This is going to be a bit of advice that I have been wanting to talk about for sometime. The concept of one's personal style, aesthetic, and look is rather important in defining yourself as a photographer, especially a music photographer. As a result, I felt the need to get some things written down and out there to help those who might be struggling with defining things.
When I first started in the music photography game, I'm talking way back in the days of shooting bar shows, I had no idea or concept about a personal style or aesthetic. I was just wanting to photograph shows and get the images out as quickly as possible. In retrospect, that has led to a disconnect with those images in my archive. They are a part of me, but they do not represent me or where I have gone. It is also why I've taken down a lot of old galleries from over the years.
Considering a personal style and look to my photos, honestly, didn't happen until relatively recently. Even for my wire assignments, I'd quickly process them, upload them, and then get them out to this website as well. I didn't think of adding a personal touch or a way of really making those photos mine. There was no consistency across the board. Color photos would be mixed with black and white ones, and, well, that began to bother me. I guess I'm OCD like that, but those particular style choices and decisions really started to become part of my thought process and workflow.
I finally made the conscious decision to have my images retain a particular look across the board. Everything is in color because that is how I see things. Black and white photography is aboslutely beautiful and can envoke some magnificent emotions, but, at this time, I feel the need to explore the color pallete and tones present at anything I shoot. Those colors and tones, though, take on a muted look due to a baseline I have in my editing process. I want the image itself to pop and not a particular color at the expense of others.
I know some people are deadset against using presets in Lightroom, but I am not one of them. I use a particular preset as a baseline, one that is modeled after a particular brand of Polaroid film, to get the initial look. The Polaroid look is something that appealed to me the most and really represented what I wanted my images to be. I don't have any issues telling you any of this because I'm comfortable with my style.
Things are tweaked based on the particular venue and lighting, but the images remain a consistent feel. To me, the images do not look sterilized and overprocessed to the point of having no character and no life to them. They retain a timelessness and a sense of raw realism. At least they do to me, which is the most important thing. If someone doesn't like it, well, that's their taste. I'm not going to scrap things at this point.
You must do you
The reason I am telling you all of this is because my advice on this matter is simply to find the style that works for you and run with it. I know it sounds simplistic, but it really is the bassis of my entire philosophy when it comes to music photography. You cannot think about pleasing others or trying to be something contrary to your identity and personality.
Take your style and run with it as far as you can. Let it take you places you didn't think it would. Explore it. Craft it. Mold it. Let it be an extension of yourself. As a photographer, the visual look you give your images is how you set yourself apart from things and let people know who produced that photograph.
It might take you a relatively short time to find your style, or it might take you years. No matter the length, though, make sure it is a style that is best for you. If it's inspired by somoeone else, awesome. If it is something out of left field that goes against the grain of what the majority is doing, awesome. Again, the most important thing to remember is that the ultimate judge of your style is yourself.
If someone tells you that your style is not appropriate for today's climate or is too processed or completely wrong or even too artistic, my diplomatic suggestion would be to ignore them because their opinion is irrelevant. I have a feeling you can figure out what my non-diplomatic response would be.
Do not let anyone try to change your style because they are uncomfortable or do not approve of it. It 100% should not matter to them, especially if they are another photographer. If another photographer is preaching to you about how your style and aesthetic is wrong, run as fast as you can because you do not need to waste your time listening to that nonsense.
Remember: There is no right or wrong style. This is an artistic field. You are supposed to take things in vastly different directions to open up new horizons and new perspectives.
Find your style and find yourself
Your style shoudl define you and who you want to be as a photographer. I think back to the days where I didn't have a concentrated approach, and it makes sense because I really didn't have a concentrated direction. When you find your style, you will also find yourself and who you really are as a photographer.
So, in closing, I hope you all get out there and find that style that best defines who you are. Experiment, do different things, use inspiration, and everything in between. Have fun with it and explore the crazy places it takes you.