By Lizzy Gadd
When I look at my work now, I admit I do feel very fortunate to have somehow fallen into this niche of ethereal self-portraiture/landscape mixtures that, I humbly also admit, I am kind of proud of.
It was a long process getting there. I don’t really know how it happened. But the moment I found it, it felt right. It’s what speaks to me, being able to express myself, and my love of nature, together. And so I’ve been doing exactly that for nine years now, and it still feels right.
But I started fourteen years ago. I knew from the moment I picked up my first camera that photography would be what I wanted to do. I didn’t know anything about style. I just wanted to shoot and shoot everything I thought interesting or beautiful. (At the time – Leaves. Pinecones. Fences. My cat’s eyeballs). My mind did not care about and did not even think about “genres” or “niches”. And looking back, I so love that. I was equally happy then with my work as I am with my work now. There’s something so freeing in shooting whatever you want, however you want. And I spent 5 years doing just that – going through phases of nature photography, landscapes, wildlife, pets, abstract, random objects, some street photography… portraits being the only subject I never did really try, because well, I’m mega awkward around people. Which is perhaps why, when I finally decided it was time to branch out and try portraiture, I decided it would be self portraits.
And to delve a little further into that, I took a challenge of taking a self-portrait every day for the year of 2010 (as I’m sure many of you know from times I’ve mentioned in the past). Even though I was taking these portraits every day, I still had no “style.” Every photo was extremely different, an experiment in itself. It wasn’t until the last days (the very last day actually) when I was finishing the project by taking the final self-portrait by a lake in some of my favourite mountains, feeling particularly alive, joyous to be done with selfies, and freezing in -10 degrees after partially slipping into the water (the hem of my dress frozen solid like cardboard), that the realization began sinking in, much same way that the icy air was sinking into my bones – “Crap… I’m not done, after all.
This, this is what I want to do.”
Yeah, I’m still not sure how that happened. But I love doing this, to this day, through all the discomforts and exhilarating moments alike.
People have asked me, “How important is it for photographers to have a style? A niche?” On one hand, I love and admire photographers who commit 100% of their effort into a specific genre. It can really pack a powerful punch. They have my full respect. And I suppose I would place myself in that category of mostly working within one particular style.
But on the other hand: Who else do I really admire? The people who are not afraid to branch out. Who don’t keep themselves in a box. The people who embrace change, who allow themselves to keep learning, to keep growing, to keep trying different things, different styles and mediums, developing more and more layers to their work that I think is a testament to their wonderful ever-changing, ever-deepening personalities.
So my answer to that question: It is important. It isn’t important. That is up to you. There is no right or wrong.
A quick word of advice I like to give to photographers struggling to “find their style”: You don’t have to expect to find it instantly. It reveals itself to you over time. Shoot what YOU want to shoot, and shoot it lots. Use these “style-less” days to hone your skills with the camera and post-processing (as I did during my 365). Shoot what you love, what you find interesting. You’ll likely not notice an improvement or style development from day to day, even month to month, but if you take a look back yearly it may impress you to notice the difference, to see how far you’ve come, to see what you’ve been leaning towards with your subject matter, processing and all that.
Suddenly you might just find yourself with your own uniquely shaped style. And if you’re struggling, by all means, branch out! Your style could be ever-changing. It grows as you do. One of the best cures I’ve found for a creative rut is to try something new. And you might come back to your style feeling refreshed, or you might have found something even better, that you connect with even more now.
Again, there is no right or wrong.
And now I leave you all in style, with a photo of myself in front of the Game of Thrones Castle Greyjoy (supposedly). Next time I’ll be sure to include the dragons.
Lizzie Gadd originally wrote this article for our private online photography community here at OFFBEAT. There are dozens more where that came from. If that sounds like something you like the sound of, sign up for our community!