Photographic styles. It took me a while to think and research on this subject and this blog took a couple of different directions while bits and pieces came to my mind about what I should write.
Rather than add to already well-written articles found online and here, I wish to share my own journey of discovery with respect to toy photography. Along the way, I hope you too share the same experience while discovering your own style.
I decided to write about this because I realized that every time I scroll through my social media feed, I am able to instantly recognize a particular toy photographer’s work because the image has a distinct look.
In between writing this blog, I tried the following as a game :
I focused on the picture first and then try to guess the account before looking at the profile name. How many of the people you follow can you identify just by looking at their pics?
“Create your own style. Let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others”
– Anna Wintour
On my feed alone, some photographers immediately spring to mind when I associate certain styles, like Mitchel’s quirky style, Wendy’s rich and silky textured tones, Johnny’s explosive cinematic shots, Issac’s abstract image, Ardhi’s consistent use of astronaut figures or Avengergrams’ hilarious stories with comic book layout.
What makes some photos easily associated with their photographers from the flood of photos on your social feed? I think, among other things, it’s their consistent use of specific toys, lighting style, layout, types of stories they tell, color tones, composition, poses, environment…consistent being the keyword.
My personal journey
I think individual style evolves from something within us like who we are, our passions and life experiences.
I’m a pretty easy going person who always try to look at the lighter side of things and maybe have a warped sense of humor and imagination. I think all these came about after years of watching American sitcoms and reading MAD magazine while growing up. I also enjoyed reading Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side series by Gary Larson. I suspect all these reading materials subconsciously shape how I look at things sometimes.
I was an 80s kid and watched amazing movies like Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Predator, Terminator, Rambo. But none so affected me more than Star Wars.
Thus, when I started on this toy photography journey, it centered mostly around Star Wars figures caught in humorous situations. I knew the source material (the Original Trilogy) inside out and it was just a matter of thinking of certain scenes and trying to put an unexpected twist on it.
When I realized there were other toy brands producing figures from my other favorite movies, I started to put them in similarly unexpected situations. With more movies being released, I think I will be drawn to even more characters that will inspire even more fun photos.
“You don’t find a style. A style finds you”
– Keith Richards
I will be the first to admit that I am not the most technical person when it comes to photography. I don’t think I have a particular shooting style. I enjoy the process of coming up with a concept and getting the image out of my head and into the screen. For me, the storytelling/gag always comes first. I guess that is my strength.
I hope that paying attention to small details like lighting, a little accessory here and there, a small tweak to the pose, set within an unexpected situation, together with my pair of red quotes and some typography work will help make my images uniquely mine. Though I have to admit that I feel like I am cheating when I use the red quotes, because that has nothing to do with photography and more to do with graphic design and layout.
Nothing is Original:
Copy. Transform. Evolve.
To quote from Jim Jarmusch, an independent filmmaker:
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery-celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”
Inspiration from others can be a good starting point to evolving a style. However, we should not copy the style but rather make a bad copy of it and then make it your own.
We really shouldn’t be too stressed chasing after a particular style. It should be an evolving process. If we continue to shoot the toys we love, enjoy the process and shoot often enough, a style will naturally evolve. I think it takes time and the journey is probably more exciting and rewarding than the final destination.
beautiful post Sunny. I would agree wholeheartedly with each sentence, especially the one about story/gag being more important than technique. My approach is the same since I am still a rookie, learning the skills and more often using intuition than knowledge. And maybe that’s why I don’t have a distinctive style. Each my photo is different, there is no dominant elements or I can’t notice them.
As You said Sunny, the journey moght be more exciting than reaching the destination. That’s why I’m still on the road.
Excellent post, Sunny! I’m glad you decided to keep the red dot quotes on your images – I can always immediately tell that they’re yours when I see them in my feed! I think it makes your photos incredibly unique and special. I wouldn’t feel bad about it being a graphic design thing at all – it’s an awesome blend!
A great read! Until recently I never really considered having a style. Some folks have been saying they like my style and I am not sure what that is. So I guess a style is for others to come up with? Anyways, I’ll just follow what you said and continue to do what I love. 🙂