Creating Your Own Style
by Judy Host
Ten years ago when I started my business, the last thing I wanted to do is have my work look like everyone else’s. It was a little daunting—what could I possibly do that hadn’t already been done? From the very beginning, I was determined to achieve this objective of uniqueness and build my business on two fundamental principles. The first was to create a product that consistently exceeded my client’s expectations, thereby insuring my reputation in the market as an accomplished portrait photographer. The second was to simply create a portfolio of images that had a certain appeal that would, over time, be easily recognized as compositions from my studio—images whose light, color and focus pleased the senses and proved to be undeniably my style.
I started this process by experimenting with every kind of film on the market. I managed to come up with some pretty interesting images, but I wasn’t sure I could continue to produce consistent results for my clients. So, I forged ahead with my medium-format camera and my 150mm soft focus lens, which I still use today. I was reminded many times during the trials and tribulations of starting my business that regardless of the equipment, no one else has my heart, and even though my work might be compared to someone else’s, it’s still my own vision of the world.
So how do you create your own style? For me, the first step was to start paying very close attention to the work I liked. I would go through magazine after magazine and look at the images that moved me. Once I found an image that made me stop and take notice, I would study it and figure out why I liked it. After a while, I noticed a pattern in the work I was drawn to. I would take these images and put them up in my office where I could see them everyday to remind me to be creative and to feel inspired.
The second step, which sounds so easy, is to follow your passion. What do you love to photograph? As artists, we must have passion for our subjects, or it just becomes a job. How can you be creative if you do the same thing everyday? Passion is the energy you bring to the creative process. It’s who you are, and it surfaces time and time again in your work. As photographers, we are the luckiest people in the world to be able to make a living doing what we love to do, so doing it well is a must.
Third, find a look or create a look that fits your work. I have created a style that suits my personality and my view of how I want to see life. My work has a kinder, gentler feel to it, and that is what attracts my clients to me.
A few years ago, I started shooting with a digital camera. I took some classes in Photoshop and then bought myself an Epson printer. The more comfortable I got with this new technology, the more I could see the possibilities of using it in my business. It never dawned on me that it would create more work for me or change the style of my portraits.
I tested several kinds of digital equipment from 35mm cameras to digital backs for my Mamiya RZ-67. Given the kind of portrait work that I do, and the size of the portraits I sell, I decided to work with the Kodak 14N. I found I loved the freedom that the 35mm format gave me. I’ve been tethered to a tripod for so long, I had forgotten how wonderful it was to move around without restriction. Of course, the end result was my image style was changing, and to my surprise, my clients loved some of the changes.
The process of getting these images reproduced was the next challenge. Downloading, editing, color balancing, sizing, art working and burning CDs or emailing the work to be repro-duced was time consuming. Before, all I had to do was shoot my film and send it to the lab. Now I am the lab. Like most small business owners, an increase to my workflow is a hardship. I needed to find a way to streamline this process so I could continue to incorporate digital processing into my business.
Most labs now have software that makes this process much easier. With some training and continued education, I find that I like the increased control I have over the presentation of my work. The image quality is so good, you can’t tell anymore what is digital and what isn’t, and even though I spend more time editing my work, I save time in how quickly the work comes back. I continue to outsource as much work as I can. I don’t have the expertise to print my own work and certainly don’t have the time. For me, what works best is to find vendors that can produce the quality of work I expect and let me do what I do best, create that once-in-a-lifetime portrait.
Although, I have decided I will not give up my film cameras, I will, however, use both digital and film. As the technology continues to improve, so does my comfort level with incorporating digital photography into my business. Keeping up with all the changes is quite a task. What’s important to remember is, it’s still about your heart, your vision and your passion for what you do. The use of new equipment will force change and give us that little push we all need to see and do things differently. Change, as painful as it may be, is so important to our growth as artists. It’s the fourth step in creating a consistently evolving style.
“Never let reality get in the way of imagination.”—2004 Audi advertisement.
Judy Host is one of Northern California’s leading portrait photographers. She has won numerous awards for her photography and has been featured in several publications. She has received three Kodak Gallery Awards, and many of her images have been exhibited at Epcot Center and are part of a traveling loan collection. To see more of her work visit the web site: www.judyhost.com.