A personal style is like a signature for any photographer. As we at a young age set out on our photographic endeavour this easily becomes a major mantra, and we start searching for our own style. We think we can skew the horizon, and that becomes our style. We think we can make dark and mysterious pictures, and that becomes our style. We think we can increase the colour saturation or do some other post production trick and that becomes our style.
I remember at one point I became very good with my handheld flash, I would even say I became an expert getting the most out of this devise that many photographers otherwise struggle with. Particularly I got very enthusiastic about the result from using open flash. In the end all my picture ended up being shot with open flash. Open flash became my style – or so I thought back then. But I was only fooling myself. I finally realized that style is not something we force our pictures through, like a filter or some magic transformation, in order for it to become «our» signature. Instead of becoming a signature, it becomes a limitation. When my mantra was open flash, I stop looking for other qualities of light that could be used – and better used in many occasions – in my pictures. My craving for a personal style turned in to a self-inflicted inhibition.
Yes, we can impose various styles on our pictures, and should do so to enhance whatever we try to tell with the pictures. But that isn’t the same as a personal style. It’s just using tools we have to our disposal. Chasing style in one way or another is never going to give us a personal signature. There isn’t any quick-fix to the outcome. Style comes with time, and it comes from within. When we stay honest, authentic and true to ourselves in the way we photograph, over time our style will crystallize and become apparent. We get a signature that is not depending on various tricks and enhancements, but is by character a reflection of ourselves. With time we develop our vision – we look for certain aspects of life and emotions and graphical qualities that we related to, and this vision again will develop our personal style. The more conscious we become about our vision, the more clearly our personal style will develop. Style is – put simple – an outcome of becoming aware of our vision.
As for me, open flash has long time ago ceased to be the all-encompassed answer to my lighting needs. As a matter of fact I hardly use flash any more. Today I prefer available light, which is so much more varied and full of depth and tonality than anything I could do with a flash. Still, available light hasn’t become «my» signature, I still use flash when I think it’s appreciate or when it will enhance the visual expression in my pictures.