Trends change all the time, but I like to think of them as cycles: Anything that comes “in” has most likely been on trend before, and even though it will cycle out, it will eventually come back again.
As photographers, we tend to ask ourselves, “Do I follow trends?” Or, “Do trends affect my daily business as a photographer?” My answer to both questions is, yes and no. Of course the inescapable visual cues will affect our daily businesses. But maybe not as drastically as we may think.
We may notice what’s getting a response on social media and what the majority are creating, like how photographers are processing their images. This can directly affect how we feel and inevitably have the ability to influence our own work. We might change and adapt to follow each trend so we don’t feel left behind. Or maybe it looks like an exciting new fad and we follow it to see what all the hype is about. Our work begins to make the change towards a new cycle and we get caught up in the whole process.
The problem with allowing yourself to follow a trend is that they go out of fashion as fast as they come in. It can be hard to play catch up or adapt our styles to meet what we think the market wants.
As creatives, we can put too much time into making sure our styles are on trend, but most of the time, our clients have no idea what’s in and don’t mind that they love your work simply for what it is. Think about all the photographers from the early 2000s that still shoot the same way they did 20 years ago. Their studios are still open and they book as much work as anyone else.
When I first started my business six years ago, the biggest trend in wedding photography was bright, sunny photos that looked like they were shot with Fuji 400H film stock. This trend came about from popular photographers like Jose Villa and hit the mainstream markets.
I started out shooting more dark and moody images, and at the time, it really wasn’t in trend at all—especially in Australia, where I’m based. It was harder for my business at the start because people wanted that bright and sunny look. Even though I got less inquiries and less work, I also got clients that absolutely loved my “look,” and as a result, I attracted the clientele that I really resonated with, particularly because they didn’t care about what was popular.
That only happened because I stuck to the style that I loved and didn’t compromise.
Both the light, bright Fuji film trends and the dark, moody style are used today by different photographers, and there is a huge market for those two completely different styles.
In my six years, I’ve watched so many trends cycle in and out. Just over the last few years alone, platforms like Instagram have put trends in “hyper-scale” mode, spreading them across the globe like wildfire. Access to a “trendy” look has been made much simpler for aspiring photographers when influential creatives sell their signature looks through presets, editing techniques and gear.
The truth is, anybody can be at the forefront of each trend cycle, changing and predicting them easily. You see, a cycle will change once everyone has adapted to a new style, color palette or whatever the new “thing” is. Too many portfolios start to look similar. All it takes is one person to create a different look that stands out from the masses, and the whole cycle will shift again.
The predictable nature of trends is much more palpable within industries that plan theirs years in advance—for example, bridal fashion—so incorporating these pervasive elements in our portfolios can be beyond our control. In fashion, new color palettes, fabrics and textures come out at the start of every season. Some are even planned years in advance so that they have time to mass-produce items and get them to market. You can start seeing ahead and predicting what will be “in” next through a variety of mediums and industry leaders that inspire you.
But you don’t have to follow the cycles. If you create work you are proud of, it will resonate with the people that love what you do and add value to your work. Your clients come to you for your unique selling point; avoiding change and refusing to compromise your own style allows you to retain your individuality. The more unique your work is and the more personality that shines through, the less likely another photographer will be able to replicate your work, and clients will only be able to get what you offer from you.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the one to create the next trend that everyone wants to follow.
Jai Long is the wedding photographer behind Free the Bird, based in Melbourne, Australia, and a Rangefinder 30 Rising Star of Wedding Photography in 2015. An author of educational ebooks for creatives—like this one we excerpted—he hosts a creative-business podcast for photographers called Make Your Break.