within a ppi of it's life. But we all have the freedom to choose exactly how we shoot and post process, there are no rules... unless you claim you didn't use photoshop but it transpires that you did?!? I'm a digital user and have been since 2002 and have always used photoshop to clean the image, crop, dodge, burn, sharpen and reduce noise and the majority of these techniques can be achieved in the darkroom. Ansel Adams was a master of the dodge and burn technique in the darkroom, just compare his before and after negatives, it's astonishing. So you are now happy with the colour, tonal range, the crop and finish. Is it what you were expecting and does it reflect your style.
So by providing the viewer with consistency - for example, using similar equipment to shoot, similar locations / subject matter, similar post processing techniques, mood and aesthetics will give you the chance of expressing your own individual style. You should also think carefully in how you exhibit your work. If you have a collection of satisfying images which are thrown together because you like them, think again. This will not always offer the viewer the flow of work that's required to keep people from loosing interest. There must be a subject or sense of common ground that can seen throughout your imagery and this is the point behind developing your own style. It will attract interest, as the viewer wants to know what is coming next and creates a sense of story. If you can achieve a recognisable style, then your work will automatically stitch together and you can then begin the process of creating followers of your work who appreciate your creative style and wish to follow you on your journey.
However, all the above means nothing without a little luck. There are many times that I've set my alarm for any early rise as the forecast looks perfect but in reality the light just never comes! This is something that can't be manipulated, planned or engineered, mother nature has her own agenda, but by putting yourself out there enough, sometimes things just present themselves!