Isn’t our jobs as photographers to tell a story or relay a message? Many portrait photographers overlook this by following trends or cliché’s. They follow popular photogs like Wish or Oh So Posh or the infamous Clickin’ Moms and do everything they do or try to make their photos look like theirs. Unfortunately when this occurs, you as a photographer lose your visual voice. No one will look at your photos and say, “Oh my, Such and such did this photo!” unless your image is identified with a watermark. No, they will look at your image and think, “This photo is pretty, it looks just like the photos the lady down the street had done last month.”
We will all get the client that asks for the cliché pose or photos. That is the time to do them but think outside the box and push the creative limits. One clue that you are making a cliché is whether there is a well-known recipe you can follow. A classic example would be conventional flower photography. The problem with clichés is that they get boring after a while because there’s no surprise. When photos look the same, there’s no visual signature that is linked to a photographer’s subjective identity. In a way, clichéd photographs are really about the technical acumen of the photographer, but they don’t allow for individualized meaning or expression. Look at enough of these and soon you will think, “You’ve proven you can make a photograph, now say something!”
One can argue that it’s good to find other photographers you like and walk in their shoes for some time. Many accomplished photographers have done this. Keith Carter once said he was Paul Strand for five years before he became Keith Carter. Walker Evans copied Eugène Atget in the most brazen ways, and Lee Friedlander, 30 years later, copied Walker Evans. Katy Grannan today finds inspiration in Diane Arbus’s work of the 1960s, who was in turn inspired by August Sander’s work of the 1920s. Adam Fuss’s wonderful photograms of the 1990s are indebted to Man Ray’s “rayographs” of the 1920s, which were indebted to Henry Fox Talbot’s “photogenic drawings” of the 1840s.
You get the idea. Most everybody does this. But to become a first-rate artist, you need to outgrow this phase. The trick? Don’t be content with tradition. You must ultimately revise and develop it to the next level. So when the baton is passed to you, don’t run in place.
Visual communication is very important when creating an image. We do not take pictures. A good photographer creates a picture. We are not just photographers but also designers as well. Trends are wonderful because they sell, for now. But someday that trend will be dead and you will have a bunch of photos in your portfolio that is done in other peoples’ styles. While trends sell, they do not make you stand out among your competition. In order to stand out among your competition you need to have a signature style. This is one of the hardest things to accomplish in this industry. How do you stay competitive but yet maintain a signature style throughout your body of work? It’s ok to be inspired by others. That promotes creativity. Take their style and make it your own. Express yourself in each and every one of your images. People will hire you because they love your style and they will pay for it too. It is no different than someone commissioning an artist for a painting. They will hire you because your work and style proves you are the right one for the job.
I am a portrait photographer and I get these requests all the time. I want simple head shots on a white background someone says. Well ok but I make my own spin during editing and when I frame. My signature style is raw, pure and almost surreal. I express myself through images that are almost like movie stills. I like truthful poses, blemishes, wrinkles and what not there because to me, those things are life and that is what is beautiful to me. It takes a special client to hire me yes, but I’m truly happy in my work and my clients pay me big bucks to work for them. I work for all types of clients and do various portrait work but my main focus is in modeling/acting head shots and portraits. Why? Well because that is where my signature style is most appreciated. You have to find your niché. Are you like me? Or do you specialize in babies, maternity, seniors and so on? It is so important to find your place in photography.