Many people think vision and style are the same. They’re not. What’s the difference? Vision is what you have to say; style is how you say it.
Confusing one for the other or focusing on one and not the other can be disastrous.
Just because your images look different doesn’t mean you’ve said anything or said it well. No matter how dazzling something may look, when style becomes a substitute for vision ultimately the viewer leaves unsatisfied – though they don’t always know why. If you confuse style for vision it confuses your viewers. And when you use a style that’s inappropriate for your vision it distorts the way your work is seen and it’s likely that you’ll be misunderstood.
You don’t have to make your images look different to say meaningful things and say them in your own authentic way. Sometimes less is more. Less style, more vision. Stronger styles make the viewer work harder to see past the surface of an image and find the deeper meaning within it. Strong styles work only if they complement a vision – then both become stronger.
Vision and style are related. Hopefully, vision drives style. Vision gives style meaning and purpose. When style reflects purpose it deepens the whole experience, making statements more deeply felt. Style can create meaningful connections between the subject and the way an image looks and even between multiple images. Subtle shifts in style throughout a body of work and even an artist’s lifetime have the potential to communicate even more meaning.
Style is easy to identify because all you need to do is make formal statements about what you see. You simply describe how the things in an image look. When describing style you focus less on the things you see and more on how they look. You state what your eyes actually see, the visual building blocks of an image not the content those elements are used to represent. To do this well, you need to learn a little vocabulary to formally describe images in ways that others will understand, but there’s an added benefit, learning that vocabulary will help you look more carefully and see more things and relationships between them. Line, shape, volume, color, texture, scale, range, and compositional patterns are the fundamentals; you can make finer distinctions in each of these categories. Some aspects of style describe relationships that are visible between multiple images such as the number of images used, their sequence, its pace and rhythm. Style can be extended to anything you do in a particular way, not your actual practice (she used a camera) but the way you practice it (she always moved in close). The ways you do things communicate your attitudes and so imbues what you make with meaning.
Vision is harder to identify than style. This is where you move from taking pictures of things and start making pictures about things.
It’s part plot; your subject, events that happen to it, actions it takes, reactions, and consequences.
It’s part theme. The theme is the big (or main) idea and subthemes are smaller (or subordinate) related ideas. It’s what the work says about a subject. It’s the overall message and the underlying messages. This is the least literal often least visible aspect of work and it’s often where the most soul can be found.
It’s part you … the patterns you see and create, your relationship to your subject and the images you create of and possibly about it, all the associations and connections you make between it and other things, the things you choose to show and not to show, your emotional reactions to things and events and even their appearances, the reasons why you care and why we should care.
If the style of your images is appropriate it will help us see your vision … in a very particular meaningful way.
You don’t have to figure out your vision or your style before you start making meaningful images. Whether you start with no idea or a good idea, it’s likely that you won’t know the full meaning of your work until you make it. An essential part of the process of creating images is figuring things out. Show your process, not all of it, just the interesting parts, the ones you decide are meaningful. What you finally make doesn’t have to be perfect, finished, or even fully resolved; you just have to do it well enough to create a compelling experience. And to do that, you have to figure out a few things, perhaps only the most important things, about your vision (what you have to say) and style (how you say it). Then make more images and figure out a little more. Keep repeating this process enough times and you’ll find your way, your vision and your style, If you hold nothing back and give it everything you’ve got, you will be amazed by what you discover.
Read more in my Creativity resources.
Learn more in my Creativity workshops.
I create and curate a lot of content on creativity, art, and photography.
Here I’ve collected some invaluable resources for finding, energizing, and deepening your creative vision.
You’ll get a great taste for the content on creativity we offer in our Digital Photo Destinations Workshops.
Seth Resnick @ B&H – Seeing Color & Enhancing Creativity
John Paul Caponigro @ TEDx – You’re Created To Be Creative
John Paul Caponigro @ Google – The Creative Process
John Paul Caponigro @ Austin Talks – Find Your Way
Gregory Heisler highlights the importance of doing things your way.
Gregory Heisler @ Creative Live – Embracing Your Uniqueness
David Duchemin writes soulfully about cultivating your vision.
David DuChemin – Your Next Step : Authentic Work
David Duchemin – Finding Vision ?
David DuChemin – Chasing Photographic Style
David DuChemin – Vision And Voice
Hungry for more? Savor this book.
Thomas Moore’s – Original Self
Want to find out more about my creative process?
Check out my ebook Process.
The big take away? Creativity is an evolving process of discovery. If you simply engage the process with an open mind and a willingness to try new things, you’ll be uplifted by the surprises it holds for you. And, with mindful practice, you can start to influence the courses your creative life takes to make it more likely that you’ll get the results you desire most. Dream, act, fulfill them.
You’ll find more content like this in my newsletter Insights.
Sign up for my newsletter Insights here.
Shortly after the opening of my new exhibition Land Within Land, Scott David Gordon recently interviewed me for his podcast Austin Talks. He picked up on many of the ideas I shared during my gallery talks … and ran with them.
As he said, “If you are looking for a technical discussion on Photoshop and cameras to choose this is not the one. We had a fairly philosophical conversation about many subjects including defining a mission in life, being present, nature, spirit of place, creativity, play, and how to find your own way as an artist and a human. I love how thoughtful and specific he is with his words and wisdom. It’s no wonder he is a sought-after lecturer and teacher.”
I hope you enjoy our conversation!
Find out more about Scott David Gordon here.
Listen to more Austin Talks here.
Digital Photo Destinations offers workshops not photo tours.
Our goal is not just to take you to Bucket List Destinations, it’s also to help you discover your destination. We’re committed to helping you discover your story, your vision, your voice and achieve your creative goals.
Our alumni’s successes are proof that what we share works. Our alumni often join us many times in many locations, not only to travel to great locations, with friends both old and new, but also to pursue personal development. They create a community that eagerly welcomes new members. You can become an alumni too and enjoy all of the benefits we collectively offer.
Find out more here.
Find out more about this image here.
Here’s a collection of my favorite quotes on vision.
“America was established not to create wealth but to realize a vision, to realize an ideal – to discover and maintain liberty among men.” – Woodrow Wilson
“Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision.” – Stevie Wonder
“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” – Helen Keller
“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” – Arthur Schopenhauer
“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” – Jonathan Swift
“Only those who can see the invisible can accomplish the impossible!” – Patrick Snow
“The best vision is insight.” – Malcolm Forbes
“Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” – George Washington Carver
“The man don’t make the vision; the vision makes the man.” – Pastor Yonggi Cho
“A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more.” – Rosabeth Moss Kanter
“It takes someone with a vision of the possibilities to attain new levels of experience. Someone with the courage to live his dreams.” – Les Brown
“Every age needs men who will redeem the time by living with a vision of the things that are to be.” – Adlai E. Stevenson
This is a great series on how photography changes the ways we see!
“In Vision & Photography BBC’s Explorations charts the advances in science and technology that have revealed hidden worlds and astonishing images. Well see how remarkable innovations in medicine, photography and astronomy have enhanced and altered our understanding. This is the story of how Mankind is driven to acquire these seemingly impossible visions; it is a journey through the images that have revolutionised how we understand our world.”
“One of the pioneers in the use of strobe lighting in photography was Professor Harold Edgerton. Developing the technology to look at our world in different and startling ways has been one of the greatest achievements of human endeavour. The latest development in photography is also one of the most amazing. Its called Time Slice.”
“So much of our world is invisible to us. Its secrets locked in time and space. But alter that time and space and the once invisible world suddenly becomes visible. ??Using a fast flashing artificial light or a strobe light, its possible to freeze minute moments of time, and even the fastest moving objects. ??One of the pioneers in the use of strobe lighting in photography was Professor Harold Edgerton. Developing the technology to look at our world in different and startling ways has been one of the greatest achievements of human endeavour. The latest development in photography is also one of the most amazing. Its called Time Slice. ??Time slice, invented by Tim Macmillan, freezes a single moment in time and lets us view it in three dimensions.”
“Our eyes play tricks on us. And all around us there exist in the natural world some of the most extraordinary optical illusions. One creature resembles its background so closely its been given the same name, the stick insect. Scientists have learnt a lot from natures optical illusions. Soldiers regularly use camouflage to blend into their background and now human ingenuity has taken camouflage to its logical next step. Soon well be able to make a man completely invisible. Electrically conducting cloth covered in light sensitive sensors sees what’s behind the soldier and projects it onto the front of a suit. Will the invisible man of science fiction soon become science fact?”