Style and You

As a photographer/videographer the way my content looks is indeed very important to me. Who doesn't want to be able to take images that any viewer instantly knows are yours. This is also a subject that many creatives constantly fret about throughout their lives. Not something I feel we have much direct control over either...

It isn't what it seems:

Style or personal style is not something that in most cases can be "made", in photography everything is inevitably being recreated. Odds are someone already did your amazing idea in the 1920's with film and soft optics. Also a Lightroom preset isn't a style, it is adding to your images, and this isn't just the journalism ethics or a focus on realism speaking. The time and effort required to produce a near perfect image out of camera is up to the shooter whether or not they feel like really applying themselves that day or not. Development of a personal style takes years of hard work that doesn't include focussing on ones personal style however it requires pure focus on technical proficiency, applying skills, and two whole tons worth of learning and critiques. 

The more attention one pays to relationship between the triad (Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO) the faster they will begin to see strong out-of-camera content. This obviously requires years of practice, and it should. No one masters anything in a year, and photography/videography requires an expansive amount of peripheral knowledge. If this scares you, be prepared for a rough life. 

I was photo editing years before I was shooting therefore early on in my photographic pursuits I would often attempt to fix things I shot incorrectly in post. BAD, BAD, OH SO VERY BAD! It took years to break this habit, (which included becoming much better at hiding things in post) and years more to learn that fixing it in post never looks as good as shooting it correctly and that studying the mistakes teaches huge things. Shooting correctly is a never ending learning process that even the most seasoned Visual Journalists, and Photographers are never actually there. Always more to be learned, thus why photo/video is such a rewarding hobby to become obsessed with. 

"Well I'm not a purist, I don't care about things appearing real." I ask you why. I ask also, why you picked up a camera and didn't just go into graphic design. I'm saying that if you are posting out of focus nudes of yourself that are poorly toned in B&W complete with fake film grain, applying presets to a ton of images all with different lighting, or tagging clothing brands because you used a flash in an image then you have yet to create "art". Art being an innately subjective concept therefore it has actual guidelines for quality and execution, especially concerning photography. Do what you want, just don't expect to be taken seriously because you tried something. Accept the fact that making something isn't expressly "art" and holds no intrinsic value simply because you made it. Learn what makes something worth being proud of however understand that most people won't share the sentiment. Take risks and take your time, professionalism is something others see in your actions not something you can call yourself to be taken seriously.

Light is literally the only thing that matters:

Developing an "eye" for photography is to develop a sense of what is good light and what is bad light and then learning how to use both of them with equal effectiveness. And no matter what the only thing that allows photography to be is a little light. So that being understood, if you shot something with bad light, you aren't going to be able to fix it in post. "Blown out highlights are my style", translates to "I shot it wrong and/or I know very little about the relationship between light and the triad." Light is your best friend so don't hide it, being able to tell where a flash was in a portrait isn't a bad thing, actually it makes your images much more interesting. Obsess over light, use it dramatically, respect how critical it is to good images.

Knowledge is Patience:

Patiently learn, explore, and try your best. The better you understand your settings the better your quality of content will be. Just because you took some meh images of people doesn't mean you are ready to start up a business. Take your time and deeply study the craft. Once settings in Manual mode (everyone should stop fearing it and make it work) are second nature is when your compositions start to become your own. Once you begin thinking in terms of Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO your "personal style" will shine through. You have at this point developed command over your imaging system. The more challenges you put yourself through, the more limitations you subject yourself to the more you will learn and grow. Thus patience.

Closing:

I am a purist, sue me, I don't understand why anyone would pursue something such as photo unless they wanted to truly know that they were doing things correctly in camera. Ignoring convention, especially early on is usually best left for true professionals, that is to say those who have effectively mastered basic concepts and skills, not that you shouldn't take risks. Take a ton, they make you fail and this is what truly teaches us what is correct. Winning everything creates shallow, unwise thoughts and people. Hardship spawns wisdom, patience, and deep technical understanding which in turn will reward you for your efforts with an eye that is your own but only if you choose to learn rather than get upset. Growth and failure go hand in hand. So worry not about how your images initially look but about your exposure accuracy and focus. Everything else falls into place when you least expect it to. Keep challenging yourself, scrutinize all aspects of your images, and find a wise old professional. Go shoot something you haven't shot before, get out of your comfort zone, fail a lot, and keep a level head.

Why should we love limitations in Photography?

The marketplaces of the internet are flooded with a near innumerable amount of imaging systems, consumers have so many choices that making the right one isn't quite as obvious as it may have been a few years ago. Full-frame 35mm sensors have dropped in price since 2011 making higher end systems available to anyone with around $1,000 and some time to devote to google. However no one has ever said anything about how the limitations of a system may actually bring about advantages when out in the field. 

Last year I purchased a Fujifilm X100, the original in what is now a star studded lineup of classically refined digital imaging systems. This camera has a permanently attached 23mm lens (APS-C 1.5x crop making it 34.5mm), single actuation shooting (continuous function is similar to most point and shoot cameras and not really useful), parallax error (look it up), and it just isn't the same animal as my Nikon. This being said the color rendition from the 12 megapixel sensor mixed with the optimized fixed Fujinon optics makes for a take anywhere beast of a manual point-and-shoot system. Small in size,  virtually silent and very unimposing, even the most leery subject has little care about being photographed by the X100. 

The limitations: I love DSLRs, they are purpose built industrial machines designed to be tortured for years. But the Fuji is a small, silent, clunky, and pretty slow rangefinder system. It sometimes takes about 3 seconds to write a RAW image to a higher download speed SDXC Card. The battery life is nothing compared to my EN-EL15 batteries and the system's power draw is not as assured. I won't for the life of me have it knocking around outside my bag in heavy rain, and the noise performance leaves a good bit to be desired.

Why these are good things: When I shoot a strong image on the Fuji it doesn't look the same as it does on the Nikon, it has a totally different feel. It gives such a purity in its light rendition, clear tack sharp focus, low aberration and vignetting, rich colors and smooth skin tones. The images usually require preplanning so naturally I enjoy taking it to the skate park, handholding my flash with wireless triggers and enjoying the challenge. The X100 produces images with an intellectually easy going aesthetic. You may not have seen that building that way, but the Fuji did.

My main point here is that picking up a device purely for its advantages teaches us nothing. This summer for instance I decided to use a 35mm f/1.4 on a D600 and a 5DIII with 300mm f/2.8, inside. It was just to prove to myself and maybe my boss that I could. However I noticed very quickly that all of my shooting decisions were changed. Because that is such a strange spectrum of focal length to be using together outside of a sports event, I suddenly had to think about a classroom of children as if I were at a sporting event. This is a surefire way to add diversity to one's takes as well as to teach yourself to be comfortable or physically conditioned enough to use long-glass. I love running a 70-200mm f/2.8 and a 24-70mm f/2.8 on assignments as much as anyone but I'll walk away with loads of boring mediums and overly distorted close-ups with all around lackluster light, because they don't make me think the same way as bringing an 85mm f/1.8 and a 28mm f/1.8. The limitations innately make us think, not "stuck in thought, missed the shot" think, but decisive, in the moment, perceptual change think that can make a decent story incredible in seconds. Film was all about overcoming limitations, and because we can afford the nicest (or get it at gear checkout) doesn't mean it will be at all helpful to us or most importantly teach us something that we weren't expecting to learn. (Which I hope is everyone's goal while on assignment)

I want to encourage all digital imaging enthusiast of all experience level to limit their shooting capabilities as much as possible. Maybe not at your next wedding or football game, but definitely with portraits or on your next picture package assignment. The point being to break any preconceived notions of "I got this, this is easy" and show yourself that you can make something seemingly impossible and chaotic beautiful and realistic. The fun in photography to me is the never ending challenges that have to be overcome in order to get what I need. No matter how seasoned a photographer is there is still something to learn. (If you feel differently I don't care who you are, toss your camera in the nearest river)The only times I have ever learned useful things was when I limited my gear and had to troubleshoot. It requires some self-confidence definitely, I promise that with time it will make for much stronger images and add much more personality or "personal look" to ones images. 

Get out and shoot something, don't just sit there on Netflix like a stone.