Developing your style as a photographer

Sep 30, 2023 | Creativity, Uncategorized

“Show Notes”

In this show Marcus tells us about style, what it is and how it can be used in your
business. Marcus says having a style means that if someone looks at your work
they can tell it’s your due to the style. Marcus gives these photographers as examples of photographers with a very unique style.
Martin Schoeller

Madame Yevonde

What makes a style?
It could be a technique, it could be using black and white, using flash or your
viewpoint, Another example is Edward Burtynsky who is a landscape
photographer and uses ariel shots.

The advantages of having a style

If you have a particular style then customers know what to
expect when they book you. It can mean you can command higher fees as you can
become an expert in that look. But that can mean that you need to reach a wider
audience so the relevant people who like your style can find you and work with

Developing a style

How can you develop your own style? Marcus recommends printing out some
portfolio pieces, maybe your 100 favorites. Then lay them all out on the floor and
start to arrange them to find common themes. In this way you can discover your
own style through exploration. Another approach is reflecting deeply on your
work. Reflection is important in all areas of business, and in life. And it’s important
to make time for that. Another approach to developing your style is showing your
work to others and discuss it with them. There are events where you can do this,
take along your portfolio and talk to someone about your work. Developing a style is not an overnight thing, thing is something you develop over time, and never stop working on.

Style versus brand

How do you get the balance between your style and the style of the brand? If your
style is too fixed does it mean you cannot with some clients? There is a balance
here between your style and the brands style and how much you can adapt your
style and how much you are willing and able to do this. Remember you don’t have to show work that’s not in your style (apart from the client you did the work for).

“Show Transcription”

Sam: Hi Marcus, how are you doing?

Marcus: I’m good, Sam. How are you?

Sam: Yeah, excellent, thanks. And today’s show, we’ve got some inputs from Marcus today, which is brilliant. So Marcus is going to tell us how we can do it in style. Marcus, can you tell us about that, please?

Marcus: Thank you, Sam. Yeah, that’s right. In today’s show, I’m going to be talking all about photography style, what it is, how to develop it and how it can increase your business. So, first of all, what is a photography style? Well, I would say a photography style is when somebody looks at your images and can immediately tell who took that photograph. Let me give you some examples. Let’s take a photographer like Martin Schoeller, who’s a portrait photographer, American, works in New York. I’ll put a link to his work in the notes, of course, but if you don’t know him, but he photographs in a very distinctive way, and immediately you look at one of his photographs, you can tell, oh, that is a Martin Schoeller photograph. Another one might be a female photographer called Madame Yvonne, who worked in the 1930s.And can you believe it, she was one of the first people to use color photography. And you can look at her work and immediately it just jumps out. This is a Madame Yvonne photograph. So that’s what I would call a photography style when the work is very distinctive. Now, what makes it distinctive? It could be various things. It could be a technique. It could be that you use wide angle lenses. It could be you shoot in black and white. It could be you use flash for your lighting. That is a technique that could develop into a style. It could be your viewpoint and the way you see the world. Do you sit in a dark and moody way? Do you sit bright and airy your viewpoint? Another example is a photographer like Martin Bertinski, who is a landscape photographer, and he does a lot of shots from aerial, so it looks very abstract. And immediately you see these photographs, you identify as being that’s one of his photographs.

Sam: Yeah, interesting. So I’m thinking, if you’re a commercial photographer, how much your style should come across versus how much you’ve got the style of the brand, because there’s that interactions that you don’t want every photo to be so clearly yours when it’s also got to be that brand. So how do you sort of get that balance?

Marcus: I mean, that’s an excellent question and it’s something that I have got coming to later on in my presentation. So, yeah, you’re quite right Sam, give me a minute and I’ll be covering that most definitely, because I think that’s very important, especially for brand photography. So the advantages of having a style is that I think people will book you and know what they’re getting. If they’re looking for light and airy photographs and that’s your style, they know what that’s going to get. So immediately you and your client are both on the same page. Arguably, you can command higher fees because you become a specialist in what you offer. You might be the best of what you do. And if people want that and you’re the only person who do it, who does it, they’re going to pay extra for you to do it.

Sam:  Presumably then, though, you’ve got to have a wider reach. So if you’re saying, I’ve got this look, presumably then and you’ve got to find people who want that look, you need to kind of get your message out to a further reach because it’s sort of niching in a way, isn’t it? So instead of going, I can do anything for anybody, which is generally how people start, then businesses often niche down. You’re saying a good way to niche down is in style. And then you’ve just got to get your message out there and your pictures out there so people will see it who want to work with you, who like that style.

Marcus: That’s right, Sam. Exactly. I mean, this is no overnight success thing or something that’s not going to happen overnight. It’s a very slow build. And really, I think when I look at the photography forums, this is one question that comes up a lot in that people are trying to define their style and how they find their style. And it’s something that I’ve been asking my whole career, really. So let’s talk about how you can develop a style.

Sam: Okay.

Marcus:  As I say, there’s no easy route, but one way that I’ve done in the past, and I still do, is produce mackettes of my work. And a mackette is basically like a little model. It’s an artist term. So what I do is I print out my portfolio pieces or my best shots, just small, they don’t need to be big at all. And you may end up with maybe 100 photographs, and then I lay those out on the ground and I can start to look for correlations between them. Am I doing a lot of portraits? Am I doing a lot of still life? Are my images of this particular style? And having them all laid out is great with moving them around, and then you can really start playing around with them and seeing what fits in and what doesn’t.

Sam: So almost that’s almost like finding your own style. Almost. You’ve done the photos and then you put them all in and you go, oh, they’ve all got this similarity, and maybe five of them don’t, any of them to the site. And the rest you go, wow, that’s almost style discovery, as it were.

Marcus: Exactly. That’s a great way of looking at it, style discovery. Yeah. And the reason I say print them out, Sam, is because it’s a lot easier to see them. You put it on a desktop, unless you’ve got a massive screen, it’s going to be hard to see them and there’s something.

Sam:  Hundred side by side, can you like that?

Marcus: You can’t, it can’t be done. No, not really, not practically. So that just a little print, a five x seven, they can be done very cheaply and it’s a great way of working. Another way of looking, discovering your style is by using reflection. Now, I talked about this in episode twelve in the five R’s of creativity and the way you go back and look at your work, but really spend time looking at it in a very deep way and starting to see what comes up. So reflection is part of this process of looking at your work.

Sam: And it’s important in your business too. It’s important in everything, isn’t it? I think it’s important in your business too. You’ve done photo shoot, you can reflect on it, like you say, in terms of the style and your photography, but also you can reflect on it and did I charge the right amount and did I do the best for the client? And there’s always lots to reflect on, isn’t there? I think in all areas of business and life.

Marcus:  most definitely, Sam, but it’s so easy not to reflect, isn’t it, in this busy world we live in. Yeah, just move on from one thing to the other in a sort of blinkered way really.

Sam: No, that’s it. And both in business and like you said in your photography, that’s the way to get better is to make time to reflection, see what you did well, be honest about what you didn’t do well and think about how you can do it differently next time.

Marcus: That’s exactly right, exactly right. And the third way or another way that you can discover your style is by asking others. Go to portfolio clinics and show them your work. You can go online and you can find these various things going on organized by different photography bodies. And basically you turn up with your portfolio. You might get about five minutes, ten minutes with somebody, but they’ll be an expert. They might be photography agents, they might be buyers of photography, they might be commissioners of photography, and they can look for your book, your portfolio, in a very objective way and maybe help you answer those questions. A really worthwhile investment. Or find a coach, a good photography coach will be able to help you do the same.

Sam: Yeah. So somebody else to look over it, which again is almost like that business coach as well of the similarity, again, isn’t there somebody else’s eye makes a big difference because they will see things that you haven’t because almost you’re too close.

Marcus: That’s right, exactly. You’re too close to the work. As I say, Sam, this is something that’s going to take it’s not going to happen overnight. This is something working on whole career and let’s just answers your question. You were saying earlier, as a commercial photographer, and this is something I think about quite a lot, actually, as a commercial photographer, as a branding photographer, when I’m working with different clients, if my style is too fixed, does that mean that I can’t work with different clients? May be? Um, it might. That might well be the case. And I think in some ways that can be seen as a dividing line between the art marker of photography, the stuff you show in galleries, books, etc and the commercial world, where really you got to fit in and adapt.

Sam:  So almost for some of the commercial work, it’s not just that you have a style, but also you’ve got the ability to adapt to other styles. And it might be that most of your work is in one. But actually, and yes, like you said, maybe you do a lot of dark and moody black and white shots, but if you’ve got this client that wants bright, colorful, then you’re able to just jump to that and you’ve got the skills and can do it.

Marcus: Exactly. That’s the way I look at it. Sam exactly. You want to have the skills to do it. And you don’t necessarily need to show that work either. That’s a way of making some income, but you don’t want to show it and just concentrate on showing the work that you want to do. And that will be the work that hopefully, that will be the work that comes.

Sam: Exactly. Well, we’ve got a whole episode on Niching, haven’t we? Like we said, if you niche to a particular area, it doesn’t mean you have to turn down other work. Lots of people worry about Niching, don’t they? It means that they get less. Usually you get more, but you don’t have to turn down other work. But, yeah, that kind of other work, that doesn’t fit that niche. You don’t go on LinkedIn and Facebook and shout about it, but it doesn’t mean you didn’t do a good job. It earned you some money and it worked well.

Marcus: Exactly right, Sam exactly. Let me refer to a shoot that I did a couple of days ago and it was one of my subscription clients. She’s a coach and I’ve been working with her for about a year now, and she wanted to do some photographs in the woods, in a forest. And my work is very clean. A lot of it is shot in studio and very constructed. But when I looked at the work I did with her in the forest, I noticed that it was totally in my style. It looked like it could have been shot in a studio. The lighting was nice. I took reflector to make it look good. So it still was me. Yeah, it still was me. And that did surprise me in some ways. I thought, oh, wow, that is quite interesting. So, obviously what I’m saying there is I’m sort of working to my photographic style.

Sam: Yeah, definitely. So it’s a balance, isn’t it, between the style the brand needs, the style that you bring, and the balance. And in some cases, when you’re working with a client, presumably you’ll be able to bring your style much more to the foreground because it matches with the brands in others where they’re quite different. It’ll have to be much more in the background, even though will probably be there a little.

Marcus: yes, but  you know, just going back to what we were saying earlier, Sam, I do believe as a branding photographer in particular, you need to be adaptable to work with different have different styles or different techniques. Maybe that will suit different brands. I think that’s something I remember when I was assisting, doing the advertising, the photographer that I assisted, he had a very distinctive style and he did photography books and he was picked up by these advertising agencies because they wanted that style, this documentary, flash type photography, they wanted that style in their advertising campaigns. So he was very comfortable shooting that and doing that. And that was well within his remit. He wouldn’t be the kind of guy that would gonad photograph headshots or some bags or a fashion suit. That is what he did. Well, he did do fashion, actually, but in his own style.

Sam: Yeah. Cool. Okay, well, we’re getting towards the end of the show, Marcus, is that kind of a thing, a quick summary you can do for us to kind know, bring together what we’ve talked about.

Marcus: yes definitely. Reflect we’ve talked about that. Reflect on your work, look at it in depth and really spend time with it and being critical and seeing what works and what doesn’t work. The second thing I would say is focus on your personal work. The reason I say this is because there you can really experiment and really work on your style, as opposed to working with a client where you might have to bend and blend and do something that suits them. If you’re just shooting your own personal work, that’s a great time to really try things out and bring out your style.

Sam: Brilliant.

Marcus: And thirdly, I would say keep working at it. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.

Sam:  Amazing. Thank you. I’m presumably also something that will just keep changing over time anyway. It’s never going to stop.

Marcus:  Yeah, that’s right. And nothing wrong with that at all.

Sam:  No. Brilliant. Okay, well, if you want to hear more on the topic, you can hear our extra in the newsletter, where you can hear extra conversation about this with Marcus and I. And there will be also hints and tips from Marcus and I and a few other things to sign up to the newsletter, go to websiteforphotographers.Co/UK forward slash podcast that is four with the number four forward  slash  podcast. You can see all the episodes there, sign up to the newsletter and loads of other things. And Marcus, I will speak to you next week.

Marcus: Next week, Sam. Looking forward to it. Bye.

Sam: All right, take care. Bye.