Styles of Photography

Have you wandered the halls of your high school looking up at the composite photographs on the wall? In each frame, the class of that year looks down at you, and you might notice the similarity of everyone’s hair and clothing style. Then when you get to the most current year, you begin to see how different everyone looks. This says something about how difficult it is to see one’s style in the present, but as a photographer continues to make images, it becomes more discernable. The type of photography they choose to pursue, whether portraiture, journalism, fashion, event, sports, still life or landscape, will influence their style. The type of photography they practice is only a small part of what eventually defines a person’s style.

Style is a very ambiguous word. Its definition involves mannerism, appearance, distinctiveness, design and form. However, when leafing through a book of a photographer’s work, you see a style after a while. You may not be able to define it or describe it, but you can see it. Just how does this style evolve? If you study art or photography history, you will see photographers fall under the influence of other photographers, painters, printmakers, etc. They are also influenced by the artists surrounding them, whether they be filmmakers, dancers, musicians or poets. All of this influences what they choose to place within their frame. In the example below, you can see clearly the influence of a Japanese print on Jeff Wall’s famous image.

A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) Jeff Wall
Katsushika Hokusai (1760–­1849), Suruga Ejiri (Eijiri in Suruga Province), from Fugaku sanjurokkei (Thirty-­six Views of Mount Fuji), Japan, 1831. Polychrome woodblock print, ink and color on paper
Katsushika Hokusai – Suruga Ejiri (Eijiri in Suruga Province), from Fugaku sanjurokkei (Thirty-­six Views of Mount Fuji), Japan, 1831. Polychrome woodblock print, ink and colour on paper, 25.4 × 37.1 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In addition to this, how they choose to process and print their images influences how they make photographs. Often the printing and presentation process helps in the development of their style. This is why I think it is important if you want to really enjoy making photographs and develop your own personal style, you need to go through the whole process: creating the image in-camera, processing the image on your computer, printing the image, and framing and mounting the picture in a show. Even if the only thing you do is produce a calendar with the images or place one in a frame on your living room wall, each stage of the process informs and develops your style.

Aspects of Style

A photographers style is affect by and is constantly evolving:

  • What is included in the frame and what is not included.
  • How the components in the frame are in or out of focus, the distance from the camera, the angle of the camera, what is lit by the lighting
  • The use of colour
  • The use of light
  • The capturing of movement or lack of movement
  • The inclusion of emotions or the evoking of emotions
  • The use of lenses
  • The density of content or lack of density
  • The use of rhythm, harmony, proportion, contrast, balance, and implied depth

Two Examples of Style

Goga Bayat Cinematic

Goga Bayat is an Iranian filmmaker and photographer whose personal style is perhaps in the cinematic style and has a distinct look and feel. Cinematic Street Photography is a street shot that looks like a frame from a movie. It’s a combination of letterbox crop, mood, aesthetic, colours and more that make the shot appear like a MOVIE STILL. Some of the cinematic hallmarks are a prime lens to focus on the subject and diffuse background, careful emphasis through lighting, and colour grading.

Gary Winogrand

Gary Winogrand, on the other hand, has a very different style. However, you can clearly see the influences of Robert Frank and others, and he has a style that both has similarities and greater differences. Robert Frank had a more geographical focus as he creates images in cities and small towns. To some degree, it was a record of what was disappearing, whereas Winnogrand’s images focused on the emerging culture of the times. The style goes beyond this element as there are many moments in his photographs, and some often suggest that he metaphorically captures the dance of life.