on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Personal Style

Define or Confine?

Alister Benn

Alister and Juanli Sun run Available Light Images Ltd, which specialises in experiential learning using diverse environments to focus on the creativity and unique vision of their participants. When not running trips in Tibet, the Silk Road, SW China, Iceland, Spain and Scotland, the couple live quietly on the Isle of Skye. Facebook


When I write about photography, I do so from my own perspective and based on my own experiences throughout my ongoing development. That journey will end when I do, and I believe strongly that my images will continue to change and develop as I age. If my photographs are a window to my soul, I would hope that in the future that window reveals a better version of myself than today. Surely that is what the journey of life is all about?

For the first 15 years of my personal photographic journey, I understood from studying that development of a personal style was the holy grail achievement. It was to be strived for, thought about, and it became the ultimate focus. The traditional definition of a personal style suggests you have to become recognisably different. This can lead down many potential pathways, one of which is being different for different’s sake, rather than by emotional choice. Furthermore, our personal style can end up defining AND confining us by striving for consistency of style at the expense of diversity of expression.

our personal style can end up defining AND confining us by striving for consistency of style at the expense of diversity of expression.

The Role of Inspiration: In my early years I was a great admirer of the late Galen Rowell, his writing and images not only inspired the spirit of my imagination, sense of adventure and love of the outdoors, but the technical aspect of his capture appealed to me as well, and I set out my strategy to make “Galenesque” images. In my naivety at the time, I didn’t even know what Graduated Neutral Density (GND) Filters were - this was going to be a long journey!

What I learned from studying his work was diverse to say the least and we’ll cover some of these now:

Taste: I liked some images more than others, I didn’t like them all. I had a preference for some colour schemes, subjects, contrasts and conditions.

Technical Development: To overcome some common problems in the field I had to learn new techniques. Using GND’s, understanding what good exposure meant, Depth of Field and Aperture choices. Later on came exposure blending, luminosity masks, dodging and burning, adding atmosphere, three dimensionality etc.

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  • Fantastic article, Ali! You had me with your opening paragraph, and then continued on to a great discussion.

    • Alister Benn

      Very pleased to hear that – living out here on the fringes off society has numerous benefits :-) Wishing you well my friend.

  • James Lorentson

    Thoughtful and well-written post. I struggle with this, and probably will until my journey ends. It is true that art is more recognizable if you are a)different enough and b)have a consistent theme or style that runs through your images.

    But I agree with you about everything you wrote; namely, having an intentional approach that speaks to your creative perspective.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    • Alister Benn

      Sincere thanks for your feedback – I hear you loud and clear, as we all know, popularity is no measure of quality and only through satisfying our own creative and emotional demands can we hope to learn more about ourselves and our development, both personal and expressive.

  • Howard Rankin

    Very thought provoking piece … lots that resonates. Lovely photography too

    • Alister Benn

      Many thanks Howard, glad you liked it.

  • A really enjoyable and interesting read, Alister – I particularly like what you say at the start and the end. As a great admirer of your work, it’s also gratifying to hear you say you feel your images are increasingly diverse in style. Aside from how we and our thoughts and moods might change all the time, there’s also the matter of the environment in which we find ourselves. So, as well as our way of seeing and projecting that into our photography, there’s also the question of how we respond to the landscape and its many different moods and guises. The combination of all of these factors seems to me to necessitate a fair bit of variety in the kind of imagery we produce – which feels a good thing, albeit sometimes I may worry about being too much of a chameleon ;)

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