The Key To A Personal Photography Style

October 22, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Last week I was going over the pictures I had taken in France and this got me thinking of what exactly it is that is responsible for a personal photography style. This subject just kept popping up in conversations in the days after that and it kept me pondering on what exactly is the most important element of a personal style. The reason why this kept popping up is that I realised that even though I had taken beautiful pictures of a colourful sunrise in the mountains and all the necessary ingredients, that make up a successful picture were there, the pictures were just not "me".

The Key To A Personal Photography StyleThe Key To A Personal Photography StyleWhat is most essential in developing a personal photography style is the choices we make before we take a picture and even more importantly after we have taken it.

Other people, who had been looking at my latest work, said the same thing about one of the pictures in last week's blog post. There was nothing wrong with the picture, but it did not fit in somehow and that is just so very true. I had had the same feelings about this picture, wanted to share the magic of the moment anyhow, but it had not been my kind of magic...

So, the question became....Is the most essential part of my photography style and vision the pictures that I choose to take or....the pictures I choose to share and add to my port folio afterwards? And this is where it became interesting, I am convinced that the pictures I choose to take make up a large part of my vision, but the essential je-ne-sais-quoi that others recognise my work by, comes into being by the choices that I make after I have taken the photos.

OaktoberOaktoberAn oak tree in autumn colours on a hazy October morning with sunbeams in the forest in the background. Fine art photography by Ellen Borggreve

The thing is that it is hard for a photographer to walk past a magical moment and not take a picture. You try hard to find a composition that tells your story best of all, you do your best to capture the enchantment of that moment, but afterwards, when you have uploaded the pictures to your computer, you might find yourself wondering why exactly you took that picture or that series of pictures. 

In my case I think I was so captivated by what I saw that I simply could not NOT take pictures of this moment of magic, simply because I had never seen anything like it before. In The Netherlands the nights are not as dark and the blue hour is not as indigo coloured as it is in the mountains and with pink fog floating under the mountain tops I was just taken over by the magic of that moment. It was so, so beautiful and I wanted to capture it. And don't get me wrong, I am glad I captured it.....BUT....these pictures now look totally out of place in my Lightroom catalogue. They look like they don't belong there, like they belong in someone else's catalogue. The mood was not mine, the colours were not mine, the subject was not even mine and I don't feel a connection to them now, after the magical moment has passed...

DaydreamerDaydreamerA forest path lined by tall beech trees on a hazy autumn morning in October. Fine art photography by Ellen Borggreve

So I decided to not add these pictures to my port folio and that I will not be sharing them online. There is nothing wrong with them, but I don't CHOOSE them and this is what I mean when I say that your choices afterwards are an essential ingredient to your style. This choice does not have to be that rational, even though I love to ask myself questions and review my images, but can be of a rather intuitive nature. You just feel that a picture is not you.

Even though I take a picture with my way of looking at the world in mind, I can still take pictures that afterwards feel like they are not "mine". These are the pictures that will not become jumping boards for the development of my photography. They are hidden in my archives and stay there. 

And then there are those pictures that you take and you just immediately know that these are the ones that will set a new and higher standard for your upcoming work. You feel that you have taken THE picture that you are extremely connected to. Strangely enough, I find these images the hardest to share as they somehow have most of my soul, most of what makes up who I am, hidden inside the pixels. They tell more than just my story, they are me disguised as a picture. 

Floating Trees In The MistAfloatFloating trees in autumnal atmosphere in a mere at sunrise. Vosges, France.
Fine art photography by Ellen Borggreve

Of course I do share these pictures, even though it feels like I am uncovering my soul and these pictures become a new base on which I build my style. This lead me to another interesting question. If I would have the Lightroom Catalogue of another photographer, would I not pick entirely different pictures to share? And yes, this must be the case. So, you see....a personal style is made up of many things....from lens choice, subject matter, time of day, weather conditions, colour palette, composition, likes and dislikes in general and your way of looking at the world and all of this comes together in what I call "your vision" when you take the picture, but even will find you have taken pictures that are not representative of your own style. You create a picture and then you choose it or you don't. This choice determines if you will build upon this picture and it will determine how the viewer will perceive your body of work and your style. 

After this choice comes the post processing and perhaps the reframing (which I hardly ever do). I edit my pictures quite intuitively. I do know what I want a picture to look like when I take the picture, but I feel my way through an edit...If it feels off, I don't rationalise, I accept that it is off and that I need to change it. Something that feels off can never represent me. The choice of the picture in question though is so important to how the outside world will look at our work. Therefore I feel it is an important question to ask yourself when looking at your work : "Is this picture representative of me, my vision and style?" This question comes first. If a picture is technically and compositionally perfect, but it simply does not feel like "you", it should not be in your port folio. 

The crooked pathThe crooked path

This of course does not mean a style can not evolve. The funny thing is that I would not choose pictures for my port folio now that 2 years ago felt like they were totally me. I grew into my style a little bit more with every picture I took, setting new standards with every choice I made, raising my bar so to speak, only comparing to my previous work, not to the photographs of others. So a style does not have to become stagnant, but your intuitive feeling of what pictures represent you must be your guiding light. 

And so this is how a style is developed, created over time, one choice after another. The vision comes first, this is what you need to create a picture that captures how you perceive a moment that enchants or captivates you and then you determine your style by choosing which pictures to build upon, which ones to share, and how to edit them. 

My musings of this week made me even more determined to take new pictures almost every day, to build upon those pictures that I had chosen, to create images that I feel connected to, to bury my soul in pixels.

If you want to keep reading about how to find your personal photography style, you can find inspiring posts here and here

And if you want to learn how to take beautiful forest pictures that capture the magic of these natural fairytales, I can highly recommend my eBook The Magic Of Forest Photography

The Key To A Personal Photography StyleThe Key To A Personal Photography StyleWhat is most essential in developing a personal photography style is the choices we make before we take a picture and even more importantly after we have taken it.


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