So many photographers struggle to find their voice, their unique photographic style. Would you laugh if I told you that the secret to finding it is in the planning?
Any photographer can tell you that at some point in her journey, she’s had moments of insecurity about her work. After all, we’re saturated with images to inspire us or compare our work to: Maybe an image on social media has an editing style you want to try, or a gorgeous picture in a magazine was taken with a wide-angle lens, which you’ve never used. How do you translate all those outside influences into your own unique images?
How do you “see” the world?
As part of the #MyFujifilmLegacy project, I shot a session with photographer Jaime Anido to explore the process of finding your voice. Our goal was to tell the story of a carefree childhood summer. Because we were outdoors with three busy little girls, my gear of choice was my FUJIFILM GFX 50s paired with my Fujinon GF 110 f/2 R LM WR and GF 45mm f/2.8 R WR lenses. Before the shoot, I challenged Jaime to do her own storyboarding. Just because we were shooting the same people in the same environment didn’t mean that we would “see” the same things. These small differences are the essence of our own authentic voices and photographic style. It’s at the core of what makes all of us unique and what differentiates our art.
I captured these photos above during my mentoring session with Jaime.
Video: How to discover your unique voice (3 min.):
Know that you already have a unique voice.
This struggle to find one’s voice is not confined to the unseasoned. I still have sessions where I struggle with this! So how do you develop your own unique voice? In my humble opinion, you don’t have to — your voice is already there.
In truth, knowing what you want to say is more important than knowing how you say it. It’s the first step in planning a successful session that showcases your unique photographic style — how you’ll do it comes second. (And that makes sense, right? Does one write a book without having a good idea of what she wants to say?)
“Knowing what you want to say is more important than how you say it.” – Meg Sexton
Decide what you want your images to say.
When I book a session — a family session, a large commercial shoot, casual shots of my kids — I think about what I want the images to say. It could be the mood I want to convey. It could be the color story of a lingerie brand’s new line, or a theme like “family” or “lazy Sundays.” There’s no right or wrong to deciding what it is.
So how do you unearth what you want to convey? The answer’s different for different people, but for me the secret is in the information I gather. It’s not the most glamorous of answers, but I need to understand my clients or subjects to help me know what we can say together. I’m interested in the tidbits: I want to observe the dynamics of the family’s relationships, read their body language as they interact with one another.
For commercial work, I need to know the brand’s uniqueness and overall branding story. With couples, I want to know who reaches for their partner first, who feels more comfortable seeking affection, who’s the first to talk and who is reserved. Twenty years from now, the images they value most will be the images that document their relationships authentically.
Use movement to create authenticity.
If you’re stuck and can’t decide what you want to say, default to rote movement. The use of movement in a session is the cheapest and easiest tool we have in our arsenal to create authenticity.
Ask your clients how they would normally come together for a hug, or who takes the lead when they take a walk together. Have them move as naturally as you can and see what unfolds. Everyone can strike an unnatural pose, but most people are authentic to themselves as soon as they start moving.
Plan how to tell the story using YOUR photographic style.
Once I know my story, I can think about how I will execute it by planning actions or poses for everyone involved. While I don’t try to plan the specific shots I want to achieve, I always spend some time beforehand planning the emotions I hope to evoke.
Often I’ll pre-plan some motion-filled activity or posing for my subjects to perform in order to make that all come together. If I can plan the mood and overall “vibe” I hope to capture, then as I walk my clients through those few posing actions, we all relax and the authenticity of the story and my clients comes through. This storyboarding process helps to limit the overthinking on a shoot that tends to strip away what we wanted to say in the first place. Nothing denies authentic emotion faster than trying to control or overthink too many elements.
4 Tips to finding the story
1. Know what you want to say.
2. Plan ahead of time how you to say it through motion or posing.
3. Build in details like wardrobe and location to enhance the story.
4. Use emotions as cues to create authentic subject interactions.
Sometimes we photographers need to say it before we shoot it. Try to explain in words the story that you want to tell. Every subject has a unique struggle, or triumph or story. Identify that, articulate it, and then work your way from the words to the visuals.
Meg Sexton is a lifestyle and brand photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area who’s known for her captivating natural-light images and storytelling. During an active session, Meg mentored photographer Jaime Anido, who has been photographing weddings as a second and associate shooter for 11 years.
Photos by Meg Sexton.
This post is part of the The Fujifilm Legacy partnership.