Photographic style is something that develops over time and includes factors that are both intrinsic to who we are, as well as input from the environment around us. For example, when I think about my style as a photographer–and even as I style props or design floral arrangements–I’m bringing with me not only technical knowledge, but also who I am as a human being, my personality, my upbringing, novels I have read, cities I’ve wandered, plays I’ve watched. It’s the same for any artist. The work we create that will (over time) become our signature style is made up of our life experiences.
When we think about our experiences in life and how they influence our artistic styles, it can be useful to determine the main way in which we experience the world. Consider the five senses: sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. Through which of these do you most often experience the world? If that is a difficult question for you to answer offhand, consider your childhood memories. Are most of your memories made up of scents (the smell of your grandmother’s oatmeal cookies baking), tastes (biting into a freshly picked apple from the tree in your back yard), or something else?
For me, I mainly experience the world visually and through scents. However you experience the world, I think a great path to finding your true personal style is to concentrate on the top two senses you’re most drawn to.
An excellent resource for discovering and representing your personal style through visuals is Pinterest. As I mentioned, the main way I experience the world is through sight. This is probably why I’m drawn to photography as a way to create art (though I also love to write and would love to learn to paint with oils, as well!) As you can see, I take my Pinterest boards very seriously (I even change the cover images for every board seasonally). They are a fun way for me to draw inspiration, curate things that I love, and express my style and taste visually through lovely images from around the web.
When a person looks at my Pinterest boards, I think they can see that I have a love for color, cohesiveness, antiques, nostalgia, and romance. If you scroll to the end of my (current) 142 boards, you’ll also discover I’m a chemistry nerd, enjoy Halloween and Christmas basically year-round, and have a deep love for the comfort foods!
Because I love weddings and do offer photography services for them, many of my Pinterest boards center around weddings and their fashion and design. If you don’t shoot weddings, create boards that reflect what you do shoot, or what you’d like to photograph. Take some time and pin some things you feel strongly drawn to. Some questions to consider if you’re having trouble knowing what to pin to reflect your style are:
1. What era are you most drawn to (modern times, the 1920s in America, medieval Europe, etc.)?
2. What are your 3-4 favorite colors, how do they coordinate, where do we find them in nature?
3. What kind of home interior or exterior architecture reminds you of the happy times when you were a child? (For me, hands down this is Victorian homes)
4. What are your favorite holidays? What style of decorations for those holidays do you enjoy? (Sometimes if you go to store websites like Pottery Barn, they’ll have holiday decorations divided into particular styles)
5. What are your interests outside of photography?
Once you have a few boards made, can you arrange them in a way that makes sense to you? Can you change the covers of each board to create a set of boards that looks as though they belong together, share similar attributes, and were put together by the same person? If you can and you are happy with the way it looks and feel a personal connection to it, that in essence, is style.
If you are someone who experiences the world through sound, you may be thinking that it doesn’t have much to do with visual representations in photography. However, consider music and the influence and impact it has on our lives. What does the soundtrack to your life comprise? Can you be inspired to create photographs by the music that you love? I would say absolutely, yes. If hearing/sound is your strongest sense, make a list of your favorite sounds and what they would visually look like. Style a shoot based on your favorite era of music, maybe even include favorite instruments, they do photograph so well.
Taste can definitely influence our work as photographers, particularly if we photograph food! A fun creative exercise to help find your personal style is to photograph a favorite recipe. There are so many opportunities to express your creative style through food photography. Consider whether you’re drawn to warm, neutral foods and colors like honey, oatmeal, and cocoa, or maybe deep chocolate tastes and black plums. Coordinate some props (fabric, dishes, florals, utensils) that can photograph well and create little vignettes alongside your favorite recipe. The preferences you find you have may easily translate into your editing style or even locations you choose for clients if you put some thought and creativity into action!
Scents can be so strongly tied to our memories. Have you ever smelled a box of Crayola crayons and been instantly transported back to primary school? Scent is a strong source of memories for me and can strike at any time. For example, for some reason, the perfume Burberry Brit reminds me of summer camp. Random, but true. Some of my favorite scents that I can see visually represented over and over in my work are lavender, warm vanilla cream, and autumn spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. If you are a person who is strongly influenced by scents, write down your favorites. What scents create nostalgic, happy feelings for you? What colors correspond with those scents? What items, what locations, what times?
Coziness. That’s my main word when I think of touch and the way touch influences me and my work the most. I absolutely adore autumn (so stoked it’s September now), which means many opportunities for coziness lie ahead. Bonfires, cashmere throws, hot mugs of cider, snuggling on the sofa with my husband while we binge-watch The Wonder Years on Netflix. Ah, coziness.
What are your favorite tactile experiences and how can we represent those visually? Think textures, cable knit patterns, and so on. I also really enjoy etherealness and light touch, which can be visually represented through things like smoke, see-through fabric, lace, shimmer, light.
In summary, one way to find our personal style is to consider all five senses. I’m all about making lists of things that I love, then finding lovely visual representations of them on Pinterest, or creating still life photographs that represent my style. A style is something that does take time. My style is very romantic, simple, yet Victorian-inspired with a large emphasis on light, emotion, and soft colors. I didn’t arrive at this style the day I began as a photographer–it took ages to settle on it in a cohesive way, actually. Even though now when I look at my work and see that it’s a clear representation of my personality and my style, it still just took time to come to accept that this is my style and it’s the best representation of my tastes and preferences, and that it’s ok.
Sometimes it can be difficult to decide on a final style, though it can evolve, certainly. Just keep working toward it and considering all the things and people that you love and what inspires you, and keep taking photos, and it will become so clear you’ll question why you ever looked for it in the first place. Kind of like coming home. You’ll recognize it when you get there.
Hi, I’m Ashley Noelle Edwards, a photographer and business owner who specializes in weddings, portraits, and editorial shoots in natural light. I also enjoy blogging, styling, floral design, and mentoring. I want everyone to become a photographer and am very open about mentoring other artists. My education is in psychology, which often informs my blog posts on photography and business. I am currently based in DFW, TX but we are moving to Sacramento, CA this September, and travel frequently all across the US and abroad for photography.