As photographers (or artists in general), we're all searching for that elusive "style" phenomenon everyone talks about. We want to have our own "style" with hopes that one day people might look upon our work and say things like, "hey, I like your style...." There is no formula for finding a style; you basically just have to create, A LOT. Keep shooting the things you love to shoot and editing the way you love to edit, try different things, fail, try them again, and your style will sort of naturally grow into a thing. One day it will just be there like a stray dog that falls perfectly into your life like it was always there. You won't even realize it happened. (Disclaimer: You might, however, notice a new dog in your house ... just an observation.) You can't force it (I don't believe anyone who goes out looking for a new stray dog finds one), just work and the style will come. (Disclaimer 2: Maybe this analogy is crap? ... because unlike a "style," if you want a dog, just go to the shelter and get one.)
However, once you DO find this mystical style thing, it doesn't mean you are locked in. It's not like, "ok this is my thing, I guess I just have to do this same thing amazingly over and over for the rest of my photographic career." Photography is an art form and no artist should be pigeon-holed if they don't want to be. Which is why I feel that once you have a solid grasp of what sort of photography you like to create, every now and then you should scrap all that and try something out of your wheelhouse.
If you look at my portfolio you might notice that I've landed on a style of photography that often has old school photographers giving me gruff like, "This is not photography, stop calling yourself a photographer." Um, ok but these are all pictures I took and wouldn't exist without my camera ... soooo call me whatever you'd like and then kindly mind your own dang business, you old fart. Anyway, my point is that I have a definite style. I love to create HEAVILY Photoshopped (#sorrynotsorry old-schoolers), super colorful, cinematic images full of little details that tell a story. So when my awesome and crazy talented makeup artist friend, Christine Zizzamia (I'll be referring to her as "Red" from here on out. I don't think I've ever called her Christine ... like ever), asked me to do a beauty/makeup shoot to add some new professional pics to her portfolio, I jumped at the opportunity. Also, duh I would get to hang out with Red for a day, so obviously yes!
Sure, this isn't CRAZY far off from what I normally do - basically all of my pictures are of people. It's not like I was branching way out of my comfort zone and shooting food or something. But normally (as I mentioned) I'm shooting pictures to tell a story, and let's be honest - my finished pieces tend to be showcasing my Photoshop prowess rather than the skills of a makeup artist.
Since I wasn't sectioning off a large chunk of my creative brain power for telling a story and making sure I got all the various pieces I needed for my final edit, I was free to experiment more with different lighting set ups, work on my posing, and hone my skills for connecting with a model. One of the models was my wife, Sara (above), ... so that connection was pretty easy, but my point is that by doing a shoot that I normally wouldn't do, it helped to strengthen other skills. Since I was up close and personal capturing their faces, it was more important to get the right emotions and facial expressions from my models. I had to focus more on the angles and lighting that made them look "pretty" than I did on unraveling a story.
Not only was the shooting different, but the editing was a bit new for me as well. Beauty retouching is not really my thing. There are SO many skills to be acquired when it comes to retouching skin alone. Am I the best at it? No, probably not. Can I do it? Damn straight I can. I'm a Photoshop wizard, there is nothing I can't do! But this was a great opportunity to focus on those less-used skills. Normally I don't pay a TON of attention to "typical" beauty retouching in my work. Oftentimes my subject is a bit smaller in the frame, so the skin retouching is less important. Also, I'm less concerned with my subjects looking "perfect" according to today's standards of what a model might look like in a magazine.
While editing Red's images I needed to not do TOO much because these were supposed to be all about the makeup. They were taken for her to show off her skills to potential clients. (That's you, by the way. Hire Red! She is goooood). These images were not intended for me to go, "Look what I can do with Photoshop!" .... buutttttt you may be looking at the image featured at the top of this post and thinking, "Um ... Robert, what the crap are you rambling about? That image is exactly your style." Well friends, that leads me to the other great part about shooting something a little off your beaten path.
When you're doing a shoot like this (or any client shoot, really), after the client is happy and has what they hired you for, there is no rule saying you can't slap your style all over some images for your own portfolio. Absolutely take a few minutes to get some "guidance-free" pictures of your own. Also, more than half the time when I do this for clients (ones who aren't my friend Red who basically gave me full creative control as it is), they often end up loving "my photos" and wind up using them over the ones they had planned out originally.
I actually didn't shoot the image for "The Sea Witch" intentionally for my own portfolio. It was just one of the many outtakes from the shoot. I thought it would be fun to edit one with all the restraints off, where I wasn't doing my best to leave the makeup as the focal point. I dove into the edit with very little idea where it was going. It was so refreshing to play around in Photoshop and just try different things until I started to like something - it's been a while since I went into an editing session without some direction to head in.
I noticed part way though my Photoshopping adventure how the image reminded me of Ursula from The Little Mermaid after she takes Ariel's voice and becomes a human to steal her man. The necklace we used even has a shell (... or fossil thing?) with the same spiral as the one from the movie. It was meant to be. (PS: You can actually buy any of the jewelry seen in these shots and more from Red's friend Bella's Etsy shop!) I just ran with that idea and started to play around with creating a more modern take on the character. Aka adding sa-weet tentacle tattoos as an extra detail/nod to Ursula. *humbly pats self on back*
If I hadn't taken the opportunity to try something new, I never would have ended up with this great new image for my portfolio. Also, I had lots of practice and sharpened all the little skills and tricks that go into a shoot that I might not touch on as much. Plus it was just an all around super fun day of experimenting and making art with another artist. I love any opportunity to continue to grow and evolve as a creative human. THANKS RED!! <3