Photography Styles

Different Photography Styles

There is photography.  And there is Art.  Sometimes they are the same thing and sometimes not.

Sometimes a simple recording of an event is enough.  But even then one could better how much that recording interests the viewer and elicits whatever the desired emotion may be.

Sometimes all you want to do is fine art photography.  Either way, if you want to sell or market your photos, you have to know who would buy your work.

When taking photos, you need to figure out your public.  Who is the photo for?  Who is going to be looking at these headshotphotos?  Are you just taking some photos of family in front of Niagara Falls to show the folks back home?  Are you doing fine art portrait photography on the coast of Oregon?  Or are you shooting seniors photo for the yearbook or the parents? If so, who is hiring you to do that?  Mom? … then, what does she like?  Are you shooting product for a magazine?  Do the people that are hiring you for this want want something mundane, boring and simple or are they looking for something new, different and completely off the wall.  

I see neophyte and not so new photographers on Facebook and other forums, asking for critiques on their work.  I generally think this is a bad idea.  If there is some technical issue, like the person’s photos are consistently out of focus when they don’t need to be or that result is not intended, then, maybe, OK.  But generally one should be his or her own critic.  One should constantly be reviewing his own work to see if it is up to scratch.  Compare your photos to successful photographers.

The person wanting to shoot product for magazines should compare his photos to those in the magazine or magazines he or she is aiming for.  Or show some of your photos to the editor and ask for his critique. Establish what exactly that editor want or needs.  For an editor or someone similar there can be other things needed in addition to the ‘look’ of the photo.  Size of the raw image and what format, etc.  Start by giving them exactly what they want.  Once you establish a good relationship, with some people, you can then propose new or different ideas and maybe do more artistic photos.

If your goal is to shoot family portraits, again, compare to successful photographers.  But on top of that, show your photos to moms.  They are the ones that are going to be paying you.  Watch them, look for their reactions.  Does their face brighten up when they look at your photos or is their smile a bit strained?  One could do a lot worse than surveying a couple of dozen moms (potential clients).  Show them a variety of photos (they can be yours or someone else’s - just looking for style at this point) and find out what is the general consensus.  What do they like?

If 80% of those mom’s want boring and you don’t want to do boring, then find something else to shoot.  Or survey a different demographic.   Make sure you are surveying the demographic  that you want to shoot for.  

One of the biggest dangers in surveying other photographers or artists, is that they will want to put their own creativity into the piece.  I remember some years ago a photographer posting this beautiful photograph on a forum for critique.  It was a black and white Autumn photo of trees and a cast iron and wood bench along a path.  He caught a dry moment in a rainy evening.  It was stunning.  One of the comments from another photographer was that there should have been someone sitting on the bench.  This would have been a completely different communication - a totally different picture.  

Surveying Photography Styles

If you are shooting wedding photography, or intend to, ask prospective brides, not other wedding photographers.  If you are doing family portraiture, search out what people are buying from successful portrait photographers.  There is no end to places to find inspiration and ideas for posing a wedding party or a family for a portrait.  You may be happy doing straight forward lower end weddings.  Or your goal may be higher end fine art wedding photography.  Choose one and then survey and market there.  (You can always change later if you like.)

One could say to him or herself that they are an artist and want to do it their way but having that attitude will likely get you very little work.  The smartest thing is to figure out what a bride or mother would want and do that.  As one goes along, watch the faces of your customers when you show them the finished product.  Look.  What photos light up their faces? What brings a smile?

As you shoot, you will develop your own photographic style, your own way of looking at the world.  You can either find people that like that or create your own audience.  

Peter Hurley, renowned headshot photographer, changed the accepted vertical headshot format.  He thought the horizontal was much better and was his style.  He is a seriously competent and confident photographer as well and that doesn’t hurt. Artistically, this horizontal format does work better as one can more easily play with the placement of the subject and apply techniques such as the golden rectangle/ratio.  It also works much better for displaying online as computers are ‘horizontal’.  


As a photographer, you are constantly observing your surroundings.  Looking for angles for the best shot, the best lighting.  Take it one step further:

Observe your audience  

I’ve been a salesman for many, many years.  In sales one has to observe!  You have to watch people as you are talking.  If you don’t notice when you are starting to lose them, your sales will suck.  This can go for selling a car or dating or for any ‘sales’ situation in life.  In sales one has to be able to figure out what you are saying or not saying that is losing the person.  There are basics in sales as well that one can learn and practice but without observing yourself and what you need to do to change your actions, you will likely continue to fail. 

You could practice this in other areas of life.  I know some people that talk endlessly about some passion of theirs but don’t know when to stop.  They don’t see that glazed look in the eyes of the person in front of them or the fidgeting or the fact that the person they are trying to engage is halfway out the door!  

Comedians and actors use this technique all the time by testing their material.  Where do they get the laugh?  Where do they get the tears?  What falls flat?  What works and what doesn’t work with a live audience.   

As you increase your skill and knowledge of photography, constantly watch how your ‘public’ reacts to your work.  You don’t have to be perfect to sell your work.  

Photographers are always creating new ways of looking at things.  Some will like, some won’t.  

There are millions of different publics out there.  And millions of different photography styles.  There is an endless supply of customers.  So you either have to figure out who likes your style of shooting or photograph your subject in a manner that a certain demographic or public like and want.

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