January 6, 2011

Pancake Session: Finding Your Style

Let me just start with the truth: I don’t really know.

How’s that for expertise?

And it’s something that has probably been as challenging and frustrating for us, as it is for everyone else out there. It’s a lot like writing actually. Because you know somewhere deep inside of you, you can hear the sound of your own voice. Talking to you….reminding you of who you are. But it just keeps getting lost. Drowned out by a million other, usually much louder voices telling you what you ought to be. Reminding you of the rules. Pointing you toward the path much taken.

These voices can be very compelling. And why shouldn’t they be? After all, there’s a million of them and only one of you.

So you waiver. Falter. Adopt the tone of someone who has gone before you, because it worked for them so it might just work for you. Too.

And you drift. Lost in a sea of other people’s choices. A mirror reflection of their creations, not for your own lack of wanting to create mind you. But just because you don’t know how to see beyond the mirrors. When they are everywhere.

Yea, like I said. I don’t really know.

But I have to at least try. For my sake, and for yours. And because this might just go on record as the worst Pancake Session ever if I left it right there.

So here’s what I do know. I think finding your own style (photography, writing, or otherwise) really just comes down to recognizing the sound of your own voice. And training yourself to listen for it, even through the roar of the hurricane of other people’s ideas. Because the more that you listen for your own voice, the louder it becomes. The easier it is to hear and distinguish from all that’s happening around you. So if you really want to know if something feels like your style, just ask. And listen for yourself.

I’ve heard that with writing, a good case of writer’s block can be brought on by the author not really believing in what she’s writing. And much the same way, I’ve also heard that the more compelled you are to mess with a picture before posting it, the less it actually speaks to you. The more you were probably trying to force it to be something (or someone) else when you took it. Whereas the words that just flow easily, the pictures that just seem to fit….those are the ones that are closest to the truth. The ones that are closest to who you really are.

So finally, here’s my practical, hands-on, go home and do it advice. Sit down and go through the images that you’ve already taken. Whether you just picked up a camera and that’s just from last year or you have decades of time in your body of work. Just start going through them and give yourself no more than three seconds to make a gut reaction on whether they speak to you or not. Yes I know that some images really require you staring at them for a while to fully appreciate them, and some writer’s block should be pushed through. But this is just an exercise. So go with it. Three seconds. Does it feel like you or not? Yes or no. Move on. And then once you’re done, go back and look at the Yes’s. Now, what do they have in common? What things speak to you about the images that you find are talking a lot?

This is the beginning in a very long road to finding and defining your style. But it’s a start.

And be warned, you may very well want to resist what you find. We definitely did. I kept wanting our style to be softer, dreamier, full of lux-softy goodness. Or lighter, easy-breezy, more fashiony fun. But as it turns out, we’re just a little bit moody. :) Quieter. A little bitter-sweet. And for whatever reason, completely compelled to this Old Hollywood glam vibe that would make even Humphrey Bogart proud. And that’s ok. I’m slowly beginning to really appreciate that. Because that’s what we were created to bring to the table. Which is really good, because as it turns out there are already people much better than us at doing lux-softy goodness and fashiony fun. And each of you were created to bring something else too. And we’re all the better for it. Because if it weren’t that way, if we all just listened to voices around us instead of our own….

Then all we’d have is a bunch of people talking, but nobody really saying a thing.

**Our phenomenal album company, Couture Book, and the amazing Dave Leubke recently offered to create a sample of our work for some upcoming conferences. A kind of Greatest Hits from the past year. And because the deadline was so tight on it, it forced us to sit down and do pretty much the same exercise I talked about above. So I can tell you from experience that it works! A HUGE thanks to Dave and the crew at Couture Book for being so awesome and for everything they do!!

  1. René Tate

    I heart you guys. And kinda miss you! Lookin’ forward to seein’ you in Vegas, friends.

  2. Gail

    These words are absolutely perfect and what I needed to read today Mary!

    LOVE the Couture book of your images too!

    And I hope I get to meet you guys at WPPI (can we still register for your workshop there? I’m hopeful I can still snag a seat for your Chicago date!)

  3. ashley barnett

    I love this post! I constantly struggle with trying to tune out the million other voices and styles that I truly look up to, but that shouldn’t define MY style. As soon as you mentioned the exercise, I was immediately scrolling through my favorite photos in my head without even having to look them up. Now I just need to find the connections :)

  4. Ryan

    I have to agree, this is just what I needed – I am looking forward to trying this very exercise myself. When you did the exercise – did you and Justin each have a pile of yes’s – or did you do it together and agree on what was a yes or no? If you did it differently – did you find that you and Justin had the same yes’s?

  5. MM

    @Ryan: It was a group effort between Justin, Julia and myself, mostly just because we needed to get it done pretty quickly. But Justin & I do tend to agree 90% of the time now. In the beginning, I feel like we disagreed more because he was looking for technical and I was looking for emotional. Now there’s more of a happy balance of both.

  6. Stacey

    True dat! Great post… I’m in the new years process myself of creating an inspiration board (via Pinterest.com) of all photos that ignite something within me… helping to determine or confirm what my own style is right now. It’s a great time to explore these exercises!

  7. Deborah Zoe

    This is amazing. You guys are constantly a source of inspiration:)

  8. Jen O.

    Love this Mary. We should all stop a moment and look at what speaks to us. I’m always moved by images that evoke emotion. It’s unspoken, but it’s there.

  9. Nancy Mitchell

    Thanks for being so forthcoming with such great information! I LOVE your work and your new book:)

  10. Lauren Wakefield

    You literally just took my thoughts and put them on internet paper. Thanks so much for writing this. And that book is the bomb.com.

  11. Haley

    Oh emmm Geeee I love love love this book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Jessie Emeric

    1st off, the book is Amazing! 2nd, thank you for being such a huge part of my life even if you don’t know me! You have been what I needed to keep pushing myself to the next level and this post has done just that again!

  13. Spring

    love love love. Quick question… which couture book is this? I LOVE its simplicity. is this the Easthampton??

  14. Kate

    Thank you so much for this post — what great advice! And the book is BEAUTIFUL.

  15. amy.lashelle

    seriously good words. finding my style has been a difficult journey. 3 seconds each has just been moved to triple star importance on my priority list. Thanks Mary.

  16. Caitlin

    Your voice and style are so authentic, when I met you in person it was the same person/voice I’d heard/seen on the blog for months, and it was so refreshing because it was real. And it was you. Your images feel that way too. (And on a personal note, my heart did a little flutter when I scrolled down to see the photo of my husband’s hands and his watch! The book looks beautiful!)

  17. MM

    @Spring: I’m pretty sure that was the East Hampton!

  18. Abbey

    Oh Mary!!! I just love you guys. As a newbie, I’m struggling to find my "style" and I really need to stop comparing myself to everyone else and find what’s original to me. Thanks for always sharing your POV.

  19. Evie Perez

    Wow Mary, Jusin,and Julia!!!! Great job on the book. I just love this book. I have never heard of Courture Book before and I am glad you mentioned them. Great advice on this excercise. Thank you for always being so open. How did you get so good at writing?

  20. Darcy Potter

    No need to change your style because it is perfection and I am sure your clients chose you for that reason…and many others I’m sure :) Love the Couture book and want to see the entire thing! Such a tease with just the two pages. Congrats with your amazing work and continued success!

  21. Rupa

    I just saw this RSS show up on my page and I couldn’t believe it! I was just on the phone night before with a good photography friend in Chicago and was telling her that I am struggling to showcase "my style" and do I truly know… This comes at the time I am re-branding my business for weddings which I just started in 2010 and it was a hard question. I concluded that I would eventually just feel it and see it and as I changed and progressed and evolved, it would become more evident and I truly feel that is becoming the case.

    Thank you for sharing – will work on your exercise to dig deeper as well. (p.s. – beautiful book – LOVE Couture!) : )

  22. Jen

    ooooooo nice book!!! Can we see more?!

  23. Ashley Lea

    I don’t know if you want to expound on this or not, but now that you have put your style into words, you are "just a little bit moody. :) Quieter. A little bitter-sweet. And for whatever reason, completely compelled to this Old Hollywood glam vibe that would make even Humphrey Bogart proud." How do you now translate that into a brand? What decisions have been based on your style?

  24. MM

    @Ashley Lea: ooh that is such a good question! And I think one that does deserve a post to itself. But I think the short answer is that the end result of pursuing both an authentic brand AND an authentic style is that the two will just naturally complement one another because they are both a reflection of you. Easier said that done though, right!

  25. Kristin

    Nice job, Mary. Sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves what we bring to the table.
    And to top it off the pages you showed from your book definitely give off that Old Hollywood glamor vibe. Beautiful!

  26. Kare

    You, Mrs Marantz, are full of great advice!

  27. Sofia Negron

    Once again Mary you are speaking my language and in a much more eloquent way than I ever could.
    Over the past year, I have been really fighting my style. Wishing I was more soft, romantic, vintage mostly because that is what is getting published and then I wish I was a little more funky but I am beginning to resolve my self to the elegant, fun, a little bit sexy, full of connection style and getting pretty excited about it. Connecting is what it’s all about, at least for me.

    LOVE couture books!

    Congrats on all of your success. I still remember our first time in Chicago eating deep dish at Uno’s. You two have come a long way.

  28. Lydia

    Great advice and gorgeous book!

  29. Jessica Sweeney

    This is something I still struggle with. But I think it just comes with time. Usually your style finds you, you don’t get to go find it. Good advice here. Well said.

  30. ajira

    OMG! Stunning looking book. I hope you’ll lug it around your STL tours so we can all get a peek!! Thanks for the advice.

  31. jeramy

    good luck with the pancakes. great album!

  32. Lesley

    That album is beautiful! I just had to do this exercise to pick new images for my website. Couldn’t have said it better myself!

  33. Jackie Lamas

    what genuine and truthful advice! it does take time to develop a style and even when you think you’ve got it, you find a new technique or see things differently and it changes… or rather, evolves and then one day… there it is. Great advice! Loooove the book!

  34. carla ten eyck

    I am sure it is beautiful!!! XOXO

  35. Alyssa Schroeder

    Another wonderful post! And yes, you are keeping me up at 3am!! :) I love the idea about going through my images with "yes
    or "no." Will definitely help me define my brand. Thanks :)

  36. Amanda Driver

    J & M, going through some of your pancake sessions and this post put tears in my eyes. Thank you. Really. Because I naturally want to resist what I am finding to be my style, too. And I am so glad to hear that I bring something. To the table. XO

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