Before I grabbed a pencil and was told to draw a straight line, the first subject I had to study on design was psychology? If you think about it, there’s nothing surprising about it. What we see when we look at something is filtered by our emotions and experiences. The work of a visual communicator is to speak clear enough that the message gets through past these filters. Photography merely tries to capture the photographer’s view of the world, and communicate this vision to others. Basically, it’s all an illusion.
Here’s some ideas to develop your photography voice, and “speak” with your camera in a way that’s uniquely yours.
If you are a photojournalist, or you do photography for advertisement, your desire to filter things and color them with your vision is curtailed by ethical and/or legal guidelines, if you are selling your crafts you have an ethical limit as to how far you can alter, or enhance reality when photographing your wares (something I keep in mind when I — rarely — do commercial photography).
The rest of us, who are not peddling cars or burgers, are free to tell tales. It’s a roundabout way to say that you have to know what you want to say before you touch that camera. Check the most successful design and craft blogs and you’ll notice that their pictures have a distinctive and consistent look (within reason) that define the subject, and ultimately the audience. I’ll give you two examples, opposite each other in some ways, because maybe I am not so good at explaining myself.
This is a photo by my friend blogger Ivy.
Her blog is a about romance, domesticity and femininity. Do you see the same too? Her photos are desaturated, at times almost monochromatic. There also is little contrast, but her photos are bright. She makes use of selective focus, and sometimes soft-blurred areas to complete this look. By the way, she sells prints of her pictures, they are lovely, check them out.
How about this one from one of the best craft blogs in the world: Heather Bailey‘s. It’s candyland, isn’t it? She is taking us to happy place, a world of colorful beauty. She uses very saturated colors, medium contrast but still keeping on the bright side (some burnout spots even)
How about my blog?
It’s plenty obvious that the main subject of this blog is food/life in the tropics. But how to convey this in pictures? This is what I’ve tried: Have you noticed that when you step out in a sunny place you are blinded by the sunlight while your pupils adjust for it? Well, that is my world, it is bright, very much, so location pictures are usually bright. But I also want to bring people into the world of those who gave us our cuisine, so food pictures for this blog tend to be on the rustic side, I try to keep saturation and all other elements as realistic as possible, specially so in food photography. Generally I stick to the kind of colors that naturally occur in nature (is that repetitive and redundant?), because I want people to see the food how it will look at the end of the process.
In the end though, each picture set will tell a different story.
Now, a blog is a work in progress, styles change and we don’t always have the same thing to day, or the same mood to transmit. Some of my pictures are not light, and bright.
It all depends on what I want to say, on what story I am telling that day.
None of us are subverting reality (maybe a little), the camera can only capture so much – I am sure you have more than once been frustrated by this. We just try to show you the world as we see it, as I see it when I step out and am blinded by light.
This is all important because, there is no point in getting into anything technical if you haven’t thought about this. Think of what you have to say, what you want your pictures to convey. Create your style on your head before you try to achieve it. Seek inspiration everywhere. One place to start is my Pinterest board Food Photography to Inspire.
So there, some food for thought. I’d love to have your opinion on this.
Updated in 2015.