You know what I was thinking about the other day? I was thinking about what struggles I have been through over the years as I went through the processes of becoming a photographer and where I am today. One area that came to mind that really helped me define my style and feel to my work, as well as thinking about marketing and branding, was ‘consistency of work’.
With the mammoth amount of wedding photographers now really saturating the market, it is hard to be found and hard to stand out from the crowd. When you are just starting out, it’s very easy to be persuaded to shoot generically and also edit generically but also to try things out. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with experimenting, but with the uprise of Lightroom presets and Photoshop effects available to buy it can send you down a bad path of presenting work to a client/couple where the style is all over the place and not defined
I’m not a big fan of the VSCO crowd and other known preset suppliers, purely because if you shoot very similar to others, then add the presets with a few tweaks, your work looks pretty much the same, as opposed to what I have learnt and wanted to gain over the years and that’s standing out, being unique and doing what I wanted to do.
I have been a wedding photographer for over ten years now and my background is in web and graphic design so I already knew Photoshop to an intermediate level before I started. However, I love reality and believe that photographs should look real and plausible, not Photoshopped to the max, which includes not going overboard with retouching – apart from the odd blemish and for me, possibly making things cleaner where possible. It’s good practice to remember that a wedding is not a shoot, you are capturing what is happening as an observer in most cases, and often we don’t have the time to totally perfect a photo as the day goes by so quickly with all the proceedings. But make sure you compose the best you can and then make your edits in LR with your white balance, shadows, blacks whites etc. I was always taught to make sure blacks are black and whites are white. Sounds basic and it really is! If a dress is white, why would it look blue? This is simply down to editing correctly which is why I made my own presets over the years.
Going back to VSCO and the like… these are fabulous to look at what they are doing in LR to the image but many I have seen absolutely destroy the image, the colour etc. Which is why I edit really clean. I pretty much only use the basics panel in LR, changing the White balance, blacks, shadows, whites, highlights, and crop. I love my images to be warm and colourful and also for the skin tones to be as realistic and as warm as possible. The only differences I may make would be in the HSL panel, where I normally have the orange saturation slightly down and the orange luminance down to dark the skin slightly (environment dependent). I also tend to shoot with a fairly high shutter speed which gives a bit more depth to my images and especially skin tones when shooting in Aperture priority mode.
Where I went through stages in my career of styles I like and looking at others work, I realised I much preferred a cleaner image and really didn’t like the overuse of the tone curve in LR, making the blacks and shadows very pale. You may have seen this in various photographers work and it is the tone curve that brought about the ‘vintage’ feel which I stayed away from, purely because I want my couples to look back at their images and still love them in 20 years time, not look back at them and be disappointed that they wanted the vintage effect when, when actually it was really just something of the time, a fad if you will. Clean wins in my book!
The result of my work being clean, and the various methods I have used by learning from presets and defining how I like images to look, has created consistency in my work. I have spent time and money in seeing other professionals I look up to (my bar if you will), and they looked at my work and said. “well, you have great work here, but it looks like ten different photographers could have taken them”. This was really interesting, and bang on! Move on a number of years….now all my work is very consistent in its style. All images use the same preset on import to LR and then all pretty much editing using only the basic panel, not playing around with presets.
And that was the thing, my work looked good but the editing was very diverse per image almost, so it really did look like a number of photographers work, not one. No defined style.
I am part of a group of photographers and if you put one image from each photographer on the table, I know their work so well now because of how consistent they are when they edit and shoot that I could pick everyone’s work out of the selection.
It’s not just style you create, it’s a brand. Think of some of the best marketing and branding throughout history…. if you see a white glove, shiny black and white shoes, a silhouette, you think Michael Jackson.
A tick…. you immediately think Nike. The same goes for a photographer or any other visual business. You become recognised for your style, the way you edit as well as your creativity and the way you shoot.
There are many photographers I look up to. Super pros like Ross Harvey and Aga Tomaszek are shining examples of beautiful compositions, creativity, and editing. And when it comes to the editing, you cannot look through their work and not notice how they edit, particularly the skin tones, just pop and wow.