Ever notice how some artists produce work with a unique, recognizable style? Explore four helpful tips for establishing your personal photography aesthetic.
Your photography aesthetic and style defines who you are as an artist to people viewing your work. One look at your portfolio should tell a potential customer exactly what they can expect of the work you create. But what exactly do we mean by visual aesthetic?
Shutterstock Images by Zolotarevs
What is a visual aesthetic and how does it relate to my photography?
Your visual aesthetic defines who you are as an artist through visual queues that are consistent in every piece of work you create. In terms of creating a specific photography aesthetic and style, you are creating a look and feel that is recognizably you. By creating a good visual aesthetic, people instantly recognize your work simply by the styling, editing, and composition of any particular image.
Ansel Adams: A historical example of great photography aesthetic and style
Every great photographer has one unique trait that ties them together. You don’t need to see their byline to know that it’s shot by them. Take for example, Ansel Adams, the pioneer of black and white environmental and landscape photography. When you see an Ansel Adams photograph, you know it’s him. The way he captures a landscape and composes an image is so definitely Adams that no one needs to see an artist credit to know it’s him.
Shutterstock Images by Dean Fikar, inspired by Ansel Adams
If you see a black and white image of Yosemite, chances are it was Adams. His visual aesthetic in his photography was defined by the camera he used and in the film he processed. The compositions and landscapes he captured also influenced this aesthetic.
Annie Leibovitz: A historical example of great photography aesthetic and style
Annie Leibovitz is a household name outside the photography world. Her portrait work is exceptional and specific to her style. The great photographer once said, “I’ve learned to create a palette, a vocabulary of ways to take pictures.”
Shutterstock Editorial Image by Kjell Leknes, taken at Annie Leibovitz exhibition in Frankfurt
On any image that Annie takes, she has a way of capturing stirring, almost ethereal images of people. There is movement within her images, but her subjects stare at her lens like it’s the only thing in the world. The magical images that Annie creates have a way of stopping people in their tracks and stating “That’s Annie Leibovitz’s work.”
In this article, we’re going to share a few tips on how you can start to craft your own unique photography aesthetic and style. A visual aesthetic defines who you are as a photographer. A good visual aesthetic speaks for itself. A good visual aesthetic means that people will stop, look, and say “I know who shot that” regardless of where the image was taken, or the subject of the image.
4 Tips on Creating a Visual Aesthetic for Your Photography
Shutterstock Image by onzon
Tip #1: Define the type of images you want to create
The type of images you want to create will greatly influence the visual aesthetic of your photography. What do you like shooting? Do you tend to shoot people or landscapes? Enjoy shooting indoors or outdoors? Do you prefer styling your own images or working with a team?
Make a list of questions to ask yourself, and take the time to really think about what you truly like to create. This isn’t the time to think about what you think sells. This is the time to think about your true passions and skills as a photographer. It’s easy to think about what everyone else is doing who is “successful” and be influenced to replicate that style. However, the only way you will grow as a photographer is if you’re true and passionate about the work that you want to create.
Shutterstock Images by Jacob Lund
Here are a few other questions to ask yourself when defining the images you want to shoot:
- Do you enjoy shooting people? What models do you have access to shoot?
- Are you more of a documentary photography (capturing real people in real moments) or do you prefer to set up shoots?
- Do you enjoy shooting in studio, or do you prefer to be on location?
- What is your favorite image you’ve created? Why?
- What’s your dream shoot?
Asking yourself these questions is the first step to really defining what you want to shoot, and why you want to shoot it.
Tip #2: Research artists that influence and inspire you
The next step, is to take your results from your internal review of what you like and don’t like, and find other artists that reflect those decisions. For example, if you’ve decided you love shooting people in studios and working with big teams, find photographers that do that.
Shutterstock Images by Judah Grubb
On Instagram, start looking at photographers that are doing what you want to do. Get inspired by their creative journey by looking at tagged images from shoots they’ve done. Are they working with makeup artists? Stylists? Location scouts? How can you take that information, and get inspired for your own shoots.
Photographers aren’t the only source of artistic inspiration
Another tip is to look at other artists in different creative fields. If you’ve decided that you love shooting in dark, moody landscapes, find artists that paint and sculpt similar works of arts in that style. Go to art galleries and museums to see what the pros have done. How do they use colors together? How do they visualize a moody landscape?
Watercolor Illustration by AcantStudio
Looking at art is a great way to be inspired to create beautiful photographs and start crafting your visual aesthetic.
That being said- be inspired, but don’t copy
The artists you are researching have probably spent a lot of time doing exactly what you are trying to do: craft their own unique style. While it’s great to be influenced by those artists, don’t copy their work. Take inspiration from a wide variety of people, and use that inspiration to define what is meaningful to you, and how it relates to your art. How can you use the technical skills and artistic techniques of those artists, and get inspired from the work you create individually?
Tip #3: Shoot when you’re most inspired
If you’ve discovered that you love shooting in warm light, make sure you have the time to shoot during golden hour. If you’re a photographer who loves the look of warm, golden tones, you are not going to get inspired by shooting on an overcast, gray day. Don’t waste your time. Reschedule the shoot, and find the environment that best reflects the work you want to create.
Shutterstock Images by De Repente
The same goes for photographers who focus on interiors and studio shoots. You are not going to get inspired by dull spaces. If you’re a minimalist, search for studio spaces that reflect that style. Don’t have the budget to rent a space? Consider offering trades for photography work to borrow studio time. If your inspired by art-deco, vintage spots, spend the time to source locations that reflect that style.
While it can be tempting to shoot all the time, take a step back and think of when and where you are truly going to create your best work. Take on work that aligns with your photography aesthetic and style.
Tip #4: Create an editing style with your own presets
Once you’ve decided what you want to shoot, think about your camera settings. In the images you are inspired by and the artists whose work you love, what do their images technically look like? Are they warm tones or cool tones? Are they high-contrast, or super soft? Do they have film grain, or are they crisp? All of these elements influence the type and style of image you create.
Shutterstock Images by maxtimofeev
Get inspired by artist presets
Define your own editing style by creating your own presets. One way to do this is to find or purchase presets from photographers you’re inspired by. Then, manipulate them to craft your own version and save them as your own work. While you don’t want to take that photographers preset and call it your own, it can be a great base to develop your own style.
Create your own presets
Otherwise, you can start from scratch. Manipulate your images, playing with the tones and colors to create a piece of work that inspires you. Then, save those presets and apply them to other images. Keep playing with them on each image you create and upload until you’ve defined a set of presets that you can use for all your images. This is the best way to maintain a consistent look and feel to your photography aesthetic.
Shutterstock Image by Paradise studio
Featured Image by benevolente82
Looking for more tips on creating a photography aesthetic? Check out these articles:
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- How to Get the 80s Aesthetic in your Photos
- 10 Offset Contributors on How They Define Their Look and Aesthetic
- Artist Series with Photographer and Blogger Dani Lyn Ayee
- Why Taking Images That Tell Stories is Important For Photographers