Developing a Signature Style – Part 2: The Practice

Yesterday I talked about the components that go into creating a signature style and look to your work. Remember, we said this was important if you hope to earn a living from your craft because it will help differentiate you, and in many cases will allow you to charge a premium. Today I want to offer five good practices to adopt in creating a unique look for your work. As I mentioned yesterday, the examples I use may be filmmakers, but the concepts are equally applicable to photographers.

I also want to address comments from my esteemed colleague Kevin Shahinian yesterday. I am not talking about a “paint by the numbers” system. A sort of, “buy a signature look in a box” mentality. Nothing could be further from what I believe. What I’m talking about, at it’s most basic level, are the objective building blocks of what makes  someone’s style signature. As artists we’ll make decisions about those components based on our sensibilities for sure. What I want to do is illuminate the specifics so that once we recognize it, as we develop our art, we can, should we choose, make conscious choices about what will define our style. And as any artists knows, you don’t just wake up with a style or look. Scorcese didn’t become Scorcese overnight. Neither did any of the masters of any art. They worked on their craft, experimented, and in many cases, made and continue to make conscious choices about film stock, lenses, music, composition, etc., to further their vision.

So, with that, here are some suggested practices for developing one’s style.

  1. Study the Masters: watch and study the work of those who are truly masters at the craft. Kurasawa. Hitchcock. Polanski. Scorcese. How do they utilize all the components I wrote about?
  2. Study the Distinct: watch and study the work of artists who are already known for having a very distinct style. Quentin Tarantino, Cameron Crowe, the Coen Bros,  and John Woo are just a few examples of filmmakers who have a signature style. You know it when you’re watching one of their films.
  3. Experiment: go out and experiment with camera settings, lighting, sound design, composition, etc. Don’t be afraid to be radically creative.
  4. Trust Your Instincts: when you’re on a job, don’t second guess your intuition or instincts. If you’re shooting a wedding, don’t think to yourself, “Hmmm, now how would Patrick Moreau shoot this?” Think to yourself, “How does my gut tell me to shoot this?” (Note: this is no dig on my friend and colleague Patrick. He would be the first person to tell you the same).
  5. Embrace your “You”: once you trust your instincts, go with it, and fully embrace it. Don’t be ashamed of it. There are people out there who are willing to pay you for YOUR vision. Don’t lose heart if you think your work is not as “good” or “cool” as somebody elses. Somebody else’s “cool” could be your clients’ “blech!” This was the most important lesson I learned the month I did my “Comparison Kills Creativity” Challenge.

In the end, you have to feel comfortable with who you are as a visual creative. Be inspired by and learn from others. Even “steal” from them a little bit. But, learn to be content with the talent God’s given you and how you’re uniquely wired to express that talent. There is a market out there for it. You just have to have faith in yourself and work diligently to get your stuff out there.