Use Deliberate Practice to Find Your Photographic Style

There are many aspects that make up a ‘personal style’ in photography. It could be the gear you use, the type of light, your post processing style or film choice. Your style could be determined by the stories you are trying to tell, the philosophy behind your work, your concept or message.

These are a few of the things that can contribute to a unique style. But are you deliberate with your style? Do you go out of your way to get a consistent look with your photography?

I’ve been reading many books focusing on ‘practice.’ From books like Peak, to So Good They Can’t Ignore You, to Grit, and they all touch on the subject of deliberate practice. This idea states that, to improve, you must go beyond a broad goal like “enhancing your composition” that you study and practice repetitively until it becomes automatic.

This is the wrong way to learn something, they say, when it comes to developing your styles beyond the norm. The 10,000 hours of practice ‘rule’ is not exactly true.

Instead, you need to break elements down even more, like what composition specifically you want to work on. The authors suggest asking questions like: Why aren’t you good at it now? How can it be improved? Is there a better way to approach the task? What am I missing? The list goes on, but the starting point is to analyze what you already know and improve yourself.

Deliberate practice is really just having small specific goals that you can improve on in order to achieve an even larger goal later—like becoming a master at black and white composition. But the books I have read suggest that you must do this consistently over a period of years or a lifetime, never letting yourself do it automatically. They say that you must deliberately think and improve on your previous achievements.

So can you implement this method of deliberate practice to find your own unique style? The answer is yes!

A starting point is to find artists or influencers that inspire you. Ask yourself why you are drawn to these individuals, try and break down their work to find specific elements that you like, and then take one of those elements and apply it to your practice. Do this until it becomes second nature… then add another element… and another. So on and so forth.

Simple to say, hard to do. This is one of the methods I used to develop my own photographic style.

I was always drawn to monochrome photographers, so I chose to adopt this look into my style using only black and white photos. I loved the single camera setups from artists I was influenced by, so I implemented this and now only use one camera body and lens for a consistent feel and look to my images. I loved how the photographers I was inspired by used natural light, so I forced myself to only use available lighting.

Finally, to get a consistent look during the editing process I photograph using Kodak Tri-X 400, be it film or a preset. These are some of the limitations that make up my style.

What I’m saying is you can develop a deliberate style—all it takes is small goals that lead to greater achievements and aspirations. Just be deliberate with every capture, never go into autopilot, and you will get to your destination faster.

About the author: A.B Watson is a New Zealand photographer based in Auckland. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. To see more of his work, head over to his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram. This post was also published here.