Saturday, August 25, 2012

Multi-Style Shooters: A Good Thing?

These days, you know, these digital photography days, many shooters appear to have two or more styles: Their shooting style and their post-production style(s). I find it interesting that, for many bi or multi-style photographers, their shooting styles often have little to do with their post-processing style(s).  Possibly because, when they're shooting, they don't yet know what kind of post-processing style they're going to apply to their images. You might call this the "Instagram Syndrome."

Let's say you've developed a distinctive style in the way you light, compose, and capture your images. (I'm talking about with a dSLR, not an iPhone.) That's cool! As a photographer, it's something you should be doing in order to set yourself apart, even if your distinctive production style is subtle and doesn't knock itself over viewers' heads.

Then along comes your post-production style(s), often an inconsistent mix of Photoshop tools, 3rd party software, actions, apps, treatments and what have you. For some reason, whatever many photographers suddenly decide to apply to their style-driven, out-of-the-camera photos, that is, once those photos are loaded into their computers, often seems more influenced by whimsy than anything else. "Oh! That effect looks cool on that photo. I think I'll use that one!"

I've had clients who have asked me to emulate photos they've seen elsewhere. Usually, the photos they've seen elsewhere have distinctive looks, both in terms of production and post-production styles. Most of the time, I have nothing to do with the post-production. I just hand over the images I've captured.

Since, as a rule, I don't perform the re-touching, processing, or FXing for the photos I've snapped -- that's just how it works in the industry I often work in -- I know the things I do in production can either help the people who will be doing the post-prod stuff, i.e., help them do their jobs more efficiently and in-line with the client's visions of ripping off borrowing some other photographer's style they've seen elsewhere, or my work can hinder those folks. Hindering them, depending on what it is the client is looking for in the finished images, might be something as simple as me shooting in my usual and customary style with little regard for the client's direction and expectations for the finished images.  As you may have already guessed, shooting in my usual and customary ways when the finished photos are supposed to look decidedly different than my usual and customary work is not something that goes a long way towards getting me re-hired in the future.

But I'm getting a bit off-topic-- something I sometimes do. Sorry. Back to single-style production shooters who are multi-styled in their post-production efforts.

Why do so many photographers shoot with a rather consistent shooting style, and then process their images in ways that reflect any one of a variety of styles? That is, in whatever manner of style the style-spirit magically moves them towards in post?  I'm not questioning this because there's anything horribly wrong with doing that, you know, especially if you're doing it for yourself, but please don't tell me you were photographing your "vision" when, in fact, your so-called "vision" was subject to change, sometimes big change, and without notice once your shooting visions are loaded onto your computer, opened in Photoshop, and ready for your post-prod vision(s) to be applied to it... whatever they might be.

If you have a style for your vision in mind, shouldn't you do everything in your power to feed that style from the git-go?  Shouldn't you be shooting your visions in ways that enhance your ability to apply a pre-envisioned style in post? Shouldn't both those things work together instead of independently? Trust me when I tell you that shooting your source image, your out-of-the-camera image, should be done in ways that augment what you hope to achieve in post, whatever that might be. Lighting, BTW, is probably the most important element -- although certainly not the only element -- which will impact how your post-prod style tools, apps, actions, whatever effects your image.

I harp a lot about consistency on this blog. That's because consistency is what gets me hired and re-hired, not my ability to show incredible range of styles. The great artists throughout history -- and I'm not saying I'm an artist, great or otherwise -- had consistency of style, at least throughout different periods of their artistic growth and evolution. We know Picasso by the consistency of his style, regardless of the subject. When someone says, "Picasso," most people think of a certain style that was Picasso's, leastwise the style that Picasso is best remembered for.

Photographers, in my opinion, especially those hoping to make all or some part of their living via photography, should be working towards developing a singular style, one that defines them stylistically, and one that is represented both in the ways and manner in which they capture images with their cameras, and in terms of how they process those images in post-production. It also means these two, separate-but-equally-important aspects of their photos -- i.e., what comes out of their cameras and what comes out of their computers -- should have a symbiotic relationship. They should be interdependent on each other, not two, separate things that stand apart and have little to do with each other. It's that consistent singularity of style that will make you stand out, not some hodge-podge of post-production styles you whimsically apply to your photos, hoping some of them will garner some fleeting "Wow!" or "Cool!" status.

BTW, I'm not saying photographers shouldn't experiment with various styles, both in production and post. They should. They absolutely should!  Doing so is one way to discover styles which may set them apart from the pack.  But ultimately, most well-known photographers are known for single, recognizable styles. Those who aspire to becoming well-known photographers, whether it's within smaller communities or larger, should take heed of why and what famous photographers are famous for shooting, style-wise. Offhand, I can't think of one photographer who became famous because of his or her inconsistency of style.

Anyway, just a weekend, "just sayin," kind of update; hopefully one which, whether you or agree or not, provides some food for creative thought. The pretty girl at the top is Charlotte. (Click to enlarge.)

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