How to develop a unique style in your photography

First published:
May 20, 2021
February 12, 2024

How to develop a unique style in your photography

First published:
May 20, 2021
February 12, 2024

Cover image by Juliana Nan

Finding your own unique photographic voice is by no means an easy task - but it can be incredibly rewarding in a number of ways

Many photographers devote a lot of time and energy into developing a unique style. Giving your work a cohesive look, that is easily identifiable, will almost certainly help you to stand out in an ever-crowded marketplace.

To get to the point where you have that unique and consistent style isn’t easy, but it is fairly straightforward with careful planning, time and effort. You’ll want to think about your photographic aims, the type of photography you want to do, the type of client you want to attract, what fires you up when looking at other people’s work and how you can work to achieve that consistency.

Here are some tips to get you started:

1 Research research research 

The best thing you can do to develop your own style is to immerse yourself in as much work as possible.

Spend time looking at social media feeds, such as Instagram, browsing the profiles of other photographers on platforms such as Picfair, pick up magazines and books (particularly those relating to your preferred genre or niche), visit exhibitions and do everything you can to look at as many images as possible. It doesn’t necessarily have to always be photography either - you can also draw inspiration from paintings, sculptures, moving images and plenty more besides.

Whatever you choose to look at, make notes about what draws you in - and similarly what doesn’t. Is it a certain aesthetic, such as minimalism, is it certain colour palettes or tones, is it a certain niche that is being approached in a different and/or unusual way, or is it something else entirely. Note it all down, as well as noting work that you definitely don’t like or identify with (and why).

You will be aiming not to directly copy those that you admire, but to emulate the overall style and outlook of those whose work you closely identify with. As a bonus, by connecting with such photographers and artists, particularly online and through social channels, you’ll also be connecting to their audiences - which one day could be your customer too.

Benjamin J Suter Picfair Store screenshot
Spend some time looking at the work of other artists and photographers with instantly recognisable and consistent style across their portfolios

When looking at photographer Benjamin Suter's work (as seen above in their Picfair Store), we can see an instantly recognisable style throughout of orange and teal tones and a strong contrast of light and shadow transition. All images in Benjamin's store are also portrait orientation–which also helps make the work stand out more by adding a tidy visual appeal.

A man makes his morning commute in the golden light of morning, Chicago
An attention to strong light and shadow, as well as a uniform colour palette of soft, warm tones gives Benjamin's images a unique look

2 Evaluate your own existing style

There stands a good chance that you will have already been developing a style without being consciously aware of it. Identifying what that is and refining it can turn a good photographer into a great one.

Now that you’ve spent some time really concentrating on what other people are doing, it’s time to take a closer look at your own work and see how your portfolio stacks up against what you are hoping to achieve.

"Even if it’s a relatively small amount at this stage, having a curated set of images that show off your style is a great starting point to start sharing online"

Pick out the images that you think align with the style you’re going for, and take a look at why they work. Just as importantly, pick out the ones that don’t match the style you want, and figure out what it is about them that you don’t like. Think about how you might reshoot the same image with a different style aesthetic if you had the chance.

Even if it’s a relatively small amount at this stage, having a curated set of images that show off your style is a great starting point to start sharing online, on your own website, Picfair Store and on online marketplaces, as they’ll show clients the kind of work you do. You’ll attract clients who will be keen for you to create even more work in the same style and slowly your portfolio will start to grow in the right direction.

White daisy macro with a pastel background
Look closely at images from your own portfolio. Pull out any consistent themes and collections and you can refine any style you’ve already started to develop. Image by Juliana Nan
Juliana Nan Picfair Store screenshot
Juliana's store really stands out for its consistent theme of intricate macro work throughout–this is very noticeable to potential clients looking for this type of imagery

3 Create a style guide 

Having looked closely at the work of others, and spent some time evaluating your own, you’ll be in a great position to note down some “rules” or “guidelines” that you can endeavour to stick to as you create new work.

Writing some rules down is useful for a number of reasons. First of all, it will help firmly cement in your mind what you want to achieve. It’ll also be useful to refer to whenever you’re feeling in a creative rut and are perhaps losing focus. Lastly, but certainly not lastly, having your own style guide will be super helpful when dealing with clients. Perhaps you might even consider publishing your guidelines somewhere on your own website, so clients know exactly what to expect from you.

A taxi driver picking up in London while the London Eye shines bright in the background
Andy Denial Picfair Store screenshot
Creating your own style guide that you can refer back to when shooting - or after - can be incredibly helpful. In photographer Andy Denial's case - his style guide might be based on muted tones and a cool colour palette - and this comes across strong in his Picfair Store

4 Be your own biggest critic (but don’t be too harsh on yourself) 

Those with the strongest and most distinctive style aesthetic are selective not only with the work that they carry out, but the work that they post online.

If you need to pay the bills by shooting something that detracts from your usual style guide, that is of course absolutely fine, but it doesn’t mean you have to share it widely if it doesn’t match your overall brand or feeling.

On a similar note, being brutally honest with yourself regarding work that doesn’t quite stand up to your own style - whether new, or from your archive, will mean that everything that you do post you can be confident about.

"Embrace your “mistakes” and see it as an opportunity to learn how you’d approach something differently next time."

Comparing the work that you shoot - preferably as you’re shooting it - against your own guidelines, even if it’s just in your head, will start to become second nature the more you do it.

That said, there’s no need to be too harsh on yourself. Embrace your “mistakes” and see it as an opportunity to learn how you’d approach something differently next time. If it’s possible to reshoot something, especially something that isn’t quite right from your existing portfolio, do it with your new guidelines in mind.

A powerful supercell thunderstorm at sunset spins across the sand hills near North Platte, Nebraska
John Sirlin Picfair Store Screenshot
Be selective with what you share and what you include in your portfolio to create a strong brand identity. John Sirlin's Picfair Store is a beautiful example - - notice how the URL also fits the store's theme?

5 Keep practicing and keep evolving 

As with pretty much everything in life, the best way to get good at something is to keep practicing. That also applies to your photography and the style you’re aiming to achieve. The more time you spend creating work that matches your personal style, the easier and more naturally it will come to you, and you won’t have to spend so much time thinking about it.

"The more work you put out there that matches your style, the more you’ll become known for it."

The more work you put out there that matches your style, the more you’ll become known for it. Soon you’ll be regularly attracting the right type of clients for you and will find that you need to do less work that doesn’t quite fit in with your vision.

With all that said, don’t be too rigid with your style if you find it’s not working for you, or that new or different trends have emerged.

Good photographers with a unique style will always bear in mind the latest tastes, opinions and styles, and evolve and adapt accordingly.

Solitary figure in silhouette at the Tate Modern
Paul Crudge Picfair Store screenshot
The more you practice working towards your chosen photographic style, the more natural it will become. Photographer Paul Crudge has developed a theme of strong light, silhouette, saturated colours and bold shape in his street photography work
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