Unique Photographic Style – Should It Be Yours Or The Camera’s?

How much of the character of your final photographs should be down to how you’ve manipulated them, and how much down to the unique personality of the camera and lens you’re using?

After I’d been shooting film for a while, I realised that once I’d found my favourite few film emulsions, it didn’t make a huge difference which camera body and 50mm lens I used.

The final image was pretty similar overall.

So my film camera and lens preferences came down to other factors – ergonomics, cost, and just that sometimes indescribable chemistry we seem to have with some gear but not other.

Pentax and Contax film cameras I connected with in a way I never could with Canon or Minolta.

With digital, the film emulsion is out of the equation, obviously. 

We can set a camera to a pretty neutral output, then apply our own processing preferences afterwards, which means, as with film, there’s not a huge difference between similarly spec’d cameras.

The end result is homogenised to an extent, regardless of the initial image, or camera – our processing becomes the great equaliser. 

With this approach, we can find our own signature style, that varies little between cameras and lenses, which some would say is the end goal for a photographer.

But what if instead, we give each camera more of a chance to let its own unique character come to the fore?

This is an approach I’m coming around to with my One Month, One Camera (OMOC) project this year.

With the Canon IXUS and FujiFilm Finepix compacts I’ve used so far, it’s not been particularly difficult to get a look I like.

And I get the feeling that if I continue along this vein and try out another 10 digital compacts over the remainder of the year, the story would be much the same.

As long as they’re working and reasonably competent, I can take a little time to work out their features and functions, and set up them to produce images I’m happy with, with a helping hand from Snapseed on the home straight.

This doesn’t really fill me with excitement. 

It’s back to the same kind of approach as when I had far too many 50/55mm lenses and each was giving me 95% similar results.

So how can I let each camera’s unique character come more to the fore? 

Well, I’m going to start with colour.

The Canon Digital IXUS 870 IS delighted me in that it could give me colour shots I liked straight out of camera.

31888898607_bdfc6c264f_b

So what does the FujiFilm FinePix F810 have to offer on the colour front? 

Essentially it has three colour modes, without any further scope for modification, like adjusting contrast or saturation.

Its “F Photo Mode” menu gives three colour options.

F-Standard is for “normal photography”, F-Chrome has higher saturation and contrast for “more vivid shots of subjects such as scenery (blue sky and greenery) and flowers”, and finally F-B&W, which is black and white.

The latter b/w mode is useful in that it shows everything in b/w on the screen so makes finding compositions best suited for b/w a little easier. But in terms of output, it’s a disappointing sea of middling greys.

This is not how I want my b/w images to look, so I add a little Snapseed, and the final photographs I’m very pleased with.

So we’re left with the two colour modes to play with.

47052207562_1f46d6c42f_b

Some suggest that these F Photo Mode colours on FujiFilm cameras were supposed to be emulations of classic FujiFilm emulsions. I don’t know enough about them to comment with any expertise.

The F-Standard mode gives, well, pretty standard colours.

Perfectly pleasant, but nothing particularly individual or interesting, to my eyes.

Which is probably exactly what they intended, colours that were natural, neutral, and effective in a wide range of scenes, and inoffensive to a wide range of tastes.

46190890815_325c2cbe8d_b

So it’s the F-Chrome mode that holds far more interest for me. 

After a couple of photowalks and some experimentation, I’ve found that it works better (or rather, pleases my eyes more) with some colours, than others.

It seems to enhance and deepen colours generally, which I like, and is especially effective (again, to my eyes) with blue skies, yellows and purples. 

In fact the blue skies are very reminiscent of the photos I used to like getting with compact film cameras.

Aside from the leaf photo at the top, the other three photos in this post were made with the FujiFilm FinePix F810 on the F Chrome mode, with zero post processing.

46190689245_dc8d1738fd_b

So, going forward, I still plan to use the F810 on b/w mode, because with Snapseed it does give very satisfying images.

But I’m now more open to using the F-Chrome colour mode more, and letting the camera express its own personality with colour, and see what I like. 

Which is an approach I can then follow with different cameras for future months in the OMOC project too.

What do you feel about this topic? Do you aim to produce consistent, perhaps even identical results, regardless of which camera you use? Or do you prefer letting the unique character of each camera come to the fore naturally, and enjoying the results? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what I’m into right now.

12 thoughts on “Unique Photographic Style – Should It Be Yours Or The Camera’s?”

    1. Yeh I’m coming round to agreeing. I do like a bit of variety with my cameras, if not the dozens of a few years ago, so it makes sense to let each one speak its own language to some extent.

  1. I prefer to allow the cameras/films’ individual characteristics to show themselves! There was a time when I tried to edit photos so they all had the same look and feel, but I have moved away from that a lot over the last couple of years… Instead, I pick my cameras/films based on the look and feel that I want with very little pain and effort from myself :). To elaborate (perhaps a bit too much):

    When shooting digital, it’s about the characteristics of that sensor with the particular lens I’m using at the time. I don’t really enjoy editing my photos anymore, so the jpeg straight out of camera needs to be near enough perfect. I am happy to edit exposure, contrast, maybe do some sharpening, convert to b&w (more on that in a moment) if absolutely necessary, but definitely no more than that!

    Now, generally I prefer the b&w out of my GX7 compared to black and white films I’ve tried. Some might say perhaps I still haven’t found that right b&w film and/or filter combination, but since I’m happy with digital b&w, I have decided not to buy any more b&w film; I will shoot what I have already bought, but after that I will be 100% digital when it comes to black and white. I also know what subjects I prefer to shoot in b&w too, so for certain walks, I will just take my GX7.

    For colour, I overwhelmingly prefer colour film, and particular colour films too: Velvia 50, Portra 160, Ektar 100, and C200. So, when shooting film, it’s about the characteristics of that emulsion (an analogue sensor, if I may coin the term 🙂 ) and the lens I’m using.

    So, for certain situations, I will shoot my GX7 and for others it will be film. Yes there is some overlap 🙂 but generally I try to carry one camera, and then shoot with that camera/film in mind.

    1. Thanks Mel, appreciate your input as always. I guess what I’m getting closer to is having a limited set of cameras, where I know each of them well enough to know what their output is like. So then, like you describe, when I’m out with any particular one I can look for images and compositions and colours that best suit that camera. For example with the FinePix F810 here, I would likely look for blue skies and flowers…

      This also has the bonus of cutting down (or cutting out entirely) the post processing, because you’re going with what the camera delivers in camera.

  2. for me it all comes down to how using any particular camera makes me feel when using it…

    Every 35mm film camera I have owned and shot with resulted in very similar looking images. Whether I used a SLR, rangefinder, or a point and shoot, they all ‘looked the same’. Of course differences using say some Leica or Zeiss glass, compared to a image made with a meniscus lens will show up like flip flops at a wellie convention. But they feel the same because the tool you use is basically the same.

    This is why I moved into medium format and 120mm. The method of using that tool is different to using a 35mm camera. Then I moved on to large format (well 5×4 for the time being) Again a new set of skills needed. AND more importantly a new physiology. Then I started printing. And then on to alternative processes (or as some call them, historical) Soon I discovered that what I was dong with salt printing and cyanotypes was REAL printing/photographic process rather than alternative. But I digress… as one does 🙂

    As I’ve mention before, I have only one example of camera in each format. I know what each camera can and cant do. I do experiment with different emulsions and developers. That is where i can define and REFINE my vision. The light capturing box is just that… no more, no less. How it makes me feel using it is important, but that relates to the type of image I am going for on that particular day. And that is influenced by a million and one things.

    I have no need to choose which 35mm camera I am going to use when down on Oxford street shooting some urban type shots on some HP5. I know which 120mm camera I am using when I want to shoot some Berrger Pancro 400 in the woods. I know what to use when I want to shoot some Delta 100 out on Richmond Park in the snow. One camera for a different job.

    I guess I’m the lucky one 😉

    1. Anton, yeh the feeling is a really important factor. There have been many cameras in the past that have delivered excellent results, but I’ve felt pretty indifferent about using them. There’s a chemistry that’s there – or isn’t.

      At this point I don’t really want to look beyond digital. It’s funny how with film the difference formats are more clear cut. With digital there are a wide range of sensor sizes from tiny ones in phones up to full frame, and beyond. You have different categories of camera I guess, like phone, compact, bridge, mirrorless, DSLR etc, but even with these broader categories there is so much variation and graduation.

      I guess you don’t need to put digital cameras in strict categories, but not doing so perhaps make narrowing down to specific cameras for specific tasks harder than how you have done quite clearly with film.

      1. I guess it all comes down to confirmation bias. And that’s a good thing sometimes. That can be used as motivation to move one into action. It’s comforting. And it’s also a place where we learn… definitely a good thing!

        But for me at some point ‘it’ moves beyond that scope and the motivation develops into curiosity of more than just mere mechanics and basics. This can be seen as less ‘productive’ and ‘hit-and-miss’ sometimes (I definitely don’t post online as much as I used to) I’m all about the long game now. It’s a place where I’m trying to develop ideas and themes.

        Please do not interpret my views as a nudge to get you into film or a knock against digital… Far from that mate. I definitely get your point regarding the scope of digital imagining gear. And I do understand your motivation. And even if I may feel it’s a road revisited, it’s your journey mate… Yours to enjoy and find daily inspiration from 🙂

        1. I think with any art form – or anything we do repeatedly – we find which elements we like repeating and honing to an ever more pleasing degree, and other aspects where we need a bit of variety to keep us fresh.

          So some might use the same camera for a year, but over that time try different photograph styles and environments – city streets, forests, beaches, and so on. Another might keep the subject matter more constant and vary the tools (which is more like my approach currently) to see how similar scenes look through different “eyes”.

          I guess with both approaches we’re hoping for enjoyment as we go, and some kind of measure of, or reward for, our progress. In photography, part of that reward/progress is coming up with photographs we’re proud of.

          There’s a part of me somewhere that always wants to encourage people to photograph (and indeed to share and blog about it), and so banging on about how cheap the kit can be seems to be a strong theme!

          There aren’t many hobbies you can do as often as you want/can for £10 or £15 a year (or longer, depending on how long the camera lasts), and in all seasons…

  3. One of the nice things about digital for me is that even if the camera output is similar irrespective of which camera I’m using the scope for reshaping and defining the look afterwards is nearly endless. While some people clearly don’t enjoy post processing I do (within limits – i.e. not on every photograph but taking as much time as I need on selected photographs). I like the fact that I can take one image and rework it multiple times in multiple ways. Sometimes this might be down to what kind of mood I’m in, or what kind of output of the image I’m planning. I’ve also found over the years that my tastes have changed and I love being able to go back and find an image from ten years ago and rework it.

    The one specific camera I like for a particular style is my LX5 and before that my LX3. I think the images from these cameras on the black and white setting look great.

    The downside of digital is that a of of people do seem to want only a particular look and I think that lack of variety is unfortunate. To my eve a lot of digital photography these days looks technically spectacular but ultimately a bit sterile.

    1. Olli, great to get your views, thank you!

      On the post processing we’re pretty far apart! I’m not keen on it when the photos are “fresh”, and it’s very very rare for me to go back to an image months or years later to try a different processing interpretation. I just can’t deal with all that possibility and the virtually unlimited range of possible choices.

      Agree with you wholeheartedly on the Lumix front, I love the LX3, and the dynamic mono output is fantastic straight out of camera.

      And I complete agree too about so much digital these days looking too clean and clinical and sterile. This is a major reason why I’m mostly using older cameras with lower MP and CCD sensors, they just seem to have more character to the images.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s