Style - my aesthetic
Create enough photographs, look at enough photographs (not only your own), and other forms of visual art (paintings, drawings, film/video, graphic design) and think long, hard and often about those particular examples of imagery that speak to you...and why they speak...then, by osmosis, the collective influence of those myriad images and your personal values will shape your personal aesthetic-your personal artistic style.
But I believe this...
If you start out to intentionally develop a signature style with certain characteristics (perhaps modeled on the style of a photographer you admire) it will not be the real deal for you. I think it has to come from within and unconsciously over a long period. I believe it happens by osmosis and as a result of serving an apprenticeship of looking at and absorbing imagery from a diverse range of artists and media...plus having an emotional (call it intellectual or spiritual if you like) connection with the subjects that dominate your repertoire.
It sneaks up on you.
I also believe that others who are familiar with your work and its evolution will be able to identify and articulate your style before you do...if it is the real deal and not something you have contrived.
"Your first ten thousand images are your worst" Henri Cartier Bresson
Ten thousand sounds like a reasonable apprenticeship to me. And I'm not talking about 10,000 snapshots; rather 10,000 images for which I've made deliberate decisions in the capture and processing...in search of an aesthetic that resonates for me-an aesthetic that makes me say "Yes, I like that. It has what I envisioned or wanted to express at the time of capturing it. I feel good about having made that image that way."
My first 10,000 images was a milestone passed a long time ago. That's not a boast. Many tens of thousands have since come and gone, and the majority have been consigned to the physical wet darkroom and virtual digital darkroom garbage can. But each, even the abject failures, has shaped where I'm at today with my journey in photography. And I look forward to continuing my journey and constantly refining my personal style, whatever that may be at a particular point in time.
At this point I believe my style is reflecting a maturity of vision and execution that has begun to move beyond mere processing techniques. Becoming familiar with the digital darkroom tools is a necessity. It allows me to finesse images to make what I envisioned visually tangible. I've had fun with digital editing and gone too far many times. It's all part of the learning. But going too far is easy. Knowing when to stop or how to nuance an image is more imprtant to me now. I feel that over the top processing is a blunt instrument, although I know that it appeals to many.