What Happens If I Like More Than One Subject?
These were the words I just hated to hear when I studied photography at Uni - "you must find your style", "you need to start to pick your chosen field in Year 2 to continue with", "You need to find a subject you’re most passionate about so you can focus on just that". I completely get this to a certain extent. Once you've found a subject you‘re interested in you can have time to actually expand that subject and creatively shoot and broaden your knowledge within that - however why should you limit your potential down to just one subject when there could be so many you're passionate about and have a flare for, and haven't yet discovered?
Photography is a field to be experimented with, you can try anything out at any time - if you want to test out documentary but you usually shoot portraits? Go for it. Or you have photographed weddings for the past 5 years but you're starting to find a love for those little newborn feet? There's no right time to successfully build an amazing portfolio of your chosen subject choice, or multiple subject choices.
As time goes on you will naturally find that you probably have a preference for one particular subject, and although it's great having an amazing portfolio in one chosen field such as landscape, its also just as amazing to have a huge portfolio for a diverse range of subjects.
By my 5th year into my own photography journey, I had successfully built up a large range of portfolio work and was quickly able to filter out some subjects. I knew fashion wasn't quite for me, I didn't like the time spent getting models ready, so much lighting to get into, posing models - I did it for a few months and quickly moved onto landscape. Landscape was also quickly filtered out - I hated the cold and knew being outdoors for too long just looking for inspiration was never going to become a passion.
Slowly I started putting the feels out for testing documentary photography, starting with a module on mental health - after just a few weeks of editing I was constantly coming up with new ideas and I just knew this was something I had a passion for. However, I didn't quite want this solely to be ‘my’ genre. When I wasn't conducting any projects within my documentary ideas, I decided to go ahead and try out baby photography, cake smashes, and so forth. My love for young children, being able to be silly and get a giggle (nobody else laughs at my jokes so my humour was being wasted on adults), I also had a great passion for this and really enjoyed the personalities of the little ones I was capturing on my screen.
The only advice I can offer when pursuing more than one genre is to differentiate your work online. Although you can pop them all on the same website (under different categories), look at setting up different instagrams for each style. Your target audience for each of your subjects will be completely different from one another too. You also don’t want to put off potential clients by posting Documentary images of Social Media Effects when they originally followed you for Portrait Photography.
Finding Your Style
So you might be at the stage where you‘ve chosen a subject you’re most interested in, or perhaps a couple of ones that you’re super happy to continue shooting. You have a brainstorm of ideas, your portfolio is looking really healthy but you’re struggling with your actual styling. Try not to copy other artists - although we all find our inspiration from somewhere, copying someone’s work to a tee isn’t going to help you find your own style. Let alone the fact that usually you will annoy yourself because you can’t quite it make it look exactly the same and you’ll find faults in your own editing process.
Instead of doing this, take the style of someone’s work you like, create a nice inspiration sheet, have the idea in mind and roll with it. Instead of copying the whole set of images, find out what it is about that particular style of photography you actually like; is it the natural moods within the image? Is it the warm tonal colouring? It is a certain lens flare? Once you’ve pinpointed what you like, work with this and create your own set of images based on these ideas.
Once you have conducted a shoot, go through all your favourite images. Which ones are your favourite? Do they seem to be close ups? Have you used a certain lens? Do you prefer the natural ones or more posed? Think about the lighting and tones of which ones are your favourite - whether it be your editing process or before touching.
Shoot on a regular basis
This is something I was incredibly lucky to experiment with during my time at college and University, I was shooting pretty much on a daily basis. It’s so much harder to motivate yourself if you‘re working full time, I’ve barely photographed my own projects since working as a full time photographer (and of course the added mix of COVID) however, whenever you have the opportunity, photograph whatever you can, and whatever inspires you.
A great challenge was created for photographers called ‘Photography 365’, whereas you need to photograph one image for your grid every single day of the year (Much easier if you don’t need models for your method of photography) however, you’ll really start to see what you have a love for and you can gain consistency with your editing techniques and see what they all have in common.
Stop Comparing Yourself To Others On Your Own Photographic Journey
Photography is a really competitive industry, but the benefit you have is that you have the potential to do so much more than just blend in. Your style and what you choose to do is what will make you stand out from the crowd.
You can admire others people’s photography/art, but there’s nothing to stop you from taking a new path that hasn’t been taken yet. This was a big setback for me at some times over the years, I often felt myself fall down a fashion footpath when I was at my first year of University - mainly because I felt as though I needed to get my money’s worth by using the studio and lights!
After I discovered documentary and found an enjoyment, there was was no turning back for me.
Brainstorming & Becoming Inspired
This got me through the last 7 years in the photography world, including my current full time job. You can never have enough brainstorms! Find out what inspires you - is there anything you feel particularly emotional about that you can portray through fashion? Have you recently gone through a break up and want to show this with creative portraits?. You’ll find as you write down your ideas, you’ll have so many that all relate to one another, before you know it you’ll feel motivated shooting what you were only just planning a few hours beforehand.
Similar to finding your own photographic style and genre, you will naturally fall into the style of editing you like - and this is something that will once again change over time. The only big difference is with editing, you can constantly go back over images and re-edit to fit into your new tonal choice of colours (make sure you shoot in raw!).
Although its easy to fall down the ‘buying ready made presets’, I’ve made this mistake way too many times. You might love the look of the preset before purchasing, and they fit the inspiration of a shoot you were aiming for. But this still isn’t what you’ve made - if you are going to use one, make sure you try and tweak it a little bit, add your own contrast, or change tonal colours until you‘re happy with how the image is looking. Eventually you’ll be able to completely make your own filters/presets and your work will have a strong sense of ‘you’ to it - rather than being inspired from other photographers.
All of these elements can help to determine your own photography style, but there’s nothing quite like just getting out and practising. In all honesty I’m still finding my own style now, I know what I enjoy, I know the edits I like, but I’m still a sucker for looking at other people’s work, and comparing! However, I know what angles I love, I know I love images that show so much emotion (even at weddings), I love vivid colours, and soft lighting - but I’m still evolving and every shoot I do, I love something different about - and there’s nothing wrong in that either!
The main part is to also find a true enjoyment for what you photograph, down the line you’ll probably find out that your style finds you, and you don’t go looking for it. You can never be perfect at photography/creative subjects, even if you’ve been practising 50 years; you’ll always find that your style and photographic practice evolves and develops, as you as a person do too. You’ll find new ways to edit, new tones you fall in love with, and new ways of shooting with particular light.