Every photographer wants to find her unique voice, to make her photography stand out and be an extension of who she is.
But it’s hard to do in this media saturated world.
So just how does a girl hone in on her own creative style? How does she know she’s being true to herself?
I’ve been through this whole process myself and though I still feel I’m a work in progress, I want to share the steps I took to discover who I am as a photographer and how I discovered my aesthetic.
1. First, look to your home and closet.
These things can tell you a lot about yourself that you might not even realize!
Look around. How have you decorated your home? Do you use bold colors or pastels? Are the items you collect modern or classic? Are you organized or eclectic?
Now walk into your closet. (Or if you’re more like me, go eye the piles of laundry on the couch.) Is your closet full of new and trendy items or are you sentimental and hold on to old pieces? Do you collect bold prints or do you prefer pretty florals? Do you like to stand out in a crowd wearing bright colors like red and yellow or do you look more mellow wearing only shades of blue and gray?
Remember, there are not any correct answers. Instead, your home and what you wear are most likely a good reflection of YOU!
In my home, I painted the doors and trim a dark brown to pop against our very light yellow walls. I also painted an entire room and the back of a built in bookshelf a hue of navy blue. Just looking around, it’s very apparent to me that I love contrast and the color blue!
2. Look to your Pinterest boards.
Is there a recurring theme in the pictures you save? Are you attracted to florals and weddings? Perhaps moody documentary images dominate your collection.
Next, scroll through your favorite blogs, Instagram accounts and Facebook groups. Dog ear photos in magazines. Check out art books from the library. When a photo makes you stop and stare for a second, articulate why. Say it out loud. Write it down.
Is it the composition? Is it the connection between two people? Is it the light? Is it the shadows? Is it the color or lack of color? Find what you are personally attracted to and then ask yourself: would you have created that photo the same way? What would you have done differently? I learn all about my personal weaknesses and preferences from answering these kinds of questions.
For example, though I may like a picture with desaturated greens, I know I would edit with very bright and colorful greens.
3. Combine the images of which you are most proud into a portfolio.
As you do this, you’ll start to notice some patterns in your work – perhaps both good and bad! This can be awesome for personal artistic growth.
When putting together my business photography blog, I suddenly connected the dots and was able to identify my strengths as a photographer. It was glaringly apparent that I love clean lines and bold color!
4. Own it.
Discovering my aesthetic has been a lesson in self acceptance. It’s true, there is always room for growth and improvement in our art. And while we are generally always trying to make our weaknesses become strengths, there are just some things that are undeniably unique to each of us.
In other words, you really are one in seven billion! No one else on earth has the same combination of personality, humor, talent, intelligence, or background and life experience. Therefore, the potential of what you create is going to be unique to you and only you.
So do some soul searching. Ask your closest family members and friends to tell you the things they notice and admire about you. Just what are your talents and strengths? What life experiences set you a part from many people? How do you see the world? Who are you?
In short, I am a very yellow colored personality. I am friendly and outgoing. Sunshine makes me happy and I love adventuring outside with my family. My childhood was spent playing at the beach and sailing with my Dad. But I’m also a bit red. I thrive on routine and organization.
Recently, I realized how much of an influence my talent playing the violin has had on my photography. I began studying the violin at age five and played on a scholarship all through college. At first, it was imperative that I learn all the technical aspects: keeping my left wrist straight, holding the bow with a bent thumb and pinky, intonation, etc.
As a child, I imitated the songs I heard. I sounded like a robot playing Gavotte from Mignon. But as I matured and mastered the technicalities, I began to play with emotion; real emotion straight from the heart. I’ve come to realize that this is one of my God given gifts.
So what does my experience with learning the violin have to do with photography? Quite a bit, actually. In photography, I am a rule follower nearly to the T. All of my compositions are either centered or use the rule of thirds. If I miss focus at all, I throw the image out. I have to know my camera inside-out and why the image turned out as it did.
This is parallel to me as a child learning all the technicalities of the violin; everything has to be correct. Now, as a photographer, I feel that I have mastered the basic rules of picture taking. I am currently on a journey to infuse more emotion into my photos. It’s going to take time and a little more soul-searching for me to get there, but I believe I will.
For now though, my photos are bright and warm and colorful. They’re full of sunflares and backlight and happy children. I feel they are reflections of what makes me happy. And I am proud of the images I make.
5. Learn to make consistent edits.
In the age of RAW files and computer editing programs, the sky is the limit in creative power. There is nothing holding an artist back from creating what she envisions. However, these programs take time and practice to learn to manipulate.
My suggestion is to first master white balance. We all know when skin tones look beautiful. Oppositely, most everyone can eye when something is wrong with skin even if they can’t explain exactly what it is. Elevate your photography by getting skin tones right.
Next, watch videos of editing. The Clickin Moms forum is full of great editing tutorials. Many of my favorite editing videos have come from the breakouts of talented artists I admire. They can be eye opening!
Then, experiment with purchased presets. (Some well-known favorites are VSCO, Tribe Archipelago, SMAL, and Mastin Labs.) Knowing how to set white balance makes good presets beautiful. Presets have also helped me learn the ins and outs of Lightroom and the potential for every panel. They have pushed my editing (for example, the contrast) a little further than I was originally comfortable with.
Now when I look at a RAW photo, I know what I want it to become. Whether I’m using a preset or editing by hand, I can compare two or three images side-by-side and see very minute differences. My husband rolls his eyes because he can’t tell the difference but I think it’s fabulous because that means I have found my editing style.
6. Step away from social media.
Sometimes it’s hard to be creative when our heads are full of other people’s ideas or worse, when we are creating for someone else. I sometimes find myself getting caught up in comparing my work with someone else’s and it honestly doesn’t feel very good.
Instead, social media is meant for sharing the things we’re excited and passionate about! (At least I think so anyway.)
So step away. Create for yourself. Learn for yourself. Take classes. Study. Experiment. Remember, this is your art. Own it. Then share it. If it makes you happy, then you’re on your way to fulfilling your personal artistic bucket.
7. Repeat steps in any order when necessary.
Now use these steps to help find your artistic voice!