Posted by: Stacy Hanna | June 19, 2009

Style: Chicken Soup for the Photographic Soul

(Note: We’ve asked Stacy Hanna – our favorite Visionary extraordinare – to come back and give us her wisdom once again.)



Last time, I wrote about vision and what it means to find your vision and starting that journey of shooting what you love.  It seemed to resonate with many of you and so I thought we should continue this adventure of self-exploration with a topic that not only follows vision, but is also delicately rolled into it.  Style.

Let’s assume for a moment that you found your vision for the sake of conversation.  It is okay if you haven’t or is something you’re constantly working on because defining a style may help guide your vision.

Let’s say you’re passionate about shooting landscapes.  To get the best light, you’ll get up so early that I may have just gone to bed.  You’ll tote your tripod into places that I’d rather use it as a self -defense weapon than a tripod. You’ve got more filters than lenses.  You’re that passionate.  But, what about your images makes them yours?  If you and the next Joe or Jane go to the same exact spot with the same light, then what about your image makes it look like yours and not theirs.  What is your style?

After having a little conversation with some other local shooters, I realized that many of us already have a style and we may not even know it.  Sure, it may be a work in progress.  It may not be the style that defines our entire body of work or the work that we will become best known for, but I am certain that right now there is something about your images that makes them look and feel like you.  I can think of several talented and passionate local shooters whose style is so well defined, that I can see an image and know beyond a doubt that shot is theirs.  This is what we are all aiming for.  Style that is so clearly defined that the work truly speaks for itself and it calls our name loudly.

Take a moment and think about what makes your work unique.  It may or may not be what you are shooting.  There are so many images in the world and mostly seemingly every subject has already been shot or thought of.  If what you’re shooting isn’t necessarily unique, than what part of your work is?  That is your style; the techniques that you use to create your art are what create the look and feel that is you.  Remember, this isn’t just about taking pictures.  It is about making them.  It is about creating art, your art, regardless of what the subject matter is.

Dave Vernon shared a nice thought on here about using Photoshop that I completely agree with.  Your choice to use or not use Photoshop (or any other editing software for that matter) is part of your style.  It is a tool to the end result or final look.  Maybe you always bracket your shots, maybe you create HDR images, maybe you always shoot black and white, maybe you only use film, maybe you only use flash, or deeply saturate your color or just one color (we don’t call it “Kevin May Blue” for nothing).

The tools that you choose to use or not use consistently start to create a specific look and feel to your work.  No one has exactly the same workflow.  There are probably some standard motions that we go through similarly, but everyone would probably tweak the same exact image in just a slightly different way.  We each want to create an image that is aesthetically pleasing to us.  The key here is consistency though.  It is looking at your own workflow and seeing what tools you use over and over as well as using consistent camera techniques when shooting.  The more consistent of a shooter and editor of our own work we are, the more clearly defined style we will have.

After all, we want someone to hire us because we create a certain look they want to buy or we want someone to buy our art because it is look they want to hang on the wall.  Clients will ask what your style is, so it is important to identify what yours is so that you can clearly explain it and sell yourself.  Part of being on the journey to becoming a better photographer is defining our style as we grow and knowing what that style is.

I’m still developing my own style.   I’m continuing to shoot couples and weddings and I’m noticing that I use natural light as a part of my current style and I look for inspiration and technique from photographers who use natural light very well as a part of their style.  I look to Jasmine Star and Jessica Claire as wedding photographers for inspiration.  I find that having a goal to emulate a style will help me learn ways to deviate to make it my own.  I’m also wanting to add the use flash lighting into my work, so I’m looking at people who use flash lighting well and maybe someday that will become a part of my style or maybe it won’t.  I want my work to look different than the next local wedding shooter, either in my posing or lack of, or use of lighting, or something that make people want to hire me and not the next guy.  It is good to have goals though.  I know I want my work to look clean and crisp.  I want vibrant colors.  I want to tell stories.  I have a long way to go, but it is okay because I love learning and love the journey of self-discovery, even when it is frustrating.

I can’t say what will work for you because this is about self-exploration.  Shoot what you love and then edit the look you love as well.  Don’t worry about what others think about it.  Create art that you love.  That art you want to hang on your own wall.  Don’t shoot and edit to please others.  If you show the work that you want to create, then people will hire you because they like that look as well.  Usually as photographers, we are our own worst critics.  This can be good though if it means we keep ourselves in check so that we don’t start trying to please the masses.  If we did that, we’d all go shoot portraits at the mall.  Let’s leave that task to the people who are passionate about that.  Be you and remember there is no right or wrong.  That is why we love photography, right?

If you want some examples of work that speaks loudly for itself and has a clearly defined style, I suggest you check out these photographers.  (Note: I noticed that I chose photographers whose style involve the use of great light or manipulation of light – so I guess that speaks to me.) If you want to keep reading about finding your own style, then check out Luminous Landscape. They have a great article on the how-to and say it even better then me.

(And check out Stacy’s previous post on Vision.)


  1. […] Happen to Good Gear: Part #1 (Well look who dropped by – our favorite Vision author, Ms. Stacy Hanna. And Stacy’s loss is our gain today as we deal with the temporary absence of our […]

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