The Chameleon’s outlook on photography and style

Posted on 9th May, 2013

“How would you describe the style of your work?” - a familiar question I think? One that many of us photographers have been asked and one that some of us are more reticent about answering than others! Or perhaps friends and peers have commented on the style of our photography - how they have noticed it change, develop or just the very fact it exists.

It’s a concept I have a bit of a problem with and a question I never like to answer because I genuinely do not believe I have a style of photography. Now, please note I have deliberately emphasised the word ‘a’ because it is that, rather than the word ‘style’, with which I take issue.

Derwent Water - a classic landscape in black and white
Derwent Water, Lake District

Much depends on what we are wanting to achieve and convey with our photography. I think we can take it as read that a photographer who covers weddings, architecture and landscape is unlikely to employ the same style for all of these genres. I think when people talk about style, they mean in terms of how it applies to that single genre of photography - be it landscape, nature, portraits and so on...

For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to look at landscape photography - in the broader sense, so incorporating both the intimate as well as wider landscape. I know not everyone will share my view but I am very conscious of the fact that the subject comes first - I don’t necessarily feel it is my place to impose a given style on my subject. Rather, like a chameleon, I like to react to my surroundings and be sympathetic to them - work out what it is that appeals to me, what is it that makes me want to photograph it? I then look to find a way of conveying that in a single image, or perhaps in a series of images.

An intimate landscape - pattern and form
Dead camelthorn and cracked mud, Deadvlei

Of course there are also other factors that will impact upon the resulting image. The weather, the season, my mood, my own vision and interpretation or understanding of the subject. These are just some of the elements that play their part in the making of a photograph and I do not find they result in a common style. Perhaps a range of styles, perhaps a certain recognisable signature, but I certainly do not set out to photograph in a particular style and could never see myself doing that. Perhaps for a specific project, yes, but not for my photography as a whole.

You might argue that I’m playing with semantics here, and I will confess it was a topic I enjoyed when studying English language at university many years ago! ;) I certainly accept that we all have a different vision - some may find it easier to express that vision than others - but I don’t believe that vision has to result in a single style of photography. If we are to be true to what we photograph and if we are to try and capture the landscape in all its forms and in all kinds of conditions, then surely we cannot end up restricting ourselves to one style of photography?

Colour in the landscape, slightly abstracted
A local copse
I am conscious that in today's busy world, it is better to keep blogs short and sweet and so I have deliberately not gone into great detail here, avoiding specifics but making some general points that I hope others may recognise! I'd like, if nothing else, to spark a little debate and would welcome your views on style and how you feel it does or does not affect your photography?