Giving your images a certain look has never been easier. Digital photography allows you to tune your images whichever way you like and give your work a recognizable look. Especially with platforms like Instagram, having a consistent look throughout your images plays a huge part in building a solid following online. Recognisability is thus often misinterpreted as photographic style. This leads to many people putting so much emphasis on post processing that the quality of the actual images falls behind. They develop a style behind the computer instead of a style behind the camera. Therefore they miss out on one of the most important aspects of their development.
The basics of a photograph
Which factors does taking a photograph come down to? Essentially, it’s the combination of composition and timing. By framing your image, you determine what is included and excluded from the frame. The moment you press the shutter button determines what exactly happens in the image. These two decisions are the foundation of everything in your photograph. Other contributing factors such as light, colours or a good subject are of external nature. They’re at everyone’s fingertips and thus won’t set your image apart by themselves. It’s your way of framing and timing that does.
This means that your style, the distinctive appearance of your photographs, derives from framing and timing. It comes from your way of seeing the world and your ability to seek out the 1000th of a second which illustrates that. This will make your images recognisable, and it won’t matter if they’re in colour, black and white or processed in a certain way.
The common misconception of style
Finding your distinctive way of framing and timing and thus developing a personal style is a very hard thing to achieve. It won’t happen overnight and cannot be forced to happen at a certain time.
Having a style and recognisability however is very important as photographer. And with everybody being able to get exposure through the Instagram nowadays there seems to be no time for the lengthy process of finding your way of framing and timing. Your work has to be recognisable right from the start or else you’ll get neglected by algorithms and your audience.
The easiest way to solve this problem is making your work recognisable by keeping up a certain editing style. Signature colours and tones will let people know from a distance that they’re looking at your images. And that itself is fine but many people start to focus so much on editing that the actual work with the camera falls behind. The need for likes and follows will make them pay most of their attention to what promises them growth on Instagram – strong edits and reoccurring themes. And they will see this as their style.
Strip away the edits though, you can quickly realise that the majority of photographers on Instagram haven’t found a photographic style yet, and don’t seem to be eager to find it. Progress on Instagram replaces their need for progress behind the camera.
My stance on editing
With this I don’t want to say that you shouldn’t edit your images. I edit nearly all of mine and post processing is as much a part of photography as shooting itself. But you should see it merely as a refinement of your image.
Correct small compositional mistakes by cropping, adjust the colours and levels to your liking and maybe use local adjustments if necessary. Bring out the strengths of your image but never turn it into a different photograph. Once you start keeping your edits to a minimum you will see your images for what they really are – with all their positives and negatives. You can build upon that the next time you go out shooting. You can adjust your way of working and narrow down on what you want your photographs to be.
This probably won’t bring you the most engagement on Instagram, but it will make you a better photographer. At some point we have to decide what we want to be… A great “Instagrammer” or a great photographer – a visual artist or a street photographer.
I’d personally go for the great photographer, but ultimately the choice is yours.