“I want to be a photographer.”
Remember when you said those words to yourself? How long ago was it?
Maybe a few years, months, or even weeks.
In saying so, do you remember the excitement that came along with it? Maybe it was a leap of faith or a lifelong dream, but becoming a photographer was something in your heart that you knew you wanted to do.
From there, you scoured the internet, read articles, watched videos, took online courses and practiced all things photography.
Rules, rules and more rules. More learning, more rules. More practice, more rules.
At least, that is how my journey came to be.
After spending years agonizing over rules, settings, composition, advice from this person, advice from that person, I was stuck, stagnant and at a crossroads. I couldn’t put a finger on why. Then it hit me; the lingering question on my mind was regarding my voice and style.
Finding voice and style is big milestone that comes up during a photographer’s journey. If you are feeling stuck, unsure, or confused about defining yours, hopefully some of these tips that helped me find my voice can help you continue to move forward in cultivating your own.
Be honest with yourself, but don’t beat yourself up.
After years of learning the rules and working on applying for ClickPro, I felt it. Stuck. Very stuck. I wasn’t inspired at all, felt my photos were lackluster and couldn’t find that “creative groove.” But during that time I was too harsh and overly critical of every photo I took. I went straight for the negative: “This is terrible. I am no good. I am obviously an awful photographer.” Instead, I should have given myself more grace and better constructive criticism. If you are having identity issues with your work, be honest, but don’t fret. The fact that you are taking time to subjectively look at your work in an honest, positive light is the first step and allows more room for artistry to grow.
Learn the rules. Then break them, but don’t forget them.
I remember learning the rules and also remember thinking to myself, “I must follow them all. All of them. And if I break them the photo isn’t good.” Probably a huge reason why I felt so stuck, right? Now, I definitely bend the rules and know it, but those rules are always in the back of my head. Finding voice and style is also finding that delicate balance of being a little rebellious and studious at the same time.
There is no such thing as perfect, normal, or ideal.
I have never been big on the word, “perfect.” I truly think there is no such thing and when it comes to my photography, definitely not. But I had to take some serious time to get to that point. I would clone, dodge, burn, crop and try to “fix” photos because I thought they were not “perfect.” Then after working so hard on them I would delete them all. This plays hand in hand with breaking the rules but not forgetting them. Now I can look at a photo, see that I may have a strange crop or blown highlights, but know why I love it and how it fits in with the rest of my work.
Turn off the noise.
When we are early in our journey our first instinct is to ask lots and lots of questions; that is good. But be careful of having too many sources and too much information, especially when you are trying to find your artistry and voice. At one point I had information overload. To remedy it, I entrusted one or two really good BPFs (best photography friends) and asked them for help and advice. Then, I turned off the rest of the noise, including social media.
Shoot what you love and love what you shoot.
Speaking of BPFs, one of them once told me to “shoot what you love” and that resonates with me everyday. For weeks and months on end, I didn’t like any of my work because I was taking photos of things that I thought were just “okay.” Honestly, I was taking photos of what I “thought” I should be taking photos of and truly didn’t find much interest in them. This was totally backwards and off. But once I heard this advice and started each day of focusing in on only shooting things that I wanted to shoot and loving what I shot my voice and style shined.
Make up your own rules.
Whether it be editing or a specific way of shooting, make up your own way of how YOU want to be known and defined. As I sit and think of some photographers who truly inspire me, they blaze their own trails when it comes to their artwork and it makes me admire them that much more.
Listen to your gut, heart, and brain all at once.
My artistry and voice seemed to all come together when I used my gut, heart, and brain simultaneously. My gut would drive me to pick up my camera every single day. My heart would help find emotion, love and connection in all of my work. My brain would help me find the delicate balance between breaking rules but still remembering them.