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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