What does your work say about you? When you tell the story of your work, does it have an original voice…or does it sound the same as a thousand others in your social media feed?
One of the most difficult things about being a photographer is figuring out your “style” or adding qualities that make your work unique. We all struggle with it. We want to be distinct and want our work to be recognizable when others view it. We want it to be unmistakably our own. To often, however, when we look at our work we feel disappointed and feel like our images could’ve been done by a thousand other photographers (probably better than how we did them!) This exact feeling drives a lot of photographers into a place where they just want to give up. It can be a soul-sucking experience to feel like you’ve poured yourself into your work only to come out feeling uninspired and unoriginal. Why is it so hard to create images you can be proud of and that speak to others in that special way?
Unfortunately, I believe that we make this process much harder on ourselves than it needs to be. Before we can really get past this and move on with our lives, we need to understand a truth right up front. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, unique individuals, with our own way of seeing the world, our own interests, our own desires, our own likes and dislikes, with a voice that is unlike anyone else’s. If you’re not able to grasp that, you will never be able to proceed with any sort of creative fulfillment. But, once we understand this, we can begin to understand that there is a voice inside of us and that God has created us to be distinctly unique. It’s from this perspective that we can then begin on working to get that voice out for the world to hear.
As humans do, we complicate the process of letting our voice and creativity ring out. As creatives, there are typically two voices inside of us at any given moment. The voice of the Artist and the voice of the Technician. Each of these voices, or attributes of our character, play important roles…but the two don’t always get along. The Artist is the person inside of us driven to create. It’s the one that takes in sights, sounds, and experiences and then picks them apart to filter through what we think is good or bad, or what we perceive as beautiful or ugly. The Artist is the one with the unique voice that wants to be heard and is the one that dictates our personal style and interest. The problem though, is too many times we’re giving more control over to the Technician. This is the person inside of us that see things for how we think they should be. The Technician doesn’t create anything, but rather is the one that pushes all the blocks around and does the heavy lifting. When we give the Technician control, what we end up with is a set of building blocks that are neatly stacked together in a way that fits best inside the box…but the results are nothing interesting or unique.
You see, when we’re struggling with finding our personal style, it’s because we giving control to the Technician and allowing the Artist to support the work. This will only ever lead to mediocrity. It’s lighting a portrait based on how it should be done. It’s composing an image the way we think it should be composed. It’s using the lenses and accessories that we’ve been told we should be using! These are all decisions made by the Technician…and there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it IS the job of the Technician. BUT, we have things in reverse. The Artist should be the voice in control, being supported by the Technician. In other words, the Technician says “Let’s put our lights here, shoot from this angle, and use this focal length…because I know it is correct.” The Artist then says, “Well, since I’m in control, I want to move that light and shoot from over here…because I’m not loving what we’ve got so far.” It’s allowing the Artist to have the final say and using the Technician to push, pull, move and adjust in order to make the Artist’s vision a reality.
This is why we see a thousand images each day that are great images. Well lit, well composed, solid photographs…but even though they’re each of a different subject in a different location, they all look the same. Because the Technician produces consistency (which is not a bad thing, but will never be original…it will always be the same.) The Artist is the one that speaks from your soul and has the voice that will only ever sound like you! Remember however that both are very important. We can, and should, be working to grow and develop the skills of both the Artist and the Technician. Because, when the efforts of both are combined, that is when you’ll see the magic happen! Only through patience, understanding, and experience to they begin to work together. But, this process doesn’t have to be difficult! If you’re finding yourself struggling to find your style and voice in your work right now…simply look for ways to give your Artist more control. Don’t be afraid to allow your work to show your style…even if it doesn’t make sense with what you think it should be!