Passport: The Elements Of Style

My Hasselblad XPan camera is a favorite--and I don't always use it for horizontal panoramas.

Here's how you know that your photographs are showing a personal style:
Someone familiar with your work comes to you one day and says, "You know, I saw a picture recently that kind of looked like the pictures you take." This does not mean that you imitate someone else. Or someone else is imitating you. Or, isn't it a coincidence that two people take similar pictures? It means that your style is known and is being recognized; that there's something identifiable about your photographs--maybe the subject, or the way you frame it, or your use of color--that is a signature, an indicator. It means you've got style. If you're a professional photographer and that happens to you, well, you've arrived.

At the Four Seasons resort in the Maldives. Simple, direct, it's all about color and composition. You might say it's my style to find the quiet moments and details that speak of the sense of a location. Photos like this are easy to make; the real skill is in observing and choosing what not to put into the frame. I took this with my Nikon F4 and 35-70mm zoom lenns.
Photos © 2002, Jack Hollingsworth, All Rights Reserved

I've always been intrigued by personal style--what makes it, how you develop it, and how you recognize it. I'm sure volumes have been written about what style is, but to me it's pretty basic: Your style comes from what made you pick up a camera in the first place. It's what you point your camera at, and how you choose to depict that subject. Your style is going to It's going to be formed and influenced by all the things that influence you: personality, education, interests, sensibility, and appreciation. I came from graphic design and I love to travel. Look at my photos and what do you see? Me. The way I use color and composition to depict the things I like--that's my style.

So, look to yourself to find your style. Look at what you like to photograph and how you like to portray those things. Why do you choose to do this and not that? Look at the way you take pictures: close-up or from a distance? With great deliberation or seize the moment? At the very least, you'll see a hint of what your personal style is. And the more you photograph, the more rolls of film you shoot, the more you'll define, refine, and develop that style.

I loved the stacking of color at this Bermuda beach. (Mamiya RZ67 and 110mm lens.)

Style doesn't come overnight. You get it from years of shooting and lots of film. I found that after many jobs and many projects, I started to see themes and ideas in my photographs. There was a sense of color; and the fact that I liked to photograph people; and I loved using design elements in my compositions. Soon I saw what were the hallmarks of my style, and they became my photographic signature.

This image of a Beijing opera performer is more lifestyle than travel--bright, open, with an unexpected composition. I used the Hasselblad XPan.

What's interesting is that when you begin taking pictures you may think that your personal style is right there in the photographs right from the start. I thought that, but I was surprised to find that the things I was being recognized for were different from what I thought I was putting into my images. People liked what I did, but they saw something else in the photos. And what they saw was what I was unconsciously doing. So to a large extent, style can be revealed through others.

A street scene in Kinsale, Ireland, that I chose to photograph because of its strong colors. My camera for this was the Pentax 67 with a 75mm lens.

I'm aware now that I have two different styles. For my travel photography, it's a concentration on bold color and strong, sometimes stark graphics. For my lifestyle photography, it's more casual, relaxed, and freewheeling; more experimental. It comes down to sharp, clean geometry on the one hand, softer, smoother edges on the other. In both cases, it's what I like to do, what I choose to see in my viewfinder, and how I choose to capture that scene. Whether your style is something you're doing deliberately or unconsciously, it's how you see the world and how you choose to share that view. It's there in the elements you keep coming back to. Ultimately, your style is you.