Trends in portraiture are always shifting. Remember those old family portraits with everyone posed stiffly in their Sunday best? How times have changed (and thank goodness for that)! I’ve often heard people say that once you find your style as a photographer you should stick with it: “your style as a photographer is what sets you apart!”. But, style isn’t fixed. How do you get to "a style" in the first place?
My images are generally punchy with lots of contrast. I prefer my images to be bright and quite saturated. My favourite images of my clients are when they aren’t even paying attention to me! Not exactly your “traditional family portraits photographer”.
Getting to this point started at University and developed over time, with many influences. Online tutorials, techniques I learnt at my previous studio jobs, and good old trial and error. I believe it’s so important to keep learning new things, so I wanted to share a few tips from my own journey to developing my style, and how I keep challenging myself.
1. Start with small changes to what you already know
This is a simple way to change up what you are already doing. These images were shot during the same session. At the time I was hardly shooting against anything other than white. My friend Lauren kindly offered to model and we experimented against a black backdrop and tried different lighting set-ups.
Quite a difference, just by altering the background and position of my lights!
2. Plan some shoots for yourself.
Enlist the help of friends and family who are willing to play guinea-pig while you try out a new concept or lighting technique. This way, you take the pressure off yourself. If the photos come out brilliantly, you’ve hit on something to explore further. And if they don’t, it’s a great learning experience.
A series from one of my TFCD shoots
When I was first starting out I also used to do TFCD shoots to build up my portfolio. The TFCD or “Time for CD” method worked for me as both the model and I got new images for our portfolios and could experiment with different ideas. Many of these shoots helped me get over my fear of shooting with natural light only.
3. Explore outside of your comfort zone
Taking myself outside of a studio environment was possibly my biggest personal challenge. I was comfortable in the studio. After working in a studio environment for almost five years I knew how to make the light do what I wanted it to do. Shooting portraits with only natural light was akin to learning a new language. The more I practiced though, the better I got at that language. And now, almost all of my family portrait sessions are shot outdoors.
4. Use the many online resources available to you
When I’m browsing images on Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest I often study the images that I love, and try and work out for myself how the photographer achieved that result. It challenges me to think about camera settings, lenses, lighting and post-production.
There are hundreds of online tutorials and YouTube videos out there for both shooting and editing. I’ve tried a few of these tutorials, and some of them have shaped the way I edit my images now. They helped me create my own presets and actions in Photoshop that I use when processing almost every shoot. You can even buy presets for Lightroom (I haven’t yet been sold on the concept of purchased presets though. To me it feels as if I’m imposing someone else’s style on my own).
My Aunty Jen and her granddaughter Grace - a very different colour tone to what I usually produce, but still an intimate moment that fits with my overall style.
By experimenting with different techniques you might find something that really resonates with you – and if there’s something you can do to better your post-production workflow, then I’m all for it!
5. Evaluate your own work – and ask for second opinions
I find it a great confidence booster to go back through my archive and see how much I’ve developed in my shooting and editing skills. It also highlights areas of my photography that I want to develop further.
Regularly go through your own body of work, remove dated images that no longer fit with your style. If there are images you are unsure about, show different people, and ask for their opinions. It’s hard for us photographers to admit, but sometimes we’re just too close to our own work. We might include images in our portfolios because they are meaningful to us, but it’s important to showcase images that are going to attract the clients we want to work with.
One of the images that didn't make the cut for my website relaunch.
There’s another bonus to this. Updating your website keeps it fresh and sites with regularly updated content are ranked higher on search engines.
6. Be inspired by other photographers
I am a self-confessed Instagram addict. I can spend hours going down the “suggested for you” rabbit hole. My feed has some vastly different content – from gritty reportage journalism, to soft, romantic weddings.
When I first started out in photography I would look at other people’s work and feel deflated – how was I EVER going to be able to shoot like THAT? But as time went on and I became more confident in myself, I realized that instead of trying to do the EXACT thing that other people were doing, I was developing my own THAT.
Was I ever going to shoot in a gritty, reportage style? No. But could I appreciate it? Yes! Instead of feeling deflated, I felt inspired. Now I have a Pinterest board solely for images that I love and that I’d love to shoot myself one day.
Do you have any tips you’d like to share on developing your style? Questions you'd like to ask me about my photography? I’d love to hear from you! Comment on the Leigh Benson Photography Facebook page, and you could be featured in an upcoming post!