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I’ve written a lot about finding your creative voice this month, and I thought I’d finish with a few ideas designed to help you find your own voice as a photographer.
1. Go back through older photos to find your authentic voice
I wrote an entire article about this last week (click here to read it again if you missed it). It’s a simple but powerful concept that helps you understand your own photography better. The idea is to go back through your older photos, looking at your favorites, to see which ones seem most authentic.
Authentic photos are ones that look as if they are made by you, rather than another photographer. They don’t try and emulate or imitate other photographers (though there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s how we all learn), but are unique to you.
Start with photos made during the last 12 months, then extend the search by looking through older photos. You might find patterns, ideas and projects that you’ve forgotten about. Or you might have done something in the past that didn’t resonate then, but now makes more sense to you.
The aim is to both figure out what your creative or authentic voice might be, and to give you some ideas for your photos in the next 12 months. How can you build on the best and most promising of what you’ve made in the past?
Take your time with this. You might be able to do it an hour or two (you’ll need good photo organizational skills) but it could take longer. There’s no hurry, the important thing is to start looking for the voice that may already be there in your photos.
For example, when I did this exercise, I felt that my collage work and carnival photos are far more authentic than any other photo projects I did in the last year. This is great because it tells me what I should be spending my time on in the next 12 months!
2. Look at the work of other photographers
I’ve just said that authentic photos don’t look like another photographer could have made them. So why then is there value in looking at other photographers’ work?
There’s two reasons. The first is that when you look at the work of the best (or your favorite) photographers you’re learning about light, composition and subject.
These are the creative aspects of photography. There is always something new to learn, no matter how long you’ve been doing photography. Looking at the work of other photographers is a great way to do it.
You can help yourself out by looking at other photographers’ work more purposefully. Ask yourself questions like these:
- How does the photographer use light and color?
- Does the photographer work predominantly in black and white or color, or both?
- What themes, ideas and subjects does the photographer explore? What does he or she have to say about the people and subjects they are photographing?
- What compositional techniques does the photographer use and why are they effective?
These four questions alone will help you understand any photographer’s work in more depth. The answers also help you make creative decisions for you own photos.
The second reason that it’s a good idea to look at the work of other photographers is that you can use it to inspire you. Whose photos do you like? Whose do you dislike? What excites you? What bores you?
For example, I get much more excited about photos of people than I do about landscape photos. That tells me that I want to use my voice to say something about people, rather than the landscape.
So the question is, what do you want to talk about with your photos? What ideas, themes and subjects would you like to explore?
They don’t have to be big ideas. It could be as simple as capturing the beauty of flowers in the spring and summer, or making landscape photos exploring the scenery in your local area.
3. Experiment and play
One of the reasons photography is a popular hobby is that there is just so much you can do with it. There’s a broad range of subject matter to explore, from people to wildlife, from landscape to still life, from food to astrophotography and much more.
Give yourself the freedom to explore and play with as many techniques and subjects as you like. There are times when you don’t want to think about creativity and voice. Sometimes it’s better to find something you enjoy and just do it. You can be more analytical about the results later.
The benefit of this is that you’re learning a wide range of techniques and approaches to photography. This helps make you a better and more well rounded photographer.
4. But then, narrow down
You should always be experimenting and playing with photography, but eventually it’s helpful to focus on specific subjects and technique.
The magic happens when you do what I suggest in the first step and look back over your recent work. Experimentation and play encourage you to try a wide range of photographic techniques.
Eventually you will figure out which ones really interest you and which are dead ends. That’s when your sense of voice, and who you really want to be as a photographer, start to emerge.
5. Figure out your post-processing style
Think about what you’d like to achieve in Lightroom Classic (or whichever software you use). It isn’t always easy, but it helps to think about the following aspects.
Do you like bold, saturated colors or softer, less saturated ones? Or do you prefer to work in black and white?
If you’re working in color do you prefer accurate colors, or do you like photos with lots of warm or cool colors?
The answers to these questions help you decide on what to do with your photos.
Do you like high contrast images, or ones with less contrast? This ties in with your approach to color. Images with bold, saturated colors tend to have more contrast. Photos with softer colors have less.
What’s your approach to using tonal contrast? This matters in both black and white and color photography, but it’s particularly important in black and white.
Do you like your photos to be conservative or edgy? Do you like to push the boundaries with new techniques, or stick to tried and true ways of doing things?
Do you like a modern look, or do you prefer a nostalgic, retro or vintage approach?
You may not have thought about developing photos in these terms before, but again they help set the path with your post-processing.
For example, if you’d like to make a photo with a nostalgic feel, then how does that affect the way you use color and contrast? How different would it be if you went for a modern look instead?
Do you like stylized portraits (like the sort you’d see in a fashion magazine), or a more natural style (like in documentary photography)? Do you like to capture beauty in people, or character, or both?
Again, these are somewhat airy concepts, but thinking about them helps you decide what approach to take with your post-processing.
For example, with my portraits I’ve tend to go for a dark, natural style with soft colors, like the one below.
These ideas can cross genres. You can see a similar style at work in this photo of a blacksmith at work.
Finding your creative voice
These five ideas are powerful and could change the way that you make and develop your photos. It may seem like a strange way of thinking about photography, but it makes sense when you start to figure out what you want to say and how you’d like to say it. That’s when your own style and voice start to emerge, and you start making photos that look like yours rather than somebody else’s.
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