When I first bought my Nikon D3200 camera, I had no clue what I wanted to photograph. Portraiture, fashion, landscapes, wildlife, architecture, weddings – there are thousands of genres of photography and to be able to pinpoint one specific genre to focus on for even a day seemed like an impossible dream to me at the time. I believe this is something that every beginning photographer struggles with, at least temporarily. For about a year or so, I was hooked on portraiture and fashion photography, mostly because my girlfriend was so kind as to allow me to photograph her every time we were together (which was and still is a lot). But as I was shooting portraiture, I was also photographing everything else in sight. Looking back at my folder from 2014 and 2015, not only do I see how much I have improved in terms of skill but also how much my style has changed. From shooting color photographs of my girlfriend, dog, bugs and just about everything else the world offers us, to photographing strictly nature work in tones of grey – it blows my mind all the time. But it also makes me think how important it is to find your own, personal niche in the photography world.
Do Not Rush
It took me from 2014 until December of 2016 to figure out that black and white nature photography is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Or at least I will always be found shooting nature – maybe not always in tones of grey (am I spelling this correctly?). When I was first starting out, I was advised to find my personal style as quickly as I could and stick with it for life. “Do not enter more than one genre of photography,” they would say despite photographing family portraits, weddings and real estate. Okay, so those may not have been exact words coming from their mouth but it sure felt that way. I felt rushed, like I needed to learn everything within a few short days and hope that people would like my work enough to be paid. But I found that this most certainly is not the case. Your style will forever be changing as your mood, personality and body changes with age. The best thing I had been told was during a portfolio review I had “won” back in 2015 (?); while I am paraphrasing this very roughly, it was something along the lines of your photographic style constantly changing but your purpose for creating will – and should – always remain the same.
Take, for example, Pablo Picasso and the many “styles” he had gone through. From the Blue Period from 1901 to 1904 to the Rose Period of 1904 to 1906 until his final works from 1949 to 1973, this famous artist was consistently changing the look of his paintings. But each piece of art can be traced back to him for the purpose of creation is all the same. There are certain stylistic choices that he maintained through the years, which should be something you keep in mind when crafting your own works of art.
Photograph What You Love
Possibly the most important thing you can do when beginning photography is to photograph what you love. When I started out, I photographed my girlfriend much more than I do now for I loved looking at portraits and I loved looking at her. But as my style progressed, my love for portraiture began to die down. I still love looking at Melanie and I still love portraiture – I refuse to unfollow certain photographers online because their work inspires me very deeply – but I found my love for nature taking over rather quickly in the summer of 2016. People began to irritate me too much as they consistently cancelled shoots; I began to irritate myself as I could never seem to get my work to look how I wanted it to. Yet when I shifted my focus to nature photography, everything seemed to change. Not only was my work getting almost five times the attention on social media (not a reason to photograph something if you do not like it, but it was still awesome to see) but I was also finding myself to be much happier. Every so often I need to be reminded of how hard it was on my mentality to shoot portraiture but when I do remember, I am relieved to be done with that stage of my life. It should not matter how popular your work is online or if people tell you that you should shoot weddings because “that’s where the money is at:” if you do not love what you photograph, you will not be happy with what you create.
My final piece of advice would be to create a unique style that nobody else can imitate. This is the toughest thing for any photographer to attempt but will no doubt be the most rewarding once it is accomplished. As I write this, I find on Instagram the most popular style to be underexposed, moody, blue-toned images. There are plenty of photographers online that are making this style their own and doing a damn good job of it. If you enjoy this style, go ahead and tweak it to make it your own. The best way to find your style is take a look at every photograph you love – create a spreadsheet on Photoshop of them – and pick out what you like best about each image. Once you have a good list going, you will realize that you have found your style. Trying to be unique in the world of photography is very difficult since everyone has a camera in their back pockets and editing apps such as VSCO. But it is not impossible. And sometimes it does not matter what your photographs look like stylistically but rather what you photograph, as that plays into your style as well. It is all very difficult but, again, not at all impossible.