One of the most common pieces of photographic wisdom is a piece of wisdom I’ve given out many times myself: To develop your personal photographic style, to really make it your own. It should be something individualistic that, while it may be inspired by photographers you admire, ultimately, is something that sets you apart from others.
I still think this is valid advice. Our styles are what define us. We can look at Ansel Adams images and recognize them immediately for the level of shading within the image—from the darkest black to the whitest white and every shade of gray in between. Another photographer might be inspired by film photography, and therefore, they may seek to replicate the look of Kodachrome, making images warm, rich, and saturated.
Our styles are what define us, but do we need to use the same style for every image that we produce? Must that style spread across our entire body of work? Or is it instead beneficial to vary that style sometimes? The more I think about this, the more I see both a conflict and perhaps an opportunity. If a style is what defines us, then in a way, it makes sense to stick with one style so that our images are easily recognizable. But it also makes sense to experiment with more than one style so that we become more well rounded as photographers.
I think there is something to be said for making photographs individualistic by the image or by the project rather than by the body of work. Wouldn’t it be better to make each piece as unique as possible and to use a style that supports the theme of the image or the project rather than using your usual style, which may be in conflict with whatever themes are within your photograph? Warm and rich styling, if that is your usual style, may not be in keeping with a dark, moody, and cold photograph.
As with most things, I think there is a balance to strike here. Most of us will create a majority of photographs in our default style because that is the style that we’ve honed and it’s the look that we enjoy. Still, deviating from that default can be valuable in a variety of ways.
First off, it helps us to create images with deeper meaning because we’re breaking away from our usual tactics to focus on a style that suits the content—which can only enhance the content and the things that it says to people who look at it. With that, experimentation is always valuable. This is how we learn, grow and become more creative. Experimenting with making individual images that break away from our usual styles may also teach us things that we can add to our usual techniques. It’s always good to try new things. As they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and when it comes to creative experimentation for the sake of individuality, there is quite a lot to gain. New experiences, new learning, and perhaps interesting new images that we can share with the world.