5 Tips for Defining Your Style with Sal Cincotta
Stop copying other photographers.
Want to define your style? Allow me to tell you the surefire way not to: Copy what other photographers are doing. Sure, you love their work, you are a fan even. Nothing wrong with that. One thing missing: vision. You can copy their work, but you will forever be chasing their work.
This is the way they see the world. It is their vision. When you copy someone else, it never feels right because you don’t really see it.
There is nothing wrong with looking to other photographers for inspiration. We all need some inspiration, and it’s always inspiring to see how other photographers see the world. It’s truly incredible: You can take 10 photographers, put them in the same room with the same camera, lens and light, and you will get 10 completely different images. That is awesome. But imagine if you were to try to copy another photographer in any given situation. It will always lack something and fall short of an incredible image.
Experiment and get uncomfortable.
It’s easy to do what you have always done. It’s predictable. You know you are going to get something that historically has worked for you. Maybe you are a veteran or a newbie still trying to figure out off-camera flash or how to use the settings on your camera. This piece of advice holds true for everyone.
The best way to find your style is to get out there and try something new. As a 10-year vet myself, I am constantly trying to push myself and try something that’s new and refreshing. It is easy to get stale as an artist. Inspiration, which we will talk about next, becomes crucial in this journey to continue to grow.
The way I like to experiment is to try something new or different every time I shoot. Different doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel. Different can be as simple as a tweak to something you have been doing for years.
I like to challenge myself and my team to push the limits of our creativity. We might walk into a wedding and I will issue a challenge. Today, it’s all about reflections. Or it’s all about geometric shapes or patterns. This forces me to look for repeating patterns, or triangles, or reflections in windows, tables, puddles, etc. This is an incredible way to get yourself to “see” things that you might not ordinarily be unaware of. Try it, and I promise you will see the difference.
Look to Hollywood and art museums for inspiration.
I always look to Hollywood for inspiration. I find it’s much easier than looking at other photographers. Instead of trying to copy a Hollywood director, I try to incorporate his vision into my work. It’s incredible what you will see if you are looking for it. Composition, tone, editing and lighting are all on display in an incredible way.
There are two movies I love and that never get old. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is visually breathtaking. The composition alone is mind-blowing. If you have not seen this movie, rent it and watch it with the volume off. Don’t engross yourself in the storyline. Just watch and absorb.
Another great film is the miniseries John Adams starring Paul Giamatti. This is yet another example of incredible visual stimulation. This winner of 13 Emmy Awards is something worth watching for sure—and you’ll even learn something about one of our presidents.
The key here is to watch how Hollywood is telling stories and to figure out how you can incorporate these techniques into your own storytelling.
For more great inspiration, head to your local art museum. I started doing this a few years ago. Every part of the painting is put to use. There is no wasted space. They had to tell a story on their canvas. In that story, they would tell substories as well. If you have a chance, sit there and just let your eye wander through a painting, and you will be amazed at what you find. Look for your primary element. Look for the secondary element. Look for that tertiary element if it exists.
Painters are incredible storytellers. The storytelling is not just about the subject they choose, but the use of color, composition, lighting, etc. Want to learn about portraits? Check out a guy named Rembrandt. He was a true master. I was at the National Gallery in London and had the honor of staring at some of his amazing work for hours.
Show your clients your style.
It becomes harder and harder to find your style when you are afraid to showcase it to your clients. Why? Based on my conversations with photographers, it appears you are afraid of the rejection. Instead, artists seek approval. It’s an artificial security blanket that becomes a vicious circle. You lack confidence because you are not shooting true to the way you see the world. You are trying to deliver something that your clients like or want instead of being confident and showing them your true colors.
This was probably one of the toughest things for me to learn. I was so busy trying to make everyone happy that I lost sight of what I wanted to do and why I got into photography in the first place. And the funniest part of the whole thing is that once I started showing clients my style, basically the way I see the world, I started getting better clients. I started booking clients who valued the way I saw the world. And with that, I started making more money because I could charge more. And then my confidence grew with every shoot because of the positive feedback I was getting.
Shoot for you.
Stop trying to be everything to everyone. Shoot for you. Embrace the way you see the world. You will never please everyone, and that’s okay. Let it go. Here is what I can tell you: If you try to make everyone happy, you will make no one happy, including yourself. If you are like me, you got into photography because you loved it. I have seen so many photographers resent the business side of photography because they are no longer doing what they love.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Embrace who you are as a photographer, and you will attract clients who love your work and will let you do your thing. When you get to that point, you will have more confidence, and with that confidence comes a new love for what you do.
Over the last few years, I have become extremely comfortable and confident in my work and my ability to create art for my clients. I am happy with what I am charging for my work, and I feel like I have the best job in the world. I get paid to do what I love every single day.
Chase your dreams and don’t ever give up.