For years, I searched for my photography style, tried to to define it and wanted it but had no clue what it was. I didn’t find my style and develop it until I deepened my understanding of light. Then I discovered the style of light that was mine. It was magic and gave me an uplifting feeling about my photography. Light is a part of finding your own style and I’d argue its the beginning. Devote yourself to studying light, and you’ll learn your style.
If you know photography, you know light makes all the difference. You know it even if you casually take photos with your phone. You probably also know studying light is important. For a long time I knew light and the many forms, but I didn’t really know and understand light.
Light is like that colleague you might call a friend, the one you hang out with by the copier. You chat, you catch up on your weekend, you have coffee together, you even get lunch with her. You may think you know her because you’re around her a lot. You think you know what she’ll say or do which is good in any relationship. It means you’re paying attention. But do you really know her? Do you know her little quirks, habits, how she feels about everything, and what your favorite parts are about her? Go a little deeper, are there moments you try to be around her because you love those moments? You may pay attention to her, but have you deepened that relationship?
Light is like your colleague. You could have a relationship beyond your coworking friendship status, but have you tried? You may pay attention to light and see it, but do you know everything about it? Do you know what your favorite parts of light are and why? Do you know how to manipulate light to get what you want from it? That difference is what will take your photo from good to phenomenal each time you play with light.
If you’re starting out, learning the basics of photography, it’s the perfect time to learn about light and deepen your understanding of it. You’ll develop your style faster. If you’re advanced, reacquaint yourself with light. It never hurts to do a relationship check. Do you still love the same things about light that you once did? Or have things changed? Have you found new ideas and characteristics of light that make your heart beat and legs run for your camera?
Photography is the art of capturing light, among other things. Understanding and knowing the light you love, elevates your photos and defines your style. Yes, you begin to define your style with light. If you crave finding your style, start with these things you need to understand about light.
Know the quality of light. Know the difference between hard light and soft light and what each does to your subjects. Do you love how your photos appear in a midday sun shoot or more during the soft light of golden hour? Know what open shade does to your subject. Do you find that hard light and dappled light are more interesting to you? Know low light and shadows and what feeling they give to your photos. None of these are good or bad, but understanding the quality helps you avoid or look for the light your vision needs. Creatively explore all qualities. Don’t avoid dappled light because all the pros say to. Choose to study it, see if it works for you. Have fun and play with the different qualities. I discovered I actually like dappled light and really enjoy shooting it in creative ways. There are plenty of fantastic photos in dappled light. But you may find you don’t like it as much and instead enjoy soft light that envelopes your subject.
Know the types of light. This is the first step towards manipulating and using light to get the effect you want in a photo. Know directional light and it’s effect. Know paramount light, front light, side light, and backlight. Each of these will have a different effect on your subject and you need to use different settings in camera to handle each of these. With that understanding you’ll be more capable to create the photo you envision. With vision you can develop your style. Would you rather get the soft, creamy skin that front lighting gives? Or do you like the drama of sidelight? Does backlighting always make you fall in love with a photo?
Different types of light put out different colors. To avoid a frustrating processing experience, know the colors of light and dial in the correct white balance. This is especially true if you don’t shoot raw. Light at sunset and sunrise have a different color than midday. To preserve those you need to know white balance. Natural light has a different color than florescent which is different than incandescent. Shadows and highlights have different colors as well. Recognize color casts and know how to avoid them. Knowing the color of light will help you create a better image in camera and allow you to manipulate easier in processing. It’ll also tell you when the best time of day to shoot is for you. If you love warmer photos, you know that the golden hour is the perfect time. But if you like a cooler photo, then the blue hour or midday shooting is even better.
Knowing the effect light has on your subject helps you create better photos as well. Know things like soft light softens the skin yet hard light often looks good on architecture. Know that bottom up light gives a person a ghoul look, much like a flashlight held up to their chin. Do you love big catchlights in someone’s eyes? Learn how to capture those. Know whether you prefer a single light source that creates shadows or multiple light sources to create a bright photo. It’s amazing what light can do, and when you know what it can do, you can manipulate it to do what you want.
Learn what light does to a subject because once you know what it does, you can learn to manipulate it. If you’ve never manipulated light, give it a try – it works wonders! If I want a single light source while shooting in my little studio, I put up black poster board on two windows, allowing light to only enter through one window. If I want a bright white photo I use my lights and reflectors from multiple directions. If I want a darkened background for portraits and good catchlights, I place my subject on the edge of a garage or overhang. Learn to use a reflector, scrim and light absorber, which all allow you to manipulate the light. Lighting with flash, strobes or continuous lighting opens a whole new world of light manipulation too. If you don’t want to do that much work, just use the natural light and know where to find it.
Finally, I’m going to leave you with the most important thing you can do for your photography. Know your style. Know the light that makes your photos yours. I recently found pockets of light and light from a single light source are my light styles. It is me. I love other types of light as well, but this defines my style. There are other photographers that love backlighting and most of their work reflects that. I can pick out their photos and attribute it to them because that is their style of light. There’s also lots of photographers that use multiple sources of light to create a bright and airy look. Find the style of light that speaks to you. Look at other photographer’s work that you’re drawn to and look at the light in the photo. Read the light to see where it’s coming from, the quality, the color and how many sources. Study the light in other’s photos and discover what draws you in about them.
The key to finding your photographic style is to start with light. I’m including a free downloadable workbook that will help you uncover your style of light. Click the button below to get the download!
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Right now, I’m writing a mentor course for a small group on finding your photographic style. This is not just a course but also includes me mentoring you with live calls to find your style. I’m finishing up my research and can’t wait to start making the workbooks!
I’m only going to offer this finding your style course to my email list. So if you think you may be interested in jumping into a course with feedback to find your photographic style then get signed up! And bonus! You get instant access to the already filled resource library for free!