The Secret, Misery And Bliss Of Finding Your Signature Photographic Style

Sep 10, 2015

Lindsay Adler

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

The Secret, Misery And Bliss Of Finding Your Signature Photographic Style

Sep 10, 2015

Lindsay Adler

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

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Lindsay Adler is a New York Based photographer, author, educator, all round glamorous pro photographer celebrity and social influencer. Lindsay kindly penned this brilliant guide on how to find your own signature style and why it really is a critical part of being a successful professional photographer…

 

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The Misery:

For years I spoke to other photographers and art directors who stressed the importance of having a style. They insisted that most successful photographers, particularly in fashion and commercial photography, had a definitive ‘look’ to their work. This style would be essential to make the photographer memorable, stand-out, and recognizable– all helping their business to thrive.

I was a skeptical of this whole ‘style’ concept, and resisted it for years.

I strongly resisted a style for several reasons. First of all, I loved to shoot so many different subjects. I loved to shoot portraits, fashion, and travel. Similarly, I believed if I limited my subject matter that I would lose out on a lot of opportunities for work. If people believed I only shot one type of subject and with one ‘look’, chances are that I would miss out on a lot of other clients that I might be a perfect fit for. When starting my business I wasn’t interested in the risk associated with limiting my client base.

Secondly, I loved to experiment with different techniques. One day I would shoot dark, stark and dramatic. Another day I would shoot soft, dreamy and whimsical. Why would I want to limit myself to only one look if I enjoyed it all so much?

Furthermore, I didn’t want to be a photographer whose images looked like they could have all been created in the same shoot. I wanted to have depth, variety, and to enjoy experimentation. I felt that a style would severely limit my creativity.

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I didn’t just resist finding a style, I dreaded it. Even if I wanted a style, I had no idea what the heck it would be! I looked around me and some of my photography friends found their style naturally almost as soon as they started photography. Their ‘look’ developed as they did. That wasn’t the case for me.

Over and over again, I would hear people stress the importance of style but when it came from a potential client it was a real wake-up call. I once had a meeting with an editor of a magazine for a potential collaboration. After reviewing my portfolio, he informed me that the quality and technique of my work was excellent. Unfortunately, the compliments did not continue from there. Instead, he stressed that without a clear style (which I did NOT have), I was extremely forgettable. He said that each week he looked at several photographers’ portfolios and that regrettably mine would not be one he would remember. In his opinion, my images were not particularly unique and I did not have a defined style. Unfortunately, he was right!

After hearing this I realized that perhaps finding a style was a little more urgent than I had realized. I needed to do something to create more unique, more creative and more memorable images. A style was no longer an option, it was a requirement.

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Finding Your Style:

I took some time to really look at my work, and to think about what I wanted my style to be. What would a “Lindsay Adler photo” look like? What is necessary to have a style? If you too are going through this process, let me share my suggestions.

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1. Analyze your work

Take a look at your favorite images that you have ever taken. These should be the ones that resonate with you the most, not the ones that are necessarily the most ‘technically correct’. Why do these images speak to you? What do they have in common?

Maybe they have a similar color palette? Or maybe the achieve a certain emotion? Maybe they have similar subject matter? Truly analyze your work to see what images really define you.

You might also consider looking at the work of other artists that inspire you, and ask similar questions. What elements make their work ring true to you? If you do look at the work of others, be very careful not to compare yourself or try to emulate them. Go deeper into WHY you love the work.

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2. Find three words to describe your style

Once you analyze your work, try to describe your style in approximately three words. Typically the first word describes a subject matter like sports, children’s portraits, fashion, or travel. The second word often describes a visual element of the work like colorful, graphic, or gritty. The third word is often a word that describes a pervasive feeling or emotion in your work like mysterious, joyful, or sensual.

Try to find a combination of three words that encapsulates you as an artist or the artist you wish to become.

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3. Give yourself assignments to develop style

Not everyone develops a style instantly. Furthermore, it takes time to have a cohesive portfolio that represents this style. I recommend giving yourself photo assignments and deadlines to get creative, and keep your style in mind as you shoot.

You might consider checking out my book Creative 52, with 52 assignments to invigorate your photographic portfolio. As you shoot an assignment, refer back to the three words you have chosen and be sure the results reflect those words, and therefore your style.

Through time and practice, a style will emerge and be represented in your portfolio.

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The Bliss:

I decided that the images I liked best in my portfolio were (1) bold, (2) graphic, (3) fashion photography and often featuring the color red. I kept these three words in mind, and shot once a week for a year in order to develop a portfolio that reflected these words.

I remember when I first looked at my new portfolio and felt, “Wow, these all look like they were taken by the same photographer.”

I realized that all the fears I had were ill-founded. My images weren’t static, or uncreative. They looked like years of work, not all the same shoot. They were a cohesive body of work. When I could finally see this in my portfolio, I felt a huge sigh of relief.

The bliss really came when other people started recognizing my style. When people would say that they had seen an image in their Facebook feed, and knew instantly it was a photograph I had taken. Or when they would see an editorial in a magazine and think “that reminds me of Lindsay”, and sure enough it was one of mine.

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The most important benefit was when clients started to reach out to me because they desired my unique look. They wanted graphic images that would be memorable for their fashion campaign or fashion-styled portrait.

I didn’t need to stop shooting other types of work, but instead to simply market this memorable “look”. Many clients would hire me to shoot other types of projects, but I had stuck in their mind originally because of the style that pulled them in.

No one remembers the “everything” photographer who shoots everything with style all over the place. But when you get more specific, you find a little nook in their brain that they call up in the future when looking for a photographer.

Now that I have a style, it helps my business to grow and even puts my mind at ease before a shoot. Now it is pure bliss knowing that my images are memorable, cohesive, and that people invite me to create images that ring true to my inner artist.

About The Author

Lindsay Adler is a New York Based photographer, author, educator, all round glamorous pro photographer celebrity and social influencer. Lindsay kindly penned this brilliant guide on how to find your own signature style and why it really is a critical part of being a successful professional photographer…

she is also this month’s celebrity judge in InMyBag’s: PRIZES MONEY CANNOT BUY: Become a Global Photographic Brand Ambassador for Tether Tools contest, where this article was also published.

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4 responses to “The Secret, Misery And Bliss Of Finding Your Signature Photographic Style”

  1. Rostislav Alexandrovich Avatar
    Rostislav Alexandrovich

    good points, thanks

  2. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
    Kay O. Sweaver

    I’m curious as to what happens to your desire to shoot other subjects and styles? I’ve got a bit of an idea of what my style might be, but I still love to shoot other things and experiment and play with different techniques. I suppose you can build one “style” for your portfolio and then continue to do other things but just not promote them as much. Or you can periodically reinvent yourself.

    As I write this I’m starting to think that maybe its like a band that has a certain “sound” and that might change a bit from album to album. Sometimes there’s a solo project or something like that…

    Anyways thanks, obviously I’m still struggling with the idea of a style a bit myself.

  3. Tony Pedley Avatar
    Tony Pedley

    While I appreciate the sentiments, it also confirms why I will probably never be a professional photographer. The reason why i enjoy photography is it’s breadth. One day I may try landscape, while the next high speed or macro. To constrain yourself to one perfecting one style would take away the whole point for me.There are some people who spend their entire life trying to get that one perfect photo of a subject, personally I am content with mastering a subject, but not perfecting it

  4. Warren Avatar
    Warren

    Tom – You can do both. Explore photography for that is how we learn and also enjoy. Why not as a 2nd stream create a series of cohesive and binding images, they dont have to be created in a week, it could be a year