If you ever struggle to describe your style, this exercise is for you. With a few back issues of your favorite magazines and a little time, you can quickly hone in on your style characteristics. While I did this exercise to refine my photo style for tinsel + trim, it’s just as easy to imagine its value when planning a party, a room redo, or a wardrobe refresh.
I was introduced to this exercise, known as the 5 Minute Flip, last month at the Altitude Summit blogging conference. Candice Borup Stringham, of Handmade Mood, led a photo styling workshop about how to create imagery that conveys mood, feeling and personality. As she spoke, I furiously scribbled notes trying to capture all of the many illuminating and practical tips she generously shared. Among them was this exercise.
The premise is simple. While we find ourselves attracted to a multitude of styles and imagery, if we pull those images together, patterns will begin to emerge. We may notice we like bright, airy photos or dark, moody ones. Graphic or organic. Simple or complex. If we take it one step further and narrow, over time, that set of images to a favorite few, we’ll have effectively honed in on our style characteristics.
These are the steps Candice suggests:
- Gather. Grab a few magazines you aren’t afraid to tear apart and set the timer for 5 minutes.
- Flip. Go through the pages deliberately but quickly. Pull out every image that you respond to; don’t think about it – just react.
- Assemble. At the end of the 5 minutes, take the images you’ve gathered and assemble them on a wall that you frequently pass.
- Narrow. Over the next few days, every time you walk by, take down one image.
- Reflect. You’re done when you have one or a few images you can’t bear to remove – these are your style beacons. Dissect, analyze and reflect. This image (or images) holds the key to your style characteristics.
Here’s a simulated time lapse of my exercise. As you can see I started with quite a few but couldn’t bring myself to go any further than the final eight images.
I started with a variety of images ranging from bold to subtle, vibrant to subdued, busy to simple. I was drawn to the texture in food photography and the elements of storytelling in lifestyle and craft photography. I could imagine myself aspiring toward any one of these styles – but therein lies the crux. As much as I want to experiment within all these styles, I’m never going to excel when my palette is so broad. At least for a period of time, it’s important to focus, experiment and refine within boundaries. This exercise is helping me define those boundaries.
By the end, I had a small assemblage of images that consistently called my attention. After spending some time scrutinizing these images, the following five themes emerged.
The small hints and details of everyday life brought these images to life. They told a story just through the addition of one or two details. It’s those details that make them feel real and tangible.
There is a warmth to these images. They don’t feel luxurious or inaccessible. They feel very approachable and human. I especially like the idea of incorporating hints of the maker, such as the woman hold the card she made. She’s not the focus but you’re reminded that a real person was responsible for creating something special.
Maybe it’s my day job as a designer or my inclination for order, but I just love geometric shapes and patterns. The orderliness of the arranged boxes is appealing but I also like the idea of incorporating shapes as a subtle signature.
Part of achieving a sense of everyday life and personal touches is texture. Rather than stark studio lighting and cold surfaces, a hint of texture adds just enough dimension without overpowering or distracting from the main subject.
Again, it’s all about the details, including adding seasonal touches that make it feel timely and special. It helps reinforce the theme but also the excitement and anticipation of a new season or holiday.
A closer look
Here’s a closer look at each of my final eight. At a glance, they seem completely unrelated, but each of them held the details that mattered to me most.
So what am I going to do with this newfound insight into my photo style? Gradually I’m going to introduce these themes into my photography through more consistent styling and details. It’ll take time but I finally feel, after a long while, that I have a direction. Over the coming months I’ll be referring to these images regularly – reminding myself what drew me to them in the first place.
As for this exercise, I see myself using it again very soon. I have a backlog of home improvement projects including a craft room makeover. This exercise may very well set me on a course toward my ultimate creative space!
Special thanks to Candice Borup Stringham for sharing this insightful exercise and to MJ of Pars Caeli for posting her own exercise recap, which spurred me to stop dragging my heels and start flipping!