Finding your Style and Identity as a Photogrpaher

I have just read a great post by Prashant Panjiar of Nazar Foundation where he lists 7 ‘easy’ steps to becoming a great photographer (The title was just to get you hooked – there are no easy steps to becoming a great photographer. P.P). Unfortunately there was no place for comments on that post and so here we are. Prashant is a great guy and a fantastic photographer and I agree with him on most the points that he had mentioned but one. Here is the original text from his post:

When you start out in photography you will experiment with numerous styles and genres. This is necessary, and desirable too. You will also imitate the styles of photographers whose work you have liked. This is natural. However to graduate to becoming a photographer in your own right you must not be content with being a clone. You must find your own expression. There is great merit in being able to do different kinds of photography competently and particularly useful if you are going to make a living out of it. However, you must identify what you are most interested in. Once you have discovered the kind of photography you wish to do, pursue it with resolve. As you progress in your career, you must strive to create your own visual style to give yourself a distinct identity. But always remember, you must constantly reinvent yourself and your style should continuously evolve, or you will find yourself stagnating.”

Wonderfully put but where I would like to add is the point where he says “you must strive to create your own visual style to give yourself a distinct identity.” I actually don’t think that this is something that is possible to do. One cannot strive to create a style. This is something that needs to slowly evolve and show itself through the accumulative process of selection that a photographer applies to his work.

For me style and identity are two different things that are indeed interlinked but do not necessarily come together. One needs to find his/her own identity and photography is a great medium for self exploration. Once a photographer finds his or her identity their images will start showing that identity and people will start recognizing their images as a distinct and unique visual expression of an individual photographer.

You cannot copy what I do because I don’t do anything

It so happened that a few days ago I saw a great movie called ‘Four Beats to the Bar and No Cheating’ about the legendary photographer David Bailey. I had to stop the movie for a sec to note down a fantastic thing he said about style; “This is what I like about my pictures . .” said Bailey, ” . . You cannot copy what I do because I don’t do anything“. I love this quote because I feel the same about my work. I don’t do anything. I am there with my camera and I take a picture (Sorry Prashant. A force of habit like you said). David Bailey also says, and I agree with that statement as well, that he never wanted to have a style. His was the fact that he had non. From a creative point of view, Bailey did not want to limit himself to looking at his images and making a selection based on whether an image fit into a certain box or not.

Find your own identity as a photographer to create your own visual style

Now don’t get me wrong. Having a distinct photographic language is a great thing and will surely be a marketing advantage. Many photographers out there run workshops in order to help young photographers find it so surely there is a demand for it. If you have one, and if you recognize it, it is easier for you to find the right clients, and it is also easier for a client to book you for what you do best. However, having one can sometimes be a great limitation. I am often asked what ‘kind’ of a photographer I am. A photojournalist? a travel photographer? a food photographer? am I a wedding photographer? It has always been a very difficult question for me to answer and I end up saying something about personal projects and making a living. Do I have a style? Maybe. Is it important to me? No.

What I’m saying is don’t go looking for a style. Instead go look for your identity as a human being and let your style develop on it’s own. If your journey is sincere and continuous, if you do what you do because you are committed, because you have no choice, if you keep asking the difficult questions and keep getting up when you fall, your style will be a reflection of who you are as a person and so will certainly be unique. You must strive to find your own identity as a photographer in order to create your own visual style, and not the other way around.

 

House-to-house combat training targets. Israel. copyright © 2000 Sephi Bergerson

For further reading on the same subject have a look at my earlier post Photography is not about HOW you take your picture but about WHY you do that .

 

  • Quick thoughts as I’m on the way out.

    I think your identity derives from what you feel most passionate about photographing. Style can exist outside that identity as well as within it, but it’s something that will usually develop naturally over time. You can’t force it, you can’t really teach it and the photographer him/herself may in fact be the last person to recognize it.

  • Quick thoughts as I’m on the way out.

    I think your identity derives from what you feel most passionate about photographing. Style can exist outside that identity as well as within it, but it’s something that will usually develop naturally over time. You can’t force it, you can’t really teach it and the photographer him/herself may in fact be the last person to recognize it.

  • Atul Pratap Chauhan

    Again one nice post, at least someone is teaching us..Thanks a lot sir…

  • Atul Pratap Chauhan

    Again one nice post, at least someone is teaching us..Thanks a lot sir…

  • Vinita

    Sephi, what a beautiful article! Such clarity. Just what I needed to read at this point. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thank you Vinita 🙂

  • Anidra

    Specially loved the last para

  • Anidra

    Specially loved the last para

  • Aaron Smith

    Sephi, I didn’t find your site until last night. To spare you some boring details, I’ve had been a hobbyist for years. After prodding from family, I had decided to look into going “pro”, meaning try to sell things I’ve captured and start doing some portrait photography as a side business. I love photography and have tried to get better every chance I get. So last night I did a google search for “going pro tips for photography”. Your top 10 list from a year ago made the first link in google. I read it, and the humor behind it, but it also made me kind of sad because I’m currently doing a couple of those things! I’ve since read through your site and it’s once again inspired me to try to find my own style. All my critics are practically useless. Friends and family won’t tell you if what you just did was crap. I do have a few people who I have helped out with some photos for book covers that have come back to me for some other work, so I can’t be terrible, but I never know if I’m ever good enough to even try to play a “pro”. Thank you for writing what you do. It’s greatly inspiring and helping me keep a level head! Aaron Smith

    • Thank you for this comment Aaron. Don’t worry about “doing a couple of those things” 🙂 some pro’s actually do them but this is of course not what will make one a pro, just like standing in a church will not make you a Christian 😉 keep coming and I hope my blog will keep inspiring you. Cheers, Sephi

  • Aaron Smith

    Sephi, I didn’t find your site until last night. To spare you some boring details, I’ve had been a hobbyist for years. After prodding from family, I had decided to look into going “pro”, meaning try to sell things I’ve captured and start doing some portrait photography as a side business. I love photography and have tried to get better every chance I get. So last night I did a google search for “going pro tips for photography”. Your top 10 list from a year ago made the first link in google. I read it, and the humor behind it, but it also made me kind of sad because I’m currently doing a couple of those things! I’ve since read through your site and it’s once again inspired me to try to find my own style. All my critics are practically useless. Friends and family won’t tell you if what you just did was crap. I do have a few people who I have helped out with some photos for book covers that have come back to me for some other work, so I can’t be terrible, but I never know if I’m ever good enough to even try to play a “pro”. Thank you for writing what you do. It’s greatly inspiring and helping me keep a level head! Aaron Smith

    • Thank you for this comment Aaron. Don’t worry about “doing a couple of those things” 🙂 some pro’s actually do them but this is of course not what will make one a pro, just like standing in a church will not make you a Christian 😉 keep coming and I hope my blog will keep inspiring you. Cheers, Sephi

  • Victor Bezrukov

    so right words ! great must-reading article 
    thank you Sephi !!

  • so right words ! great must-reading article 
    thank you Sephi !!

  • Very interesting post – to separate out style and identity.. got me really thinking. And quite aptly put – style should not be important (to the photographer – though it will oftentimes be to the audience, clients, everyone outside you). 

    I don’t know if I can ever define my identity as a photographer, it is ever so dynamic. And I think I quite like it that way too! 🙂

  • Very interesting post – to separate out style and identity.. got me really thinking. And quite aptly put – style should not be important (to the photographer – though it will oftentimes be to the audience, clients, everyone outside you). 

    I don’t know if I can ever define my identity as a photographer, it is ever so dynamic. And I think I quite like it that way too! 🙂