Black and White Explorations 2

A few thoughts on finding ones individual photographic style.

Recently I was talking with some young photographer friends of mine as we were exploring a local market. The subject of style came up and they wanted to know what apps and presets I used. When I asked why that was important they said that they like my style and wanted to know how I get it.

It was almost funny to watch their expressions fall when I told them that I don’t use any presets and other than photoshop for basic edits I don’t really do much to my images.

What followed was a bit of an exploration of what photographic style is and how to find your own.

In these times, social media is the absolute enemy of personal style. By the very nature of ‘Likes’, ‘Hearts’, ‘Thumbs’, etc it tells us that what we like, what we find unique or beautiful about our own work is less important than what others like. Once an image goes viral that’s it. Within minutes there are thousands of attempts to replicate that look or idea to try to attain the same popularity. By the very design of social media the ramifications grow exponentially. The more likes and exposure the more people try to copy that style in hopes of attaining the same level of exposure and “fame”.

This leads many, not only photographers, to judge their skill, value, and even self worth by what others are doing. The more influencers do this or that , the more they are admired and copied.

Unfortunately this race to the bottom extends more and more to clients as well. Seduced by the seemingly “free” nature of social media they too are placing more value in likes rather than in expressing their own voice. This self-feeding social media dragon eats anything that does not play by its rules. So clients are very weary to go their own way. They get sucked into the game, often times by the “marketers” they hire to help them express their own voice.

Slowly but seemingly unstoppably the race to the top of the social media pile is nothing more than a race to the bottom, a creative grave. A place where diversity, exploration, actual creativity, and individuality die.

We talked about how the last place to really find ones own photographic style was in the Ouroboros word of social media.

When they asked me what I though the best way to try and find one’s own style in photography I shared an exercise I have used in teaching many times to great effect.

Very simply put it involves two steps.

One note before you go on…. equipment
does not matter! Use what you have and don’t worry about the technicalities.

Step one is disconnecting from social media -at the very least the part that has anything to do with photography and popularity!

Step two is start crafting images solely for your own self.

It is just that simple.

The technique is simple but the exercise can be daunting.

That second step is where the hard work really starts because it involves lots of introspection, failure, frustration and self doubt. But it will yield real tangible results. Really it will.

This technique, by no means the only one, for finding your own photographic voice, style, look, or whatever you want to call it is not so hard.

Go and make images of whatever intrigues you. The more the better.

If you like food or smiles or flowers or sunsets or cats or cars…. make images of them.

What are you curious about? What interests you? Are you fascinated by old buildings? Clothes? Go and make images of them!

Make many images about those things and then print them. The images don’t have to be printed on high quality paper or large. Actually just printing them on 4x5 size cards is very effective. Then put them on your wall. Just tack them up and start to look at those images. You cannot do this on a computer though. You need to see them side by side.

As you are making images of subjects that truly intrigue you play with composition, perspective, framing, colour, play with times of day or light, play with focus and motion. Give yourself permission to explore, to be silly and play. Try not to make the same images the same way over and over. Explore.

As you put more up on your wall look at them all and take down the ones that don’t connect with you and put more up.

Keep doing this, adding new images and culling the less interesting ones. As you go out and explore, make images, print them, and put then on your wall. You will start to see patterns and ideas that intrigue you. By looking at what is on your wall you may get ideas for subjects or compositions or concepts. Make note of those ideas that pop into your mind and go out and make images of them.

Keep doing this and before you know it you will start to see your own unique style develop right before your eyes.

I promise!

The longer you do this the more you will learn about your eye, your style, and maybe even about your self.

Share this wall with your friends or other photographers you know (NOT on Social Media!) and talk about what you see, what they see, and what grabs you and why.

What follows are a few images I have crafted to explore line and form in black and white.


absract fabirc in black and white
“Your dreams are what define your individuality. They have the power to give you wings and make you fly high.”
— P. V. Sindhu


rope on a rusty hull in black and white
“The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture, and of the technique of life.”
— Georg Simmel


sticks in calm water in black and white
“As soon as something becomes 'trendy,' I go off it. I hate the idea of being a sheep and just following a look because I've been told it's fashionable.”
— Eliza Doolittle


welds on a steel plate in black and white
“I am not at all stylish. For me, style is a state of mind and individuality.”
— Tiger Shroff


lines in fabric in black and white
“An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.”
— Edwin Land


lines from a circle in black and white
“Your ego can become an obstacle to your work. If you start believing in your greatness, it is the death of your creativity.”
— Marina Abramovic


a grass seed in black and white
“Everyone's like sheep on social media; like, one person starts making noise, and everyone's like, 'Hey, yeah!' and then you got a whole bunch of people making noise at you.”
— Earl Sweatshirt


weoden crates in black and white
“I know now that most people are so closely concerned with themselves that they are not aware of their own individuality, I can see myself, and it has helped me to say what I want to say in paint.”
— Georgia O'Keeffe


lines in fabric in black and white
“Certain defects are necessary for the existence of individuality.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

steight and curvy lines in black and white
“The artist makes things concrete and gives them individuality.”
— Paul Cezanne


wrinkles in fabrick in black and white
“One day you will look back and recall all the time you spent on social media and wonder why you didn't invest that time someplace else.”
― Germany Kent


railroad ties in black and white
“Social media has colonized what was once a sacred space occupied by emptiness: the space reserved for thought and creativity.”
— Mahershala Ali


machinery in black and white
“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.”
— Edward de Bono


coral in silhouette in black and white
“While the number of friends may feed your ego, it will never satisfy your heart.”
― Frank Sonnenberg


I hope you enjoyed this post and if you did please comment, like, and share.


Julian Ray

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