What is Style?

La Jolla Dreamscape (Fuji Velvia 4x5 | Edition of 200)

When browsing a photographer’s portfolio, their style quickly becomes evident.  It could be the processing, the composition, the subject — just about anything.  What is style?  How does it develop?

Two photographers can stand shoulder to shoulder, and they will most certainly walk away with completely different results. This never ceases to amaze me.

In most cases, our style is something that has been programmed into us by past success and failure. This decision-making-flow-chart influences the way we view and compose the scene.

When I view the work of another photographer with a much different style, I am amazed at their ability to see the world with different eyes.  Is it wrong that I did not see this scene the same way as them?  No.  I’m sure they must think the same thing when they view the work of another person.

I sometimes ask myself why I choose to shoot certain subjects.  What is my own style?  What leads me to make the decisions that I do?

At first, I thought that such habitual decision making was something to be avoided.  Falling into a routine will certainly cause a photographer to view a scene with a narrow gaze.  This might lead to an inability to truly see what the location has to offer.  I now realize this is merely seeing a location through the eyes of my own personal style.  I see what I want to see, and capture the image I have envisioned.

The photo of La Jolla (above) is an excellent example of past trial and error.  I must have visited the beach at least a half dozen times before I applied the proper technique with ideal conditions. I knew what would work, and what would not.  This knowledge greatly shaped the final result, thus giving it my own personal style.

Style is dynamic and ever-changing.  The way we view the world represents our past success and failure — but we will continue to succeed and fail.  A static style represents a lack of improvement.

How can we encourage a dynamic style?

Perhaps the best way is to view nature without a camera.  Without the pressure of capturing a photo, it is possible to witness the beauty of nature, and notice the subtle nuance that one might otherwise miss.

I think back to February of this year when I sat atop a sand dune in Death Valley, and watched the best desert sunrise I have ever witnessed.

Did I have a camera with me?

No.

Do I regret not having a camera?

No.

There are many moments in life where we do not need to be photographers.  Simply viewing this scene allowed me to truly appreciate the moment, the location, and the subject. I sifted my hands through the cool silky sand, stretched my feet out, and enjoyed the show.

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