I religiously ascribe to the following school of thought: analyzing your own photographic style and being mercilessly critical about your own work is the most difficult skill to learn in photography. It’s easy to fall in the trap of vanity when your family and friends praise your photos. Complacency and the risks of being satisfied with your current level are very luring temptations.
But how are you going to improve further if you don’t ask yourself the tough questions? You are not.
Self-improving in photography starts with analyzing your own photographic style and past work to look for the answers to some of the following questions:
- What are my favorite lenses? Zooms or primes?
- What are my favorite focal lengths? Do I choose the focal length before the shot?
- Are my best images shot deliberately or the result of lucky shots?
Let me look at each question more in details…
Zoom or Prime?
Everyone has a favorite lens, the one that is either always mounted on the camera or the one we immediately reach for in the bag when packing up our gear. By looking at your past work, you can easily pick up the trend.
Do you use zooms a lot because they are versatile? If yes, try spend some time using only one prime lens and zooming with your feet. The lessons you learn from artificially limiting your versatility will be invaluable when you go back to your favorite zoom.
For a year, I shot exclusively with a 50mm and a 24mm on full frame. And, without a zoom, I had to walk a lot. The big lesson is learning how to be more deliberate in the choice of focal length. Image quality will also thank you.
Favorite Focal Lengths
As a landscape photographer, I used to shoot wide most of the time. Most of my old images were shot between 24mm and 35mm. I just felt very comfortable in this focal range.
Comfort is the enemy of creativity. I jumped out of my comfort zone and reached more often for portrait and long focal length, which gradually moved me more and more into the realm of intimate landscapes. The next step for me is to swing to the other direction. I don’t feel comfortable in the 16m to 24mm. Shooting that wide is hard and finding compositions is challenging.
Do you shoot long focal lengths? Try moving wider and learn how to compose with these challenging focal lengths. Do you shoot wide? Try to find details to shoot with long lenses and learn how to see beauty and simplicity where there is chaos.
This is the toughest question to answer because it revolves so much around personal style and choices. Do you deliberately plan your shots in advance or are you a shotgun photographer hoping for the best while weeding through thousands of shots when you’re back at home?
Look at your past images. How many do you delete on the spot? If you are a shotgun photographer, I challenge you to slow down and take a shot only when the light is just right, when the subject is remarkable, when you pre-visualize the final image, and when you would like to have it hanging on your walls
This’s my bar. I don’t take the shot if I’m not convinced I will want to print it and hang it on the wall. The good side of this approach is that I have very few images to look at back at home. The down side (there is always one) is that I very likely miss photographic opportunities that I simply wasn’t prepared for.
The goal of this exercise is to come out of your comfort zone, experiment, and develop a personal shooting style that is recognizable.
What’s YOUR shooting style?