The First 4 Steps to Establishing Individuality in Your Work

Updated: Sep 8, 2019

photo by justina brandt of yvonne ajaltouni

When beginning any sort of creative pursuit, especially living in an age where everything is so public with social media, one of the most difficult things to learn is what makes you unique from other people in the same area of interest as you. Photography, being one of the most accessible and easiest to learn creative fields, has a lot of repetition of the same pictures by different photographers. Anyone can pick up a camera and shoot a picture, which is one of the great things about photography. Yet, when it comes to establishing a name for yourself, it takes going beyond simply taking pictures, but taking it to the next level.


The reason this is called “The First” is that it’s not a linear pattern and a step-by-step pathway to finding individuality. You probably will have to go through all these steps in different orders, multiple times, maybe add a few more in there. It’s an ongoing process. But this is to help get you started in finding what makes you unique in your work.


1. Practice. A lot.


It’s going to be hard to find individuality in your work if you don’t have a body of work to reference, so developing skills in your area of interest is where you want to start. You may already have a lot of creative ideas for photography before you even begin, and in that case, great! You’re already ahead. For most of us, however, its not that easy. It’s only once you learn how to operate a camera, take some nice pictures, learn how to edit, and be able to produce photography that looks like the sample pictures you find inside of the picture frames at craft stores that you are able to really be able to produce creative work that also looks professional.


That being said, it’s important not to get locked into a set formula and rhythm that keeps you from having any creative ideas. If you get too focused on producing nice photos that look exactly like the photographers you like, you begin to steer away from individuality. That’s something that you see a lot in all sorts of creative pursuits. When you’re developing your skills and doing less creative work, keep those ideas in the back of your mind and still experiment with them. But the most important part of being able to get to this point of beginning to find individuality is practice. As Pablo Picasso said (who is a perfect example of someone with individuality), “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist”.


2. Find what you like about other people’s work.


This is where living in a world where you are constantly surrounded by what other people are doing on social media is a good thing. Looking at other people’s work, although it can be intimidating, is very beneficial. Follow photographers on Instagram. Save their photos. Make Pinterest boards. Any way that you can gather inspiration and other work you like, do it. Seeing what other photographers are doing is a great place to start seeing what other possibilities there are in your genre of photography.


The next step, after you find the work you like, is to find what you like about it. Is it the colors they used? The composition? Is there a unique way that they lit the photo? Or is it simply that there was so much creativity within it? Does this photographer have a unique style to their work? Answer these questions and more when you are looking at photos you like. Go beyond that you simply just like the photo. What do you like about it? Finding specific answers to these questions will help you be able to find both what you look for and find aesthetically pleasing in photography and how specifically you can improve your own work. This also helps to prevent yourself from directly replicating another person’s work. Instead, replicate the specific aspect of the photo that you like, and be creative in every other aspect. This will not only help you to improve, but also help you to find what you like about photography and want to make a priority.


3. Find what you like about your own work.


Similar to the last step, go through this same process in your own work. What skills do you do really well? What can you improve on? Personally, I find that looking back at your own work frequently is really important to being able to improve. That does not mean going through and being overly critical on everything, or just deciding that its all perfect and cannot be improved. There’s a balance. First, find what you really like about your work. What skills have you mastered? What really works in your photo? Other than the fact that you just like it, what specifically do you like about it? Establishing these things is going to help you find what you’re good at and should make sure to keep consistently strong.


You also want to do this with what you can improve upon. What is weak in this photo? Is there something that is off about the photo that is making it not as strong? What’s really important, however, is to also find how you can fix it. Don’t just comment on what is wrong, but go through the process of determining what you can do the next time you shoot to keep this same thing from happening. Maybe it is a camera technique. Maybe it is about the light where you shot. Maybe it is just that there is nothing especially unique about the photo, and you feel it needs some more creativity. Simply going through this process of critiquing your work will help you a lot in improving and finding how you can make your photos better.


4. Put thought into your work.


This step is probably the most difficult and is definitely something that takes a lot of time. After going through the process of developing your skills and determining what you like, putting them into action is the most important but also the most difficult part. Before you shoot, you want to take time to plan what you want to do. Maybe sketch some thumbnails of types of shots you want to take. Think ahead of time about what you want to do and how you will make your work better than before.


What makes this more difficult is that it is easy to go through the first 3 steps and go out and shoot the exact same thing again. This will keep you from growing creatively, as you are simply replicating what you have already done. A minor step that I have done to help me put more thought into my photos is to take less of them. I used to do shoots with 1000+ photos, and now i limit it to a couple hundred, to ensure that the photos I am taking aren’t just variations of the same thing over and over again. However you plan to do this is up to you, but the most important step to finding what makes you individual is taking your creative ideas, developing them, and putting them into action.

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