It’s a common belief that any accomplished artist has their own unique signature style, instantly recognisable at a glance.
Think about your favourite writers, poets, singers or painters. They likely have a strong, personal and distinctive voice throughout their work.
But what about photographers? Is it something we should strive for too?
Put another way, should all your photographs look the same?
This is something I’m been considering the last few months, and have split into three main areas.
We all have favourite subjects to shoot, be it people, flowers, cats, cars, trees or gravestones. Is their any advantage to sticking to one specific subject, or small range of subjects?
You might argue that yes, this would allow you to master one subject and improve your photography.
But then a certain variety might keep your photography more fresh and challenging. How much of a photographer’s overall recognisable look comes from the subjects they choose to shoot?
Personally I think that even if you chose exactly the same subjects for every photograph, this wouldn’t be enough on its own to give your work a distinct style. It might be a factor but only after others.
This is the probably the most elusive and difficult to grasp of the three here. Style for me would mean the type of compositions – how the elements are arranged, how near or far they are, the angles of shooting, the surroundings, what you put in the centre of the image and at the edges, what you leave partially outside.
In this category too is just the emotion or the feel or the atmosphere of the photographs, something that’s as difficult to describe as it is to create.
I think this factor style is more influential in the overall recognisability of your images than your subject choice, but probably not quite as dramatic as the final of the three I’ve identified.
How your photographs look is of course partly defined by the subjects you choose, and your style.
But another significant factor – and perhaps the greatest of all three here – is the combination of aesthetic options you choose.
For example, do you shoot colour or black and white?
If you choose colour, is it vibrant, popping colour – even shifted or cross processed ? Do you prefer keeping it as natural to life as possible? Or muted, bleak and industrial?
If you go with black and white, is it a contrasty look with deep inky blacks and clean sharp whites. Or is ever image a graduation of infinite shades of mid grey? Maybe you use sepia or some other colour tint to your b/w images?
Then there’s the cleanness of the image. Do you like pure crisp images shot at low ISO, or favour a subtle grainy/noisy look at a faster speed? Or super gritty and gnarly high ISO shots that almost become abstract?
Also consider depth of field (DOF).
Do you always shoot with wide angle lenses at small apertures so most of the composition is in sharp focus? Do you often use wide apertures and longer lenses to create razor slice focus planes with everything else disappearing into a smoothly graduated blur?
What about the edges of the photo? Do you like vignetted corners, do you add a Polaroid style frame or border? Or just leave it as it came out of camera?
Any one of these aesthetics elements we’ve considered can drastically alter your overall images. In combination they can be ever more powerful and influential.
Add this to your personal choice of subject and style and the permutation and infinite.
So back to the question we asked at the beginning – should all of your photographs look the same?
If I look back over my best images (ie the ones I felt were good enough to want to archive and share via Flickr), I see quite a lot of similarity between what I’m shooting now and what I was six or eight years ago. You can, I think, clearly see the images were made by the same photographer.
However, in between, I have experimented quite significantly with different cameras, lenses, film, and treatments like redscale, cross processing, using expired film, and playing with LightRoom presets.
I do believe a certain amount of experimentation is healthy and keeps us exploring what we’re capable of, and what we like the look of most.
On the flip side, it is pleasing if someone says they can notice a photograph as yours because of a certain style you’ve developed. It feels like progress, and affirmation that I’m achieving something by making all these hundreds and thousands of images.
It makes me feel more like I’m at the artistic end of photography rather than the camera collector end.
This is one of those questions with no right or wrong answer.
So, fellow photographer, I’m very curious to hear your thoughts. Do you think all of your photographs should look the same? If so, why? If not, why not?
Please share your views in the comments below.
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13 thoughts on “Should All Of Your Photographs Look The Same?”
Interestingly I can always spot your pics on my Flickr feed, you definitely have your own style. I’d pick your writing style out of a crowd as well. Sometimes it’s one of those things you don’t need to think about – it just arrives on its own. That’s how I feel anyway.
Sam thanks for your kind words. I think you’re right, there are no shortcuts, you just have to keep doing it and your natural voice will come through. Similar to the 10,000 hours rule. With writing and photography I have been consistently churning it out for years in some form so a style must evolve.
Do you feel you’ve found a style or voice yourself?
I think I do. But I wouldn’t be able to tell you what it is – it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees in that sense.
Sam it is indeed very difficult to be objective about one’s own work. I’ll probably write a post about this at some point, the struggle of identify which photographs are actually good and which aren’t!
Hey there, just wanted to say I love your newsletters so keep it up.
Hi KatMagic, thanks for saying, I appreciate you reading and commenting.
Personally I think style is something that should be allowed to evolve rather than be something that is pursued. I think alot of people look back at the great photographers and see a style and think they need to find theirs. But they possibly don’t take into account that the similarities between the photographs are significantly influenced by the the equipment (camera and film) used and back then those photographers only used one camera and stuck with one film type. In this digital world those unique equipment characteristics are less apparent and so ‘style’ often has to be forced. Having said that of course, where people shoot similar themes like landscapes or close-up then it is inevitable that a style of sorts may be apparent to those viewing. The exception to my initial statement is where a photographer is working as a professional (such as a portrait photographer) looking to stand out from others in the same market and of course creating a signature look through lighting, composition and post production is a necessary strategy.
I think that’s an excellent point about the range of equipment used. You read about certain photographs from decades gone by and how they used pretty much the same film camera for years, if not decades.
We are of course making the assumption that finding your own style is something to strive for. That being so, I think sticking to a small set of cameras, if not one single camera, can be hugely helpful in this.
But if you’re not too concerned about finding your own voice and experimenting with a range of cameras is more important to you, then in a way that becomes part of your personality as a photographer. Someone who likes never shooting with the same camera twice, who enjoys (and needs?) that constant challenge and new stimulation.
I certainly used to be far more like this, though these days I’m coming back to the different challenge of continuing to find and photograph beautiful things in ways that continue to be rewarding, and honing that my individual style.
I know I’d be a better photographer if I would stop futzing around with all of these cameras and settle on a small set of gear I use repeatedly. I’d also be a better photographer if I’d be more intentional and thoughtful about the subjects I shoot. I am narrowing down: cars, places (broadly), and flowers.
Places is the one that’s most interesting to me at the moment. I am intentionally trying to develop my ability to photograph place in a way that gives the viewer the real feeling that they know the place a little through my photograph. I’ve been looking at 1930s photos of New York City by Berenice Abbott lately and she has mastered that. I want to emulate it and see where it takes me.
If through that I develop a style, then so be it.
Yeh I remember before you said you used just a Nikon F for about a year and felt you improved in leaps and bounds.
I don’t know if you find this, but I know when I was using a lot of different film cameras, more often than not, the current film I was shooting would be the first film I’d used in a new camera. If I didn’t much like the camera, I’d then take photographs not up to my usual level of thought and care, just to get to the end of the film. A huge and ultimately expensive waste of film.
I know some people who use a lot of different film cameras shoot half a film in one then transfer the rest to another in the dark, but I could never be bothered with all that.
I have noticed with digital I don’t do this really, but that’s most probably because I’ve used vastly fewer digital cameras, and if I don’t like one I just stop, there’s no need to burn through the remaining film.
Talking about Bernice Abbott (new to me- I’ll check here out) remind me of Atget who documented as many of the buildings and scenes of Paris as he could in the late 19th century.
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