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Can: open – worms: everywhere. You could be forgiven, when asked what your photographic style is, for wincing slightly: how are you supposed to answer? Saying that you model yourself after, let’s say, Ansel Adams or Steve McCurry – luminaries though they both are – makes you sound derivative. People know what to expect from your photographs before you’ve even opened your laptop. Having said that, “I dunno,” isn’t exactly an inspiring response either.

We suspect that for many photographers, the reason that answering questions on your personal style is hard is because most people don’t know what a style is. You shoot what you love, for the most part, whether that’s street scenes, architecture, wildlife and so on.

Still, if you know the kind of images you love, you’ll gradually grow into a style of photography that suits you. The result: more confident, artistic photography, and images that your audience will identify as yours before they ever see a caption.

Style is ill-defined

Part of the problem is that the word “style” doesn’t make lots of sense on its own. Does it mean all your photographs are black and white? Wide-angle? Directly lit with a flash? Deciding what your style is and trying to force your photography into the creative shoebox you’ve made will leave you frustrated. Which means it’s important to remember…

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Style is gradual

Most people start off in photography shooting the things they like. Sure, photographic courses and workshops might provide a little added direction and knowledge, but most people simply shoot the subjects that make them feel excited. And the more you shoot a subject, the better you’ll understand it, and the better you’ll anticipate exciting, unique images. Simply being half a heartbeat ahead of the competition will help craft better images. And there’s nothing wrong with your style being “quality photography”!

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Style is technical

Knowing a good composition when you see it is one thing: turning it into a decent photograph is entirely another. If you’re completely relying on your camera to meter and focus for you, you’re leaving your photography in the lap of the gods. Understand exposure composition and how aperture, ISO and shutter speed affect your images. It’s important to be able to reach your camera’s manual modes in a hurry. You’ll also need to understand light: where’s it coming from, how strong is it, and what kind of shadows is it making? Being able to marry the light you’re shooting in with a strong subject and sound technical knowledge will give you a good leg up.

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Style involves copying

Style is individual. Everyone knows that, right? Still, it’s important to understand what you like and don’t like, and that means, often enough, pinching ideas from other artists. Not just photographers (but hit our Facebook page for ideas on which Instagrammers to follow) – but artists as well. Painters like Edward Hopper or David Hockney, with their breathtaking understanding of shadow, light and composition, are worth drinking in. The more ideas you have in your head, the more likely you are to spot photographic inspiration when you’re out and about.

Style is a process

Ask any photographer about their style and even the most experienced might tell you they’re still waiting to find out. Photographic style comes about gradually, through experimentation and mistakes, so don’t rush to decide who you’re modelling yourself after. Shoot the things you love, and shoot the things you don’t find so easy. Be critical of your images – or, better yet, find someone you trust to say nice and nasty things about your work. Concentrate on great images first; your style will follow on its own.

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