I remember when I started in photography, I started putting my website together. In the menu of the site was a Portfolio tab. If you hovered over the Portfolio tab you would see a long dropdown menu that displayed probably around eight or nine categories of my photography. Man, I was all over the place. Portrait, Landscape, Street Photography, Kids, Fashion, Editorial…. etc, etc, etc. I was exploring every option, shooting everything I could.
Over the years I’ve (thankfully) narrowed the portfolio list down to (mostly intimate) Portraiture and Street/Cultural Photography. I do other work commercially, but these are the categories for my personal, artistic work. Not only have I narrowed down the number of categories, but I’ve also learned which elements really define the kinds of photos I want to be making.
Having a Different Vision
I believe many artists have a main sense of artistic vision that they see when approaching every project. Similarities and a common thread that runs through almost all the work they do. Some photographers will always look to create images that really jump out at you; really project the message. Bold colors; strong action; very high dynamic content in the image.
Others might have a more introspective style where rather than projecting the message of the photo out, their photography might be styled in a way that draws the viewer in to the photo. Rather than having a very clear message projected, this other style might ask a lot of questions of the viewer, maybe even setup in a way in which the viewer can imagine themselves in the scene someway.
Those are just two different styles of approach to making an image, but there are countless other ways a photographer or any artist might have in expressing their vision.
What Are The Constants I Want to See in My Photos?
I take a lot of photos. Man, a lot! Not all of them are what I would consider to represent my artistic vision. I take a lot of shots just playing around with gear sometimes, or just see something that catches my attention and want to capture in a photo. Many are just for fun.
But when I am looking to create a photo that does represent my artistic vision, I do have certain and definite aspects that I get the strongest feelings from.
Black & White – Anyone who knows my work knows they will rarely see a color image from me. When I’m creating, I see more in black and white; a sense of structure and contrast. For me, color just distracts from that way of seeing.
Mood – This is one of the main things I want to feel from my images. A sense of moodiness, subtle drama. Not over-the-top kind of stuff, but a soft sense of feeling that can help the viewer really connect with the image. It might be an intimate portrait, or the scene of a dark alley or street. But I want the viewer to really feel a strong sense of what that scene is and be drawn into it.
Vulnerability – My favorite shots of people express a sense of vulnerability. Not in a weak sense, but more in a human sense. I think no matter how good things are going for us; how attractive we may be; how on top of our game we are, we all have a sense of vulnerability that can keep us humble, and I think it is really a strong way we are all connected as people. It’s a common thread for all of us. If I can see that and feel that from a photo I’m much more drawn to it.
Sensuality (not sexuality) – One of the strongest forces in nature and something we can all relate to. Again, I don’t like anything that too over-the-top sensual. Not blatant sexuality, but something quieter; intimate; more personal and ultimately much stronger. This obviously would only apply to certain images where this would fit.
Emotional Impact – Ultimately, no matter what I’m shooting I hope to create an image that’s going to have emotional impact on the viewer. I want them to be able to relate to what’s in the image even if it’s just a subtle feeling. This doesn’t necessarily have to be anything heavy, it might even be humor, or more of a light hearted subject. But I want the emotional impact to be there.
Story – This is an ultimate goal for photographers. If we can create a single image that creates a story, man, that’s golden. It doesn’t have to be a definite story that everyone would get and understand right away, but hopefully a subtle story, and it would be a unique version for each viewer.
Don’t Show Everything – I don’t like to see everything. I don’t want to see all the details in the shadows. I want part of the puzzle to be left to the viewer. I don’t want everything in focus. I don’t even really care about sharpness (well, to a certain degree). I want my photographs to show just enough to get the viewer interested and get the story started, but I want it to be left to the viewer to fill in the rest of the story. I want the image to engage the viewer’s imagination. I LOVE SHADOWS! I probably love them a bit too much, but that’s my thing. I want things to fade away in the shadows. I love dark scenes where only a small part of the story is revealed.
Now this list is mine and I’m not preaching any of this as something that all photographer should embrace. Everyone should have their own list. These are the main things that occur to me when creating photographs that I feel represent my artistic vision. Every photo doesn’t need to contain all of those characteristics, but that’s just a basic set of elements that occur to me in most of my photos.
What Are Your Constants?
Do you know what elements are present in your style? For me it’s very important to be aware of what you want your photos to show; express. It can really help you move forward creating in your own style, not just copying others or shooting the way people tell you that you should be shooting. Knowing what your style is will help you to create art that will help you stand out from other photographers.
Not saying anyone is better or worse. This is art, it’s subjective. But knowing your style will help you stay focused and create art that’s unique, and can help your photos stand out in a time when, man, we are constantly bombarded with unending streams of photos every day.