I made a video based on this article, if you’d prefer to watch:
How To Find Your Photo Style
Especially when you are just starting out in photography, it can feel difficult to find your style. This is normal. For me, it took a few years for my style to even begin forming, and it’s still constantly evolving. So in this article I’m going to tell you the story of how my photography style progressed, and how you can find yours too.
First thing I’d say is, don’t rush it – it’ll probably form on it’s own. If you try to force a style, especially based on current trends, you may quickly find yourself in a box which may prevent experimentation.
When you find your style, everything just click and you’ll know.
Your style is the type of photography that really makes you feel something, a certain type of inspiration or satisfaction, on a deeper level. It doesn’t matter how much mainstream appeal your style has, because when you really love something, that’s when the best art can come out and creativity is really unleashed. That’s when you’ll start getting to the next level. There’s a big difference in what you can do if you’re just shooting something trendy for social media vs shooting something that you really love shooting. People can tell too.
How I found my style (or how it found me)
I started photography as a typical travel landscape photographer with no real passion for the art quite yet, all I wanted to do was take cool travel pics as I was living the digital nomad lifestyle at the time. But slowly I got more and more serious in landscape photography, I simply enjoyed the process of getting better and better photos. But at this point, there was really nothing original or artistic to it, I was just a copy paste landscape photographer with no distinct style to speak of.
The first change happened when I started getting really bored of the repetitive nature of landscape photography. When I went to a new city, I’d notice that there were certain “spots” that every photographer would go to and take the same photo, over and over again. And these spots would produce better photos that any other random spots, at least usually, because landscape or cityscape photography is simply dependent on the actual view. So it made sense to do this… But it started to really bore me. I’d mastered the basics of photography and felt like there wasn’t much to learn anymore, and I craved that creativity back that was lost as things got demystified and obvious.
There were a couple of photographers I discovered at that time that really inspired me to try something new, both based in Japan.
Liam Wong was the first one, and I loved his futuristic street level photos from Japan. They were NOT shots that could be replicated just by going to the same spots, like all types of street photography, there was a more dynamic feeling to these shots. And they were heavily edited and artistic, not following any set rules.
The second was @zerotwelve, I first discovered his photo series on the r/japanpics subreddit and loved them instantly. To this day I’d struggle to categorize these photos, it’s a very cinematic way of capturing life. They were again completely different from the style of bland landscape photography that I was doing at the time that made me want to branch out.
There were others too, but these two left me with the biggest impact, both of their work made me feel something that I never really got before from a “cool landscape”. Again, I was totally new to most other genres of photography at this point, as I was only exposed to whatever would go viral on instagram at that point.
And at that point I decided I would try to do something else with my photography too. I wasn’t going to directly copy either of these guys, but I was going to fly to Japan myself and just shoot whatever caught my eye. I was going to try out street photography in a cinematic moody style, and I was gonna figure out how to make it work.
Of course when I first started trying this out I struggled a lot. I went from taking generic landscapes to mostly generic street photos that didn’t have that much going for them at that time. They still didn’t have a distinct style. But shooting photos like this was much more fun and engaging, and the joy of photography had returned for me. Now, I just needed to refine my style and figure out exactly what kind of photos I wanted to shoot.
Then, it was simply up to shooting more, and analyzing my tastes more. I rewatched Blade Runner 2049 at some point, and now that my eye was more highly trained I REALLY appreiated the cinematography on a totally different level, and was very inspired by the visual style. I started chasing the neon lights in places like Hong Kong and Tokyo and started going out at night almost exclusively, as it’s the feeling that I loved the most. Luckily, I was still a digital nomad and there was no pandemic so I got to basically travel to any city I wanted thanks to a remote source of income. Slowly, my photos started to get better and I started gaining some recognition for my style.
But even at this time, I was still basically just a cookie cutter neon street photographer, I certainly wasn’t the only one doing it. I’d amassed a bit of a following, but that was mostly thanks to my above average marketing skills than anything else, I mean I had a few decent shots in my portfolio but my numbers were definitely inflated thanks to marketing. I still wasn’t entirely satisfied with my photography and was in a bit of slump, so I kept analyzing things and tried to really figure out what drove me to photography at its core.
At that point, I still kind of thought of myself as a street photographer, but at some point I realized it wasn’t really street photography that drove me, and not even so called “neon cyberpunk” style photography, but it was a certain FEELING in my photos that I really wanted to convey. A certain type of dark, melancholic loneliness with a small slice of futurism or storytelling thrown in occasionally. And once I figured this out, I combined a few photos I’d taken that most represented this style into a series, things finally started to click. Once I realized what EXACTLY drove me and why exactly I liked the photos that I did, that’s when I finally discovered my own style. And when that happened, it took my work to the next level because I finally understood what I was chasing.
And that’s when my best work to this day started coming out.
Now obviously this is a very personal story about how I specifically found my own style, but the lesson here is: when you find your style you’ll know it. Don’t try to force it, and even more importantly, don’t force yourself into some box for the wrong purpose, like chasing clout for example. Because instead of doing something generic that everyone else is doing, I believe when you find your artistic style is when things really start to roll, you’ll really start producing art that is meaningful. And the feeling you’ll get out of it will be very satisfying.
And another thing is, while I say don’t force it, you will still benefit greatly by thinking about your style a lot. Because your taste will refine your style. So when you really reflect on not just your own art, but the art of others, and not just photography but things like films, paintings and music, and think about why exactly you like the things you do and what drives you.