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Who and what to shoot? – Developing A Style and Selecting Themes

This is where the fun really starts! This is where you can start to develop your own natural style and signature.

Initially I’d recommend you start with some fairly general themes and be willing to experiment. For me personally, I picked the general theme of “taking 5 minutes out in the city”. Within that overall theme I have begun focussing on multiple subsets.

  • People relaxing sunbathing
  • People taking a cigarette break leaning against the wall
  • Couples sat chatting in the sun
  • One-liners (images that have a visual pun or joke within them)

I have still kept shooting street scenes, looking for interesting architecture and geometry. My aim is to have have a few projects in mind to keep my day varied, to keep me focussed, but without trying to take on too much at once.

In a short time you’ll quickly narrow it down to a few key themes/subjects. The best way to achieve this is to be critical over each day’s shots. Wherever possible try and seek out honest and critical feedback. I recommend getting this from experienced photographers as well as from amateurs and friends/family. With critical feedback you can begin to build a picture of what works for your style and what doesn’t. Ask them honestly what they like and don’t like and most importantly of all “why?”

Whatever you do though, trust your own gut. You can only shoot what you see and enjoy, otherwise you’ll quickly lose interest and won’t have a personal stake in the images you are taking.

I also advise now to be the perfect time to start looking into the work of other photographers. Browse websites and photography books and find photographers whose style appeals to you. Select some of your favourite photographs and try the following exercise. Look at the image and close your eyes for a few seconds. Then open them and make a mental note of where your eyes are drawn. How do they flow through the image? What about the composition appeals to you? What technically impresses you? What jumps out at you subject-wise? Every artist has his influences, so embrace the master photographers and learn from them. They can inspire you and help you to find a style of your own.

The more you shoot, and the more you share, the better your understanding will grow as to what you like to shoot and what compositionally works best. This can’t be forced, it’s part of an ongoing process, but with time and perseverance you’ll quickly begin to feel your own signature style developing and begin to feel you are finally doing more than taking nice photographs. Taking a series really gives you a feeling of accomplishment and following the set from start to finish is an interesting record, not only of your own growth in experience and technical skills but also it provides a potentially interesting contemporary archive of your local urban area and it’s people.

This may sound a little pretentious, but ultimately you are practising a technical art form. So embrace that and start feeling like a creative rather than someone operating a mechanical device. Connect emotionally with the subjects you are shooting and you’ll find yourself with a new found passion and drive for photography.