Friday, March 14, 2008

Photography Styles

Every photographer is asked at some point to define their style. Unfortunately there's no easy answer. There's not even a stock textbook answer.

Chris Haslego talks about photo styles in "Photographic Styles - Creating Great Specialty Photos" article on He highlights some equipment and technique differences among the styles:

  • Landscape Photography: variety of wide-angle zoom lenses and telephoto lens with a focal length less than 300mm; patience; investigative skills for scouting and finding the location for that perfect shot

  • Photo Journalism: flexibility; "understanding of the pattern in which people live their lives"

  • Sports Events Photography: 60mm to 1000mm telephoto lenses (300mm to 600mm for soccer events), autofocus, and ISO sensitivity of 400 and above; panning; knowledge of the sport you're photographing; editorial skills to capture "player expressions, the thrills, the disappointments, the concentration that players display"

  • Wildlife Photography: telephoto lenses and center-weighted metering; patience; knowledge "of living habits, habitat and behavior" of the animal you're photographing

James Hazelwood talks about making sense of a photographer's style. He identifies three main styles: 1) traditional or classic wedding portraiture, 2) photojournalistic wedding photography, and 3) wedding portrait journalism. Rudi Halbright of Halbright Photography describes four photography styles: 1) traditional wedding photography, 2) photojournalistic or documentary wedding photography, 3) illustrative wedding photography and 4) fashion wedding photography. Sometimes with weddings, styles are referred to as looks. includes photojournalism as one of the top ten most popular looks in photography styles. The other looks are portrait (number 1) and black-and-white, color, action, detail, sepia, and hand-tinted (numbers 3 through 8).

Art Ketchem best articulates the difficulty of describing a style, "Creating a photographic style is probably one of the most difficult things to define and create photographically. ... Through all the many years I have been in photography, I have discovered a style emerges after creating hundreds or possibly thousands of images. You begin to do many of the same things over and over and apply your personality into your photography." He goes on to describe how to create a photo style and shares his style.

So how do I define my style? My "style" is visual story-telling that captures action, emotion and detail without interruption using existing light and subtle flash. My stories include establishing architecture or landscape shots that set the scene for where the story takes place, posed shots that identify the characters, candids (or "stolen moments" as I like to call them) that shed light on what the characters are feeling.

Why should you care about a photographer's style? The answer is simple - when your preferred style of photography matches a photographer's style, you'll be happier with your resulting images. If it's difficult for photographers to describe their style, how can you talk about style? Hazelwood recommends creating a list of 'must have' photos for your photographer. Ketchum advises photographers to create an idea folder with images that inspire them. In addition to a list of 'must have' photos bring sample images that you really like - your photographer will be able to tell you if they can deliver those results. If they can and both parties' personalities "click", you'll have images that you'll treasure. Gilad Benari sums up the synergy between personality and style in his 'gilad blog on, "To sum it up [s]tyle is in other words - you [the photographer]."

Photography is deeply personal, there's no right or wrong style - just a style or combination of styles that moves you (it's assumed that technical details are right). Learn what moves your photographer: peruse their images, read their blog - it will tell you what excites them and shed light on what they photograph for fun, and talk with them.