Posted by: kerryl29 | January 8, 2013

On Style

A number of years ago I was an active participant on an Internet landscape photography forum that attracted a large number of full-time professional photographers as well as a significant group of wannabe pros.  A substantial percentage of these individuals were seemingly obsessed with the matter of style; people were thrilled when, after posting an image, someone would post a comment along the lines of “I knew this was your image as soon as I saw it; it had your distinct imprint all over it.”

Ferns, Shades State Park, Indiana

Ferns, Shades State Park, Indiana

This focus on developing and refining an identifiable, individual look to one’s images is, at some level, entirely understandable.  People who are trying to make it as professionals often find an obvious benefit in having their work stand out among the crowded marketplace of imagery that predominates the art world.

Anderson Falls, Bartholomew County, Indiana

Anderson Falls, Bartholomew County, Indiana

Some of these folks attempted to establish a style by photographing a particular type of subject matter (mountain settings, for instance, the seaside, forests, etc.), or limiting themselves to shooting in a specific geographic location.  Others focused on certain kinds of light, or on a singular type of photographic perspective.  Some settled on a certain type of rendering (monochrome, for instance, or infrared); a few concentrated on shooting in the panorama format, or on square crops.  Some shot exclusively with ultrawide angle lenses; others stuck with telephotos.  Some used some combination of some or all of these, in concert.

Serpentine black & white, Bayocean Spit, Oregon

Serpentine black & white, Bayocean Spit, Oregon

The potential value that results from the instantaneous recognition of work as belonging to a particular individual is incalculable, and the undeniably conscious effort among many photographers to develop and promulgate a particular style is entirely unsurprising.

And yet…

Cades Cove Morning, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Cades Cove Morning, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

I can honestly say that I have never been concerned with portraying a particular style of my own. I have no idea, in fact, whether I have an identifiable singular manner of portraying the landscape; if I do, I’m not aware of it.

Admittedly, as someone who isn’t a full-time professional and has no ambition to become one, my concerns differ from many of the individuals who participated on the forum referenced above.  I always assumed that if I had a legitimate style, it would emerge naturally.  In fact, I not only haven’t tried to develop any style of my own, I’ve actually been a bit concerned on occasion that I not develop one.

Hemlock Hill Winter, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

Hemlock Hill Winter, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

What on earth am I talking about?  Why would I be concerned about displaying a style–even a naturally emerging one?

I’ve always hoped that I would be able to have my approach to shooting a scene be dictated by the landscape itself, rather than imposing my own vision upon it.  I had always hoped that I would have the self-awareness and open mind necessary to be able to “listen” to the natural world and allow it to instruct me as to how I should go about approaching it in the most aesthetically pleasing–but still organic–manner.

Sunrise Silhouette, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Sunrise Silhouette, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Perhaps that was a hopelessly naive notion.  Or perhaps that is, in fact–and ready yourself for some high irony–my personal style.  Or is it possibly both?  Or neither?  I honestly don’t know.  But it remains my personal ambition, every time I head out with my camera, even though it may very well be an entirely unattainable goal.


  1. I agree with 100% as far as style. I shoot what I see as the beauty of nature the way that nature presents it to me. To shoot only in one style seems to be very limiting in my opinion, but that’s just me. Thanks for the beautiful photos, and for the great tips on equipment!

    • Thanks very much, Jerry–and, obviously, I agree with your conclusions.

      Best of luck with the pursuit of new photo gear.

  2. i was described by a teacher as a landscape photographer because I liked the big scenes, but shoot birds, intimate landscapes (close-ups) as well. i haven’t got “there”yet, but enjoying the process.I liked how you had a variety of shots, I think you are “open” and have a “great eye”.Maybe you say it best in your blog title. “Nature Photography” Beautiful images.

    • Thanks, Jane. I really do try, as much as possible, to adapt my shooting style to the scene rather than the other way around.

  3. Non sono certamente un’esperta di fotografia e quindi non credo proprio di avere uno stile personale, l’unica cosa che mi appassiona veramente della fotografia è scattare quando qualche particolare mi colpisce veramente, quando stimola anche la mia fantasia.
    Le foto che hai inserito sono fantastiche!!

    • Grazie molto per la pubblicazione i vostri pensieri e per le parole gentili. E chiedo scusa per il cattivo Italiano. 🙂

  4. You displayed a beautiful diversity of beautiful images. There was no room for boredom while viewing – keep working to find and capture the nature of whatever you view. That is where your talent obviously lies. Thanks for a good post.

    • Thanks very much, Pat.

  5. Listening is working!

    • Thanks, Lynn. It’s very encouraging to hear that!

  6. Kerry,
    Always enjoyed your “style”, because it is what the scene allows or offers. I noticed when we shot together in Monument Valley. A great eye for seeing what the Image possibilities were, and then making it look beautiful.
    Good stuff, as always.

    • Hey, Jac! Good to hear from you; I hope all is well. Thanks so much for the kind words.

  7. Thank you for expressing what’s been on my mind lately. I’ve read numerous articles by pros about how important it is to develop your own style. I don’t think I have one either. I need variety otherwise I get bored. In my opinion limiting oneself just stifles creativity and I like a challenge. That being said, I also like your style Kerry… great post!

    • Thanks, Angela. Maybe your style (and mine), is a lack of style, if you don’t mind a bit of irony. 🙂

  8. Kerry, what a fascinating post! I think that this is the concern of all creative artists – it certainly resonates with me as a musician. But I also think that you have the right of it – adopting or imposing a style can make your work inauthentic at best and imitative at worst. It has been my experience that the only way one can proceed to develop one’s style is exactly how you have described it. When I teach composition, I work to help students uncover their unique “voice” – it takes longer and means digging deeper, but it is ultimately both successful and self-satisfying, and frankly, a life long endeavor that is a bit of an adventure.

    • Extremely interesting comment, Lynn…thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts based on your experience.

      You’ve touched, at least tangentially, on a subject I’ve mused about myself–the notion of preparing some kind of a curriculum to teach people how to express their individuality through art. A bit of a paradox…

      I may have to put together some of these thoughts in a future installment.

  9. Lots to ponder here. I’ve had a few people people tell me that they’ve come across nature photographs in Wildflower and Texas Highways (two magazines where I’ve had work published several times in recent years) and recognized the pictures as mine even before checking to confirm that I was indeed the photographer. I’ve had a similar reaction in music when I’ve turned on the radio, caught some piece in progress, and could tell who the composer was even though I’d never heard the work before. (The most recent instance was a piece by Sibelius just a few days ago.)

    There’s no question that many of us find ourselves falling into a certain way of approaching things; there is something “me” in many of my pictures even when I make no conscious attempt at a certain style. Given that reality, I’ve sometimes caught myself about to take a picture and stopped because it was too much like something I’d done many times before. But I’ll confess that I don’t always avoid repetition, and sometimes I purposely redo something to see if I can do it better now than I could in earlier attempts; after all, the subject and the light and the background are never completely the same from one time to the next, so there’s always the possibility for a better result than in the past—and for a worse one, too, of course.

    At the same time, I’m open to variety. A couple of times on my nature blog I’ve posted an iPhone picture rather than the usual ones taken with my good cameras and lenses. I take primarily macros and intimate landscapes, but a few times recently I posted more conventional landscapes when I’d taken some that pleased me. I normally don’t include human elements in my nature pictures, but once in a while I find a reason to make an exception (a flock of grackles on power lines, for example).

    It seems that a good approach is to recognize our innate fondness for certain styles and compositions and to be glad if we can make them work, but also to be open to other things if they come our way. It may be the case that striking a happy medium makes for a happy photographer.

    • Thanks, Steve, for taking the time to compose and share your thoughts. They are, as always, well-crafted and considered.

      The lone facet of this subject that I’m entirely convinced of is that I don’t want to consciously concoct and establish a style because it’s “the thing to do.” Beyond that, I’m trying to retain an open mind, including the possibility that I’ve stumbled upon a style by not having one, paradox be damned (just it was for the Miami Dolphins’ No-Name Defense of the early 1970s).

  10. Very well said! Hadn’t given it a lot of thought but I agree w your approach!

    • Thanks, Tina.

  11. Very thought provoking! I appreciate those with a “style” or preference for a certain subject or technique, but I’m endlessly (maybe hopelessly!) curious and can’t help but want to photograph nearly everything, so I’ve yet to find one such “style” for myself. To each his own, I suppose.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  12. […] wouldn’t.”  If this represents a semblance of the much-discussed, long-pondered personal style of photography (and I’m not at all certain that it does), then so be it.  And if it […]

  13. […] I feel that if you must reveal a style (and I’m not at all sure that you do, but that’s a topic for another day), it’s important to do so within the confines of the setting. That is to say, a successful nature […]

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