An important principle to remember in photography, or any art, is that you shouldn’t compete with others. There is no “be better than him or her”. There is also no copying others. Instead, be unique and true to your self. Each one of us is unique (cliché but true). If we can be true to that identity and express ourselves honestly it will produce art that is just as unique and can stand on its own without being better or worse than someone else’s art. It is actually not better or worse. It’s just different. Just like we, despite being different, find friends who love us, so your art will find people who admire it. This is your voice, your artistic voice, the character of your art. Finding your voice and character, however, is easier said than done.
You might think that you are or want to be a landscape and nature photographer after seeing pretty landscape photos by someone. That’s not your voice. That’s merely copying. Now copying is okay for the purposes of learning. That’s how we learn—by copying. But like training wheels they have to be ditched after a while. Are you an outdoors person? Are you someone who likes to be in the wilderness, wading through streams and bushes, climbing mountains, sleeping in tents, eating porridge cooked over campfires? If yes, then may be landscapes are your thing. But if the great outdoors doesn’t excite you, then how can you capture a landscape that will take the viewer’s breath away? Or may be you want to be a street photographer because you think some famous street photographer is cool? If you are not a city/people person who likes to be in the middle of an urban setting, with people all around you, with the hustle and bustle of busy city life surrounding you, rubbing shoulders with strangers then how can you be a street photographer? The subject of your art must resonate with you. This is the content of your art.
Then there is the question of style. A few people have asked me what is style and how to define theirs. In their eyes, I have a style that is identifiable. Although, I believe the aspect they thought was my style was merely a look. But what is style? And can you develop it? Here’s my answer to that: Style is like a limp. May be you had surgery, or you have flat feet. May be you have an injury. (I have flat feet and several injuries!) When you walk a short distance you don’t feel a thing. But if you go for a long walk you start to feel the pain. Unbeknownst, you will shift your weight, and adjust your speed to minimize the pain. Your gait will fall into a very recognizable pattern. The same thing happens in art. If you do it enough, your style will emerge on its own. It’s not something you can artificially impose on yourself (and shouldn’t). Rather, it is the pattern that emerges from the long practice of an art. But you won’t know it unless you go for that long walk. Whatever you do, do a lot of and then examine what you did. There you will find your style.
These two, content and style, together is your signature and will make your photography unique and recognizable.