VISION VS. STYLE

by Lee Anne White

As photographers, we talk a lot about vision and style. But do we really know what those words mean? These terms conjure up different concepts for different people and they are often confused with one another. But I’ll take a stab at defining and differentiating them, if for no reason other than to get you thinking about what they mean to you.

Vision is about seeing. Style is about conveying. Vision has to do with perceptions: how and what we see. Style is about the way in which we share what we see—more specifically, a consistent and often unique way in which we convey our vision.

I can stand at the edge of a beautiful garden with ten other photographers. We are looking at the same scene, but what each of us sees is very different. Vision is selective. It is based on our personal experiences, passions, and ways of seeing the world around us. What might you see standing at the edge of a garden? The broad scene or tight details? A habitat or the designer’s intentions? The growth habit of individual plants or the gentle sweep of a path? Would you be more interested in the physical aspects of what you see, or rather the way they made you feel? How you answer this question has a lot to say about your vision.

Now then, how might you convey that vision to others through your photographs? Would you work in black and white, color or some alternative process? Would you seek to capture your vision realistically, or would you tend toward a more impressionistic or even abstract approach? What camera format and lens would you choose? Which might you be more inclined to emphasize: line, space, color, texture or some other design element? Would your interpretation be subtle or dramatic? Would your framing be tight or generous? Would the composition be clean and simple, or might it be more complex with unexpected juxtapositions of elements? In what type of light might you most prefer to photograph the scene? These are just some of the approaches that, when they become common ways of conveying your vision, begin to signify your style.

It takes time to develop a distinct and recognizable style. Also, styles tend to evolve throughout our lifetime as we continue to be influenced by the visual styles of others and our way of seeing the world changes. Somewhere along the line, we must also strive for balance—exploring and even exploiting our own style without getting stuck in a rut. That means continually experimenting, and always asking our selves what we really see, how it makes us feel, and why we are compelled to photograph a particular subject.