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Finding My Style: 1.0

**This post has "1.0" in the title because I plan to do a follow up at the end of the program to see how, if at all, my intended style has changed. Much of a photographer's identity comes down to their style. It's essentially their artistic fingerprint. Human fingerprints are all made up of the same types of lines and come from the same source: skin cells. But it's the fine details of how they look that make them uniquely identifiable to a specific person. So it is with artistic style. While photographers have the same elements to work with (perspective, saturation in color, contrast, temperature, etc) the unique combination of all those things together often add up to an identifiable aesthetic that one becomes known for.

This concept of style has bounced around in the back of my head since I began to learn photography three years ago. For about that same amount of time, it has seemed daunting -- borderline impossible -- to ever identify a specific style for myself. In many ways, it's felt like the gateway to a professional career. While you might find a hobbyist that has defined a style for themselves, you'll be hard pressed to find an established photographer that is aimlessly shooting without stylistic guidelines in mind. And admittedly, when I look at my current portfolio on this website, I think a defined style is missing. Photos range from black and white to color, high contrast to low, shooting in harsh midday light to soft evening light, close-up to wide-angle, bright and warm to dark and moody... you get the idea. It's all over the place.

Given that, it's been incredibly helpful and exciting to be prompted by school to sit down and really analyze not just my own work but the work of others that I admire and pick apart where that admiration comes from. I've had to ask myself what about a certain photo resonates so much? Why will I stare at it rather than just quickly move to the next? Are there colors and hues that I like? Perspective? Gesture? Consistently conveyed meaning? For a particular class assignment we were asked to cull together 15 photos we wished were in our personal portfolio. They were to be images we wish we had created and edited in a manner we would choose.

The Photos

These images come from photographers: Forrest Mankins, Andrew Kearns, David Trumpore, Matt Delorme, and Paris Gore.

Notice any themes yourself?? I'm curious to hear your impressions!

The Analysis

Ironically, I realized there isn't much of a consistent style that jumps off the page when looking at the images together. Does that count as a style...? Not having a style...? The thought has crossed my mind, but I don't think it's a viable option. A closer look, however, and some application of new concepts learned in school and I think there's actually more common threads between photos than simple color consistency. Here is my analysis of the collection as a whole:

  • Color

  • ⅓ of the images are B&W

  • The images that are in color do have a good bit of variance (not a noticeable cohesive feel)

  • The general feel is warm tones

  • Most emphasize the extremes of dark and light tones and stay relatively monotone in the mid-tonal range (even the B&W's really only work because of extreme contrast between light and dark rather than lots of different tones across the whole range)

  • Blue/orange and blue/yellow of varying hues is common color contrast

  • Almost all the blues fall on the teal side (just slightly)

  • Colors seem to be more subdued and muted then punchy/saturated

  • General feel from the photos seems to be subdued and calm, even in the B&W’s

  • There is a weighted feeling to the colors over being light and airy

  • Shape

  • Evidently I really love shape

  • Many of the photos have strong shape caused by silhouettes or it’s seen in strong mountains and ridge lines

  • Many photos do use a large amount of negative space that isolates the subject

  • Many have a sense of depth created from a wider angle perspective rather than the compression caused by a longer focal length that happens in just a few

  • Lighting

  • Almost everything is backlit to some extent; only two are not

  • The time of day seems to be quite split: almost half appear to be somewhat midday in harsh light with the other half leaning towards evening/golden hour

  • People

  • There is not a single close-up of a person; while there is variance no photo has a human subject that takes up more than about 30% of the frame

  • But, all but one photo does utilize a human subject in some way... I just seem to value a sense of place over the person

  • I love small people (relative to the photo, not physically small people) set against a large, imposing background

  • Most of the photos make use of gesture; there isn't really any static feeling to them. The blurred motion of the biker, the ripples beneath the paddle, the blurred trees outside the truck window and the subject nestled up against the window frame, the air bubbles swirling around the moving legs of the swimmers...

  • Mood

  • Sense of unknown; people heading into the unknown; heavy(??); a journey; implied movement/motion; a sense of peace in what the subjects are doing

The Analysis of the Analysis

I have to remember that this is just a small collection of the millions of photos that are out there and that, more importantly, style can and likely will change over time. But based on these photos, and based on what I seem to value right now, I would say this:

I would like to have images in my portfolio that are generally warm with strong tonal contrast; that emphasize shape, scale, and gestures of motion and energy; that place human subjects against large backdrops where the scale conveys a scale of their surroundings; that emphasize the journey; that convey a feeling of peace that the subject has with that they are doing.

The best part is that I think the goals of these future images can be applied to lots of different settings and shoots. For a wedding, it could be a shot over the bride's shoulder where her profile is visible, but the focus is on the path down the aisle in front of her and the countless loved ones there to celebrate the occasion. For food photography, it could be a chef harvesting local crops at sunset with a vast landscape surrounding them drawing attention to the land that provides the harvest that is needed. For a fitness lifestyle shoot, it could be a shot of dirty shoes mid-stride with the winding path already traveled snaking off into the background of the frame.

The next step of the assignment is to go out and create an image with these stylistic guides in mind. I'll report back with the results!

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