An Introduction to Style and Vision
“How do we find our unique expression of the world, and how can we convey this to the viewer?”
Achieving competence in photography is easy enough; with some basic technical understanding, almost anybody can create a good photograph. In the age of digital photography and smartphones, this is truer than ever. However, this ease of accessibility also makes photography one of the most difficult art forms in terms of developing a signature style and clear personal vision.
Style and vision are personal: reflections of our unique expression of the world and how we wish to convey this to the viewer. Copying a favourite photographer’s style—using the same locations and the same approach—does not constitute a personal vision. While we can, of course, learn from the way others approach image-making, our style must emerge from our own creativity. Creating an original body of work—one that is consistent with one’s own vision and stands out from that of other photographers—is the most difficult challenge facing any photographer.
Working with a subject you understand—one that excites you—will lead to work that is most true to your view of the world. This is what we call your vision. To be a great visual storyteller, you must know your subject. You may decide the photography you enjoy most is wildlife, street, or wedding photography. Perhaps you’re thinking of a location from your past, a story you have to tell, or a subject you have great knowledge about. Just be careful not to let outside influences guide your journey; be true to yourself and your vision, and let this decide your path. Above all, remember one thing: photography should be fun! Why spend time (and money!) pursuing this passion if you are not enjoying yourself?
Before we can approach the individual subjects of style and vision, we must understand what differentiates the two.
Vision refers to how we see the world and the message we wish to express through all our images.
Style emerges from the choices we make or the tools we use to express our vision, giving our work consistency when viewed as a collection.
Establishing a Style
“Style is a product of the choices we make or the tools we use to express our vision. It gives our work consistency when viewed together as a collection.”
Keeping consistency of style throughout all stages of work—capture, selection and processing—will give your photography a signature look. A photographer’s style should not be static. It should evolve as you grow as a photographer and as a person, your expression informed by new technical expertise and inspiration. While establishing your own style is important, it is equally important to remain open to new ways of expressing yourself. Without experimentation, there can be no growth. There is so much joy to be found in the learning and mastering of new equipment and techniques—and along the way, you may discover a strategy to incorporate into your style, or a new tool to help express your vision.
There are many elements that make up a photographer’s style. Some elements will be consistent across all images, while others may be used selectively; we don’t want each image to look exactly the same. Throughout the process of creating a photograph, we must view it through multiple lenses: as an individual piece in its own regard, as a part of its collection, and as an expression of our overall vision. Although the choices we make for an individual photograph may not carry over to the others, we must take care that these choices do not subtract from what we are trying to achieve within the collection or from our overall style.
Finding your vision
“Vision refers to how we see the world and the message we wish to express through all our images.”
Our artistic vision is the message we strive to express through our photography. Between vision and style, vision is the more difficult concept to grasp, as it can not simply be broken down to a number of elements. Vision is also the more elusive of the two: we could consider it the “holy grail” of photography—a goal we continue to seek throughout our entire journey as a photographer.
Attempting to copy another artist’s vision will lead to weak and in-genuine work; your vision must come from within. Because it is a reflection of how you see the world, your vision will evolve naturally over time, shaped by your own personal growth and experience. This evolution often takes place alongside stylistic evolution, as we learn and adapt our approach to the image-making process to fit our changing vision. In following your vision, be prepared for the possibility that your work may not always be understood or appreciated by your viewers. Photography that is very personal and full of meaning to the creator might not express that to the viewer, but this in no way equates to failure. It is all part of the artistic experience, as many famous artists throughout history would tell you.
For beginning photographers— those still experimenting with style and working to master the camera—developing an artistic vision can be a particularly daunting task. It’s natural to be strongly influenced by the images of others during the early stages of your photography journey, but this makes it difficult to approach the subject with a truly open mind and express a personal vision. If you feel you are at this stage, don’t rush yourself; continue to master the basics first. There will be plenty of time to build your vision once your artistic energies are freed up. After all, the process is a marathon, not a sprint.
Ultimately, developing your vision will give purpose to your image-making. It will present a goal you can constantly work towards. It will keep you engaged with your own photography. Your vision will help guide you to create works that are original and meaningful. Once it starts to unfold, your vision will also help you to define your style, as style is the voice through which your vision speaks. If you feel your vision is still a mystery, don’t worry: many photographers feel the same, and finding your vision is more of a journey than a destination.