Defining Your Style

A few months ago while lurking on a photography forum, I can across a thread titled ‘Why am I not getting any better?’ I clicked! I had too. What I found was interesting. The images that the photographer had posted weren’t bad. What stopped me was the desperate frustration I heard in her words. My heart went out to her because I have been in her shoes and most of you have too. Here is my response:

‘A thousand things went through my mind when I read your original post. I dont want to talk about anything technical. What I want you to think about comes from your heart.

Are you shooting from your heart? Are you having fun? Are you shooting what you like to shoot? Are you relaxed? Are you photographing your own children? (They are our toughest subjects). Are you shooting for yourself?

I am not saying forget the rules because I truly believe that you have to know the rules to break them.

I know that I grow in my photographic skills when I shoot for myself! Take a couple of hours one evening and go shoot. Find a local event, farmers market, festival, etc and go shooting. It is revitalizing and refreshing. and an educational experience!’

So now, i’m sure you are thinking, ‘How does shooting from the heart and defining my style go together?’

The two go hand in hand. Many photographers see someone else’s work, they admire it, they try to copy it, but it just doesn’t look right. It doesn’t work for the pure and simple fact that it’s not what they love. When working on defining your personal style of photography, you need to be photographing what you love. If you love nature, photograph it. If you love old cars, photograph them. If you love children, photograph them. When you are photographing something you love with all your heart, it will shine through in your work. Your personal style will begin to develop. I had a conversation with a friend and fellow photographer the other day. She said, ‘I hate photographing weddings!’ My response to her was ‘Then why are you marketing to brides and grooms? You are not doing them a service by going into the wedding doing a half hearted job. Stop marketing to them and stop today.’ She took all wedding marketing off her website. She is now focusing on what she truly loves, high schools seniors.

You have to be authentically you when defining your style. You can’t be someone else. Emulating someone else will not get you far in the photographic world. But being the best ‘you’ you can be will. Clients, potential clients, past clients will all recognize the disconnect that is happening with in yourself, when you are not being who you are meant to be. It will come through in your work. It will come through in your daily life in the form of unhappiness and upset. Finding the one thing that you get all excited about photographing will help you to begin developing your personal style.

Defining your style is something that can not be forced. You can’t chase it. It just happens. You have to let it happen. You can predefine what you like. For example, one day I sat down with a pad of paper and a pen. I just wrote descriptive words that popped into my mind. Some of those words were: bright colors, happy, soft backgrounds, emotion, love, etc. These are things that I want to incorporate in to anything I shoot. So if I’m shooting a high school senior girl, then I am going to look for a background with a lot of color that will be in contrast to the color my senior girl is wearing so that she pops off the page. I want her to be smiling or laughing, and have the background blurred out of focus. These are all things that go into your style. Look at the imagery in magazines. Take note of what you like and what you don’t like in an image. Why do you like an image? Does it make you feel happy, sad, angry, or does it bring you to the point of tears because it is so beautiful? If you are having trouble defining what you like, have a friend look at your work. Ask them to tell you what they see consistently in your work.
You will be amazed at what they see. Use your strengths. Make your weakness’s stronger.

My question to you all is, are you letting your heart sing? Are you shooting from your heart? Are you shooting what you want to shoot? Are you relaxed? Are you shooting for yourself? If you answered no to any of these questions, then I would urge you to find some time, even 30 minutes, to shoot for yourself. Make it a habit, once a week or twice a week or maybe even every day. What ever the frequency, be consistent with it. You will be amazed at the changes you will see in your work! I promise!

To see more of Elise’s work, check out her website at