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From Passion to Profession: Developing your Photography Signature Style

  • Inspiration
  • 22/02/24
  • 13 minute read
Develop-my-own-Signature-Style-v2-2000px-wide

Photography, an art of personal expression, is as much about your unique perspective as it is about technique. In a competitive field, having a signature style or brand isn’t just beneficial; it’s essential for turning your passion into a profitable career. But how do you create a brand that’s distinctively yours and leverage it to attract paid work?

Ready? Then let’s go!

  • Why do I need a Signature Style?
  • Developing Your Unique Voice
  • The Starting Point: Inspiration Analysis
  • Building Your Brand Through Portfolio Work
  • Presentation is Key
  • Conclusion

Why do I need a Signature Style?

Hands down, if you don’t intend to make your passion for photography a career, then you don’t necessarily need a signature style. You can freely explore the vast spectrum of photography genres and styles, dipping your toes into various areas without the need for consistency. However, if your goal is to monetise your photography or achieve a professional level, developing a brand and signature style becomes essential. Your signature style acts as your photography’s unique fingerprint—a consistent theme, subject or visual style that makes your work instantly recognisable. It’s about finding your voice amid the cacophony of images and mastering your chosen style.

A signature style in photography is more than a specific colour schemes; it is an expression of a photographer’s vision, technique, and perspective. This distinct artistic voice distinguishes a photographer in a saturated market and signals their individuality and brand. After all, the main purpose of a brand is predictability: it allows potential clients to predict the type of images they can expect if they commission that particular artist; it’s about being able to predict the experience before the experience!

Developing Your Unique Voice

What does it mean to have a unique voice?

  • Consistency and Distinction: A signature style is consistent but not repetitive. It should be distinctive enough that your work is recognisable without becoming monotonous. Achieving this balance requires constant experimentation and refinement.
  • Emotional Resonance: The most memorable styles are those that emotionally resonate with the audience. Whether it’s through stirring storytelling, evocative imagery or thought-provoking themes, your style should leave a lasting impression.
  • Technical Proficiency and Creativity: Merging technical skill with creative vision is crucial. Understanding the tools and techniques of photography allows you to translate your artistic concepts into compelling images

But why is this so important?

  • Predictability for Clients: Clients seek predictability. When they choose a photographer, they’re often looking for a specific style, feel, subject or genre. For example, you would not commission a product photographer to shoot a wedding but you would choose a specialised wedding photographer instead. Your signature style provides them with a sense of certainty about what to expect from your services.
  • Brand Evolution: A successful brand isn’t static; it evolves. This evolution reflects changes in your personal artistry, shifts in the world and trends in the market. Your ability to adapt while maintaining a core, identifiable style is crucial.
  • Client Association: Imagine a client immediately thinking of your distinct style when they need a photographer. That level of brand association is what you’re aiming for. Without a clear style, you risk getting lost in the crowd.

The Starting Point: Inspiration Analysis

Embarking on the journey to craft a signature style in photography often starts with knowing what inspires you. As a photographer, the catalyst to your unique style can be found in the works that move and resonate with you. Begin by selecting the Top 10 Images that have left a lasting impression on you. These could be works by renowned photographers, emerging artists or even your own past photographs. This exercise is not just about admiration but a deep analysis to discover common threads between the Top 10 Images – these could be thematic, stylistic, or technical.

As you dissect them, look for patterns. Are you consistently drawn to a particular genre, mood, composition or subject matter? For example, you might find that you’re captivated by the way light plays in the works of Viviane Sassen or maybe you’re drawn to the emotional rawness in the portraits of Diane Arbus. Understanding these elements provides clues to what resonates with your artistic sensibility.

However, it’s crucial to extend beyond mere replication. The goal of this inspiration analysis isn’t to mimic but to discover elements that speak to your innate sense of aesthetics and storytelling. Incorporate these insights as a foundation and use them as inspirations for personal portfolio work. Build upon them with your personal experiences, techniques and experimentation.

It’s a dynamic process – as you evolve as a photographer, your inspirations and hence your style, will naturally shift and grow. Embrace this evolution as it’s a vital part of your artistic journey, helping you to remain authentic and relevant in your work.

Top Tip: Ask a visually experienced person like a fellow photographer to analyse your Top 10 Images for you, you’ll be surprised how much easier they can spot the patterns in your inspirational images! At LIoP, our director Holger Pooten analyses the images with our Professional Photography Course students as part of the Mentoring Sessions.

Building Your Brand Through Portfolio Work

Crafting a signature style starts with your portfolio, the place where your brand comes to life. This style isn’t just about the visual aspects—it’s a personal language that expresses your vision and creativity. It forms your brand’s core, distinguishing you in the competitive landscape of professional photography. Your portfolio, a curated collection of your best work, serves as the primary showcase of this unique style. It’s your first point of contact with potential clients, embodying your brand’s essence.

In the realm of photography, portfolio work is distinct from commissioned projects. It’s initiated, developed and produced solely by you, the photographer, who is often bearing all related expenses. This autonomy allows for pure creative expression, unbounded by client briefs or external constraints, showcasing your vision in its most unadulterated form. Contrastingly, commissioned work typically represents a compromise between the client’s requirements and your artistic input, tethered to specific briefs and objectives.

The pieces within your portfolio should be striking and memorable, not just showcasing your skills, but also your imagination and uniqueness. They should show your potential, offering a glimpse into what you’re capable of creating when unconstrained by briefs.

However, while your portfolio should captivate, it also needs to communicate accessibility. It should strike a balance, highlighting your unique style and vision while remaining pertinent to your target market. Be special but not too special, help them to imagine how they could utilise your skills for their own merit. The goal is to not only dazzle potential clients but to illustrate how your distinct style can enhance their projects.

Presentation is Key

The manner in which you present your work is just as crucial as the quality of the work itself. Your website, printed portfolio, and social media profiles should serve not only to display your best pieces but also to mirror the essence of your brand. It’s essential to curate your showcase carefully, avoiding a mishmash of unrelated images and genres that fails to convey a unified brand identity. No matter the individual beauty of each piece or your personal attachment to them, a disjointed presentation can leave potential clients uncertain of what they can expect from commissioning you. Achieving cohesion and consistency across all platforms is vital; it strengthens your brand identity and assures clients of the distinct, predictable quality and style they will receive.

Reaching and engaging with potential clients requires strategy:

  • Business Clients: For agencies, magazines, and direct clients, proactive outreach is key. Schedule portfolio reviews biannually, ensuring that at least half of the work is new, showcasing your evolving style while sticking to your core brand.
  • End-Users: For personal photography services like weddings or family portraits, your focus should be on visibility. Optimising your website for search engines, engaging on social media, and getting listed on relevant directories are ways to ensure clients find you.

Conclusion: From Passion to Profession

Your journey from a passionate photographer to a professional one isn’t just about mastering the camera and learn to take better pictures; it’s about mastering your self-presentation. Developing a signature style isn’t an overnight task. It requires introspection, experimentation and an understanding of the market. But once you’ve carved out your niche, not only will your artistic satisfaction soar but you’ll also find that clients will begin to seek out the unique perspective only you can provide.

Remember, in the world of photography, your style is your signature – make it distinct, make it memorable!

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