For many of us finding our photographic voice is a never ending struggle. With inspiration at our fingertips, we can unconsciously get influenced, resulting in our style emulating others instead of being our own. The good news is over the past five years I’ve had a journey with the Leica M camera that helped me find my unique photographic voice. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Finding your style is no easy walk in the park, sadly I don’t have a magic wand that can instantly give you a style. But I have the next best thing, a guide. I’m not saying that I know everything, and I’m still learning myself. In saying that, I have stumbled upon a few steps over the past 5 years in my career that have helped me, and I wanted to share them with you. With this guidance and a little work hopefully we can skip a few years making this journey a little less time consuming.
One thing to consider are the artists that inspire you. Ask yourself the question what is it that draws you to their work? It could be the use of colour, subject matter, the emotions they convey, the genre their work is in or the tools they use. Find the connections and similarities between the artists you like and write them down. This will give you some idea and understanding about the types of aesthetics your drawn to.
Your personality, aesthetics, voice, character, together make you who you are. The only way I know how to achieve and create a style that is uniquely yours, is knowing yourself. Ask yourself, who you are, and what characteristics make you an individual? Are you a quite person, like empty spaces, or do you like people and sharing stories? Do you like timeless design and simplicity? Ask yourself these questions, and take note of them.
Now that you have answered these questions its time to make connections between your aesthetics & personality. For example, personally I mainly wear monochrome clothing and my house is decorated with items that follow a white colour palate. My personality is drawn to black and white aesthetics. I’m inspired by black and white photographers like Hiroshi Sugimoto & Michael Kenna. Putting two and two together, it makes sense stylistically for me to be a black and white photographer, as I’m drawn to and inspired by monochrome visuals. That is why I was drawn to the Leica M camera. For its simplistic design and minimal functions, everything I need and nothing more.
“Beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes.” – Sophia Loren
The more self exploration you do, the more connections you can make. Over time you will build and grow an understanding of your visual aesthetics that you can apply to your photography. Through time you will achieve a unique voice that will come naturally through your lens once you have a firm understanding of who you are, and what you like. For me consistency is a big factor in my style, and what better way to be consistent with my imagery then to pick one camera the Leica M(typ 240), and one lens the Leica M 50mm Summilux. Using one camera helps the subtle features and details stand out. Here is an example, you instantly know what camera I use because of the little red dot on the front. Thats the power of consistency.
The next step is to write down your process. This exercise helps you stay on track and keeps your work consistent. There is no limit or rules, but the more precise and simple your guide the easier it is to follow. My personal stylistic guide is.
Portable – 50mm lens, Leica M camera.
Anything – Photos can be of any subject matter.
Available Light – Natural sunlight or available interior artificial light.
Minimal – Take away all unnecessary clutter and objects. Focus on the subject or texture.
Identifiable – Kodak Tri-x 400 film or preset, Platinum Palladium printing.
The list can be as long as you want, but try and keep it simple with a little room for flexibility. I would recommend writing these down in your phone or note book for easy access, so you can always look over them from time to time. You can always refine and edit your style. There is no right or wrong way, there is only your way. Over time you will change and your style will change with you. Just remember to be true to yourself, don’t try and emulate someone else. And remember to keep your Leica slinged around your shoulder. Aristotle said it best so I’ll finish with his words.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”