If you follow photographers on social media, try this out: open your favorite app, start scrolling, but try not to look at who posted the photo. Now, try to guess the photographer behind each image.
It might be easier than you think, thanks to each photographer's signature look. A signature look is the repeated combination of shooting and editing techniques used in a collection of photographs, like a portfolio, book, website, or social feed, to create recognizable continuity, perspective, style, and cohesivenes between the pictures.
For photography clients, both the ability to reliably recreate a signature look and the flexibility to adapt the look to new situations are important. Finding a look or creating a new one is also a pretty fun process, one which can and should grow with your photography.
Every photographer wants to build a style that stands out from the crowd. In this tutorial, you'll start the journey of creating a look that's all your own. You'll also learn how to create and save styles in Adobe Lightroom.
What to Do Before You Apply a Look to Your Photos
The image adjustment process consists of many steps. In general, I like to break it down into two key stages:
- Corrections bring an image back to a neutral, balanced stage. This means the basics of adjusting an image to a "close-enough" exposure without applying an opinionated, creative style to the image.
- Creative adjustments are where your vision as an editor can set you apart. These are the adjustments you make beyond the neutral corrections to bring an image to your final creative vision.
Before you begin to apply creative adjustments, it's essential that you correct your images. At Envato Tuts+, we've developed a series of tutorials that help you do just that in Adobe Lightroom.
Check out our tutorials on image correction below. Apply these steps before you move onto developing your signature style.
- PhotographyHow to Do Basic Exposure Correction on Photos With Lightroom ClassicAndrew Childress
- How-ToHow to Correct Tone and Contrast in Photos With Lightroom ClassicAndrew Childress
- PhotographyHow to Correct Saturation in Photos With Lightroom ClassicAndrew Childress
- PhotographyHow to Correct White Balance in Photos With Lightroom (Classic)Andrew Childress
How to Study An Image For Style
You might not have developed what you consider to be your signature style yet. Maybe you're not sure what you like, or what your style consists of.
The best part of being a photographer is that you don't have to figure it out on your own. You have many years of talented photographers who came before you, blazing the trail of creative editing styles. Look to them, learn from them, and study their look as you think about developing your own.
Let's divide a photographer's signature look into two parts: how the image is created, and how the image is edited and adjusted.
Study How An Image Is Created
As you start learning photography, you might know that you love a picture when you see it but you can't yet describe why. It stands out in your feed. You might pause and save it, and use it for inspiration. But you're still not sure what sets it apart.
When you're growing as a photographer, there's this magic moment that marks your growth. You begin to study photos and zone in on what you love. You start to define specific parts of a photograph that make it resonate with you and develop the mind's-eye-to-language connection needed to describe those images.
Photography is of course an art, but there's also a scientific element to it. When you learn what you like, you're able to replicate it in your own work. Here are a few factors to analyze while you're studying an image:
- Composition: how does a photographer tend to compose their image? How do they arrange the combination of subjects and objects in a way that leads the eye? For example, does your favorite photographer have a lot of photographs where the subject is at the center of the frame, or do they maybe use geometry to make a different kind of composition?
- Lens choice: this is related to photo composition, but most photographers have go-to focal lengths. A photographer who enjoys wide-angle might focus on putting their viewer "inside" a frame, while telephoto shooters might point an observant eye from afar.
- Lighting: Here's an example. My favorite photographers focus on natural light portraiture. Their work is very different than studio-based photographers that use strobes and light modifiers. Why?
Here on Envato Tuts+, Dawn Oosterhoff published an in-depth tutorial about studying images and "reading" them for their real meaning. Dawn's tutorial focuses on interpreting a photo, studying the image for composition and finding a deeper layer. Make sure to read it to learn more:
Study How An Image Is Edited And Adjusted
Now, it's time to turn our attention to Adobe Lightroom. Let's review image examples, then link to tutorials that help you implement the same in your photographs.
If there's one factor that photographers use to set themselves apart, it's creative color adjustments. As you watch your favorite photographers' sites and social feeds, study the familiar objects in the frame, like grass or a body of water. Does the color match the real-life rendering, or has it been adjusted? These are good indicators that some creative color is a part of a photographer's signature look.
Learn how to create custom creative color looks in our tutorial:
- Colour CorrectionHow to Use Creative Color Curves for Expressive Images in LightroomAndrew Childress
Contrast is part correction and part creative adjustment. After an image is brought to a neutral state, many photographers will leverage contrast again as part of more creative adjustments.
This creative adjustment is more popular than ever, largely due to the popularity of film-style edits. These images use lower contrast for a vintage and classic style.
Of course, your creative style can also include a high contrast creative adjustment. This is useful for dramatic images that seek to draw focus to a more limited part of the image.
Get creative with contrast with the help of our tutorial:
- Adobe LightroomHow to Adjust Contrast in Photos With Highlight and Shadow Controls in LightroomAndrew Childress
Detail and Texture
While some photographers opt for sharp, detailed, textured photos, others will opt for ethereal edits. Collectively, this choice is about how much detail you want your images to include.
Detail is all about how you lead the viewer's eye through the image. Adding detail and sharpening, particularly to your focus areas, helps to naturally guide someone to see what you see. Negative adjustments that remove sharpness do the same thing in a sense by de-focusing parts of an image.
These are just a few of the factors to consider while you build your signature look. Think about the type of style you want your photography to convey, and then spend time experimenting in Adobe Lightroom.
Learn the art of adjusting detail to softer, less detailed images with this tutorial:
- PhotographyLess is More: How to Alter Photos Creatively in Lightroom With Negative AdjustmentsAndrew Childress
How to Save And Share Your Signature Look With Adobe Lightroom Classic
After you've developed your signature style, it's a great idea to save your adjustments to apply to images in the future. While every image requires a unique approach, the common parts of your signature look are universal.
It helps to save these adjustments as Lightroom presets. Not only does it save time while you're adjusting the image, it also ensures consistency.
After you apply adjustments to an image, it's time to save your Lightroom preset. Click the + button, then choose Create Preset on the Presets panel.
Now, you'll see a new window with labels for every Lightroom adjustment. Notice that each label has a checkbox that you can tick or untick. This selects the settings to include in the preset. Basically, you won't save your color adjustments to the preset unless you tick Color.
Remember, your adjustments will vary by image. It might be a good idea to save separate parts of your look to separate presets. For example, imagine saving a separate preset to apply a tone curve, to adjust specific hues, and more.
Study Signature Looks From Envato Elements While Building Your Own
Throughout this article, we've been talking about studying images and building your own style. Maybe you're looking for inspiration to start creating a style of your own, but you aren't sure where to start.
The best way to do that is to sample Adobe Lightroom presets that already have most of the adjustments applied for you. And the best source for Lightroom presets is Envato Elements.
Sure, you can find free Lightroom presets across the web (even on this website), but they don't have the quality and ease-of-use that these do. On Envato Elements, every Lightroom preset is quality controlled and checked for excellence. Each pack contains multiples presets, so you'll unlock thousands of presets with one subscription.
Here are three preset packs included with Envato Elements that are far from neutral.
Ever dreamed of seeing your photos on another planet? That's the feel of many of the presets in this Elements pack. Atmosphera can help you develop your signature look by studying these significant adjustments.
You might hear a photographer talk about an edit as making an image "pop." I'm still not sure what that means, but I know it when I see it. This set of presets makes it easy to bring an image from flat to punchy with just one click. Use each of these 20 presets to add color and contrast.
Find yourself shooting at late hours? This preset package is sure to be the perfect one for you. It can transform daytime photos to night style with flat tone curves and fun color tinting.
Envato Elements: Unlimited Downloads
Envato Elements offers millions of stock items: photos, music, video clips, fonts, video project templates for After Effects, Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro and Motion, and creative courses from Envato Tuts+, all with a single subscription.
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