I’ve tried to come up with a distinct photography style for a long time.
I’m 10 years deep now and I’m pretty much giving up on that endeavor.
Because it’s one of the most crippling things you can do to your creative growth.
Trying to define your “style” is like saying to yourself, "From now on, I will only eat oatmeal for breakfast!" Or, "I will only wear blue jeans for the rest of eternity!"
What benefit does this have for you?
And I was actually really good at answering this question:
- So people know what I stand for!
- So people aren’t confused when they look at my website!
- So it will be easier for potential clients to know exactly what I do!
And that’s great. Especially if you make a hit, like Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 smash hit, "Dreams". Then, by all means, keep playing that song for the rest of your life. After all, it will help keep the lights on at the studio.
But there’s a difference between marketing yourself as one thing and cornering yourself into just one style for the rest of eternity.
I’m talking about the latter.
I actually think it’s a great idea to market yourself as one thing. After all, in a world that is getting busier and faster and with people’s attention spans being less than that of a goldfish, you better have your hook strong and easy to see otherwise you will be skipped over for someone who does have an easily identifiable style
Some of my favorite artists who have a unique style:
Do these people not do other styles? I doubt it. They probably just don’t show it. After all, you don’t want to confuse your potential clients, right?
I think style eventually presents itself to you. It’s not something you need to force yourself into. It will come. A bit like walking in the sand. You might feel like you’re just walking aimlessly in a vast desert, but if you look back you’ll see that there is, in fact, a path that you’ve created that is unique to you and only you.
Trying to define your style prematurely leads to artistic death. It’s deciding you will only crawl, when you can walk, deciding you will only walk when you can run, deciding you will only run, when you can fly.
I’ve made this mistake more times than I like. It’s limiting. It’s also very boring. Can you imagine doing the same thing forever and ever? One of my favorite artists, Picasso, if you look this work, he changed so much.
But anyways, let’s talk about why we really care about finding a “Style.”
Ohhhh money. Well, also, branding. Clear branding, which will lead to clients understanding what you do which will lead to money.
Not knocking it. But I think it’s important to consider the tradeoffs. Because that’s what it is, you're selling a specific style in an exchange for money. Is it worth your creative death for money? Maybe sometimes. But for all of eternity? No. Don’t do it.
What to do?
If you hit a style you like, a hit song if you will. Keep it. Sell it. Keep the lights on. Keep the food on the table. Make sure you can shower every night. But secretly on your own time, keep on trucking. Keep growing. Keep exploring. There's a term in finance called diversifying your assets. I guess creatively speaking. We can call this diversifying your creativity.
That’s what I’m doing nowadays. I hope it works for you too.
by Jason Lam