photo of person covered with brown textile


Photo by Lanny Cottrell

Just what is a “style” of photography?

There are a lot of amazing artists in the world. If we look at some of the great painters of the world, you might think of Van Gogh, Picasso, etc. If you saw a lot of art, you might recognize their art over other art from other painters.

How about photography. If you saw a photo by Ansel Adams, would you recognize it as his? I think if you have seen his work, it is unmistakable. His contrast is so perfect, the staging of his composition is unreal, it is pretty hard not to recognize his photos (if you don’t know who Ansel Adams is, please look him up).


man looking to his right
Photo by Brandan Saviour on

We photographers are often faced with a minor dilemma; we often know exactly what we want. That does not mean we will have the right conditions to create it. I am talking non studio images here. The studio is a different thing. Every bit as creative, it is a control of conditions inside or lack of control outside, that makes the difference. You can go the same place, at the same time of day, a thousand times and never completely reproduce the exact conditions of any previous encounter. That is the challenging situation the photographer faces every time they pick up a camera. I believe that it is in how the photographer overcomes this challenge that defines their own personal style. It is how our unique vision of the world interacts with how the world is being presented, that produces that personal style. I must warn the reader that the style differences among many photographers is subtle and at times barely discernible to the naked eye.


man looking at a painting
Photo by Вася Стасюк on

Photography is an art. It takes some time to realize you are in the same bracket as an artist, but it’s true. A good photographer will never miss looking at art, photography exhibit, or even miss looking at other’s photography that you admire. You must learn from every artist, whether a painter or photographer.

I recently decided to post some of my best photos on Facebook in a group for photographers. I was welcomed in to the group, and my first photo I posted got a great number of “likes” and great comments. An good artist also recognizes a good photographer. You must rub shoulders with the artists of the world, whether they be painters of good photographers.

List of things to help you obtain a good style in photography

I have been watching photographer: Dennis Nikols talk about his tips on how to develop a style, and I like it a lot. He had it recently published in “

Dennis’ tips for revealing your unique vision escape (in no specific order):

  • Subject Focus: You could select a few subjects that you feel passionate about. If you have knowledge of the subject it is often easier to see past the superficial and bring out the deeper meaning and emotions. Not all subjects cary deep emotions or have any truly deeper meaning, but that does not mean they lack the challenge of making the mundane interesting. It is what gives you satisfaction and intellectual pleasure that counts most.
  • Style: Style comes down to how you express your vision. It is some combination of methodology, technique and technology. This is a function of: the technology chosen, post exposure processing, your over all approach, the subject and conditions. It is making choices and maximizing the results.
  • Learning: Be open to learning from others as well as from your own experiences. I never discard a poor image without first examining it closely to see why it failed. I suspect that I am like most of you and only like about 10 % of the total images I generate. Sometimes I don’t like any of them because they simply fail to properly represent the subject. If possible, go back and try again, applying your knowledge of what went wrong until you have captured the essence of your initial vision. Keep in mind the original purpose of making the images. It is nice to take pictures of your child’s birthday party and if some qualify as high art, all the better. If the purpose is to record the event for relatives, future nostalgia trips or to embarrass the child later in adulthood then high art is simply not necessary.
  • Rules: Rules in photography are not so much absolutes as they are guidelines. Lets face it, if we did not set them aside from time to time, originality would be lost. On average, the “rule of thirds” applies aptly, but when it comes to presenting a certain subject the best possible way, at a given moment in time, then maybe not. Simply put, experiment, try it all! Today multi-media is so inexpensive that all other costs are greater. It is more expensive to travel even a short distance than to fill your reusable flash card. Unlike the days of chemicals, film and paper that made us careful and aware of the cost of each frame, today’s digital photos are, in and of themselves, freebies and 100% recyclable.
  • Critic: You are your own worst critic, as every artist is. It is critical to be honest with yourself and with others. We all know this, but more often than not, we are more honest with others and less honest with ourselves. The best way is to look at all our images critically, but not despairingly. Apply a critical eye to which images work and do not work and evaluate honestly why that is so. A great image of someone or something you detest is still a great picture. Understand why. You are not forced to show it to anyone else. If you find anything that is not quite right understand that too. It is back to the learning thing, isn’t it?
photo of person covered with brown textile
Photo by Noelle Otto on
  • Inspiration: We all need it. Some of us thrive on it. Some of us inspire others. All of us are inspired by someone or something. It is that inspiration that turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. Let it work for you. I carry a pocket camera with me almost all the time because sometimes I find a unique moment and point and shoot. They are not all great. Most are just ordinary, but every once in a while I get inspired to go back with my SLR and do it right. We all need to be open to the idea that inspiration occurs when and where we find it or when and where it finds us. Once, my wife and I were touring a 15th century cathedral and I was inspired to photograph the vaulted ceiling. I laid on the floor and did just that, much to her embarrassment I must add, but the results were outstanding.
  • Practice: Don’t always wait for moments to find you, sometimes you need to go exploring with an active eye. Keep lookout for anything new, different, and hopefully, exciting. If I have learned anything living in Alberta, it is the prairies and mountains are never the same. You can travel the same path 100 times and easily get 500 different images! Practicing is just as important in photography as it is in music or any other endeavor. I am convinced that I have trained my eye to see what the lens sees. I know, from experience, that I can size up and compose an image two to three times faster than most. By the time I get the lens cap off, I know what I am going to shoot, at what focal length and from what position. I would like to think this is raw talent; the truth is that it is 50 years of practice.
  • Self Expression: Why do we take pictures or make images? For me, it is my form of artistic expression. For others they sing or play an instrument, draw, sketch or paint, while others act or write. For me, photography is my most important self expressive activity. If you choose photography as your expressive medium, you are also choosing to share your unique vision of the world with that world.
Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

One last thing: Taking photos is taking a chance it won’t turn out the way you want it. Luckily we have cameras that record the image immediately and we have time to redo the photo if it didn’t turn out. Digital photography has taken away much of the photos that were taken by chance. Learn everything you can how to work the settings of your camera, the rules of composition, and how other photographers take photos.

Hi, I’m Lanny Cottrell! I am a photographer too! See if you can determine my style of photography. Here are a few of my favorite photos. See if you like them and what my style is:

The Bark of a Quaking aspen.
A Walk through the Park.
Rock formations found in Northern Utah. The Witch Sisters

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