Tips + Techniques

9 Things You Need To Develop a Signature Photography Style & Aesthetic

November 28, 2020

By Mili Ghosh & Priyanka Tawde

© Mili Ghosh

My signature photography style has been cultivated over many years of patience and unapologetic stubbornness to stay true to my art. With my roots spanning three continents—America, Africa and Asia—the cultural influences of these places are evident in my art, as is my love for cinema, poetry and music.

Ever since I found my calling in photography, I have been in pursuit of a streamlined expression. The art and I grew together, I believe. Every new learning of what I need in my art came with a lot of introspection of who I am. I learned early on that making your art your own comes with the conviction of being unapologetically who you are. 

[Read: Balancing Work and Play to Find Your Creative Style in Photography]

1. Frame it boldly.

Be bold with crops and choose a lens that allows you to stand out from the rest of the crowd. Before you step into technicalities, find your eye.

I love vertical framing as it lets me capture the essence that is true to my eye. Vertical framing also allows me to cut through the distractions in the frame, especially in locations where I don’t have much control over the background.

[Read: 9 Tips for Sculpting Natural and Artificial Light at Weddings]

Understanding your own perspective will let you capture your subject in the truest form—whether it’s shooting extremely wide or close up. 

how to frame photos boldly and find signature photography style by mili ghosh
Photographed on a Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 57mm, f/7.1, 1/200 sec. and ISO 160.

This is not your typical frame. It can certainly feel uncomfortable to shoot an extreme closeup, but I am never afraid to frame a face with such odd focal lengths. I also knew the designer, Sabyasachi, was looking for jewelry closeups. For this shot, I had a gridded Profoto B10 strobe on Riya to frame the details of the jewelry and beauty while also exposing the decor and landscape. Riya’s expression was already on point, but I knew I had to angle her so the shoulders should line up with her face. 

2. Find your color tone.

Say no to preset culture! Find your own tone, look and aesthetic. Know what colors are your colors. Know exactly what shade of the blue you would like to see in your sky in every lighting situation. When you imagine your shots, notice the shades of the colors you see in the outfits, location, and know how they will translate and come together. Redo, relearn and practice until you get the colors that speak to you.

[Read: 8 Common Branding Pitfalls in Wedding and Portrait Photography]

I love creating a tone palette for each of my weddings and assessing how to balance the tones that come from all the bold colors that are prevalent in Indian weddings. I also like finding the subtle softness in the tones that grace the Indian skin tone, which soothes my eye and speaks deeply to my individual style. 

how to find color tone in signature photography style by mili ghosh
Photographed on a Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 70mm, f/7.1, 1/400 sec. and ISO 320.

This is Nisha’s skirt tulle covering one side of her face. I had Nisha sit on a lounge chair during her pre-wedding Mehndi event, and she was sideways with her legs propped up, held against the arm handle. I was leaning up to her so the tulle of the skirt had become my perfect foreground. I just shaped the tulle to create a foreground and had her Mehndi hand raised so I could have a frame with all the elements possible—the tulle, the closed eye as well her lob hair, which I love.

The texture of the henna and also the shade of the lounge chair add the perfect balance to this frame. This layering and texture series had so many stunning frames. I had a hard choice between this shot and another one, where Nisha’s eyes pierced through my lens, but ultimately, I picked this one because of how delicate it felt. 

3. Direction is key.

Your subject should effortlessly be a part of your art, and that requires your creative direction. When I work with both brands and individuals, my aim is to translate their personalities through my pictures while setting up an environment that gives way to the aesthetic I’m trying to achieve. I take note of every possible way to play with the surroundings when interacting with my muses.

[Read: 6 Things to Ask Yourself If You Need Help Breaking Out of a Photography Mold]

The result is often seen in her awe as she sees herself in a new light that she never imagined herself to be in—and while doing so, also allowing for interaction and movement, which I like to freeze midway. 

how to develop creative direction to find signature photography style by mili ghosh
Photographed on a Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 38mm, f/7.1, 1/200 sec. and ISO 100.

This was photographed at the iconic Sheats-Goldstein Residence in Beverly Hills. I had seen a lot of fashion framed on this concrete slab overlooking the city. When we finalized this location of a pre-wedding shoot, I knew I had visions of the photographer Bob Willoughby, but it wasn’t much after I had shot it that I realized it had the glamour and grit that is so prevalent in Willoughby’s work. There is a disco ball, heels and a folded book, which all say a lot about who Riya and Ankur are. What I wanted to show was their personality. I feel that often gets left out in wedding photography. 

4. Know your voice.

Staying true to one’s personality gives a personal identity to the art. Understanding what calls you and how you’d like the world to see the art you’re trying to create will take you a long way.

Be stubborn enough to stick to what you believe, even if they don’t fit a trend or a traditional playbook. When it comes to finding your voice, it hardly comes with listening to the world but more to the self.

[Read: Pushing Your Creative Photography with Series and Challenges]

I am strongly drawn to fashion editorial portraits, and that comes from years of indulging in Indian cinema. When I shoot, I even have music in my head that elegantly flows through the scenario, letting me capture those natural, unfiltered frames. 

how to know your voice in developing and finding signature photography style by mili ghosh
Photographed with a Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens at 85mm, f/2.5, 1/4000 sec. and ISO 100.

This is a frame I shot in Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats for a post-wedding shoot. I had visions of a wild horse running on the salt flats with a pop of color, and when I went to look for outfits with my bride, the rainbow sequin dress by Attico just had the perfect edge and color story. The boots were picked out by her, which completed the palette.

The frame just came together when we got to work with two beautiful horses, which the couple got to ride as well. I shot frames with an enormous range of mid-moments, movement and fashion, but ultimately for this set, I chose this one, which I felt soothes the eye with its minimal framing and color tones. 

5. Visualize beforehand.

Before shooting, understanding your location, natural environment, subjects and essence of the entire setting is extremely important. Having a visual beforehand gives you the control you need to craft your art with an intention. That blueprint provides a framework so that you can focus on reflecting the vibe and build an array of possibilities in a way that will help distinguish your work from others.

how to visualize photos beforehand as you develop artistic voice in signature photography style by mili ghosh
Photographed with a Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 70mm, f/2.8, 1/160 sec. and ISO 320.

This is a frame that reminds me of a yesteryear iconic actress from Indian cinema. Her name was Madhubala. Having seen so many of Madhubala’s films, I saw a glimpse of her when Shefali covered her face with her veil.

This shot was not planned at all. She had it all in the eyes, and I just loved how the shadow of the curved veil dropped on her face. Shefali is looking straight into the mirror in her changing room, which was filled with beautiful window light, but I had closed the curtains to opt for this moody shot where only the face was getting the light through a gridded Profoto B1 strobe. I shot a series of this but ultimately loved this framed the most in black and white. I know it will remain timeless. 

6. Understand the story.

Like mentioned before, every client comes with their sense of individuality. Appreciating your subject and their story will build the volume behind your art that will thrive your creations.

What I find myself enjoying the most is knowing the story before crafting one. Personally connecting with the bride, the groom, their stories and emotions behind the wedding lets me capture their personalities, which is what helps me take those effortless shots. I also am aware of what the bride and groom like, their tastes in music, fashion or their aesthetic choice.

The more intel you have on your client or subject, the easier it is to photograph and capture their true essence and soul. 

understand story behind the images in building signature photography style by mili ghosh
Photographed on a Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 70mm, f/2.8, 1/500 sec. and ISO 320.

I shot this frame when the couple had no clue I was still shooting. I had taken Ashley and Aanand into her intimate garden area—this was actually a lockdown wedding that happened in May 2020 at the bride’s house. I shot this mainly towards the end of their session, and they had mentally wrapped up the shoot in their heads. I moved up to the top of the stairs, waiting for them to make their way up. I knew Aanand was going to lift her skirt as it would be tough for her to walk up and lift it alone while climbing. I waited for them to enter into my frame, and it was a perfect one-click shot. 

7. Cross pollinate.

Shoot various subjects and themes during your down time. A wedding photographer can also do fashion, street, fine-art, product photography or photojournalism. You learn the most from applying your creativity in different forms of photography.

When I’m not shooting weddings, I will test with models or I will hone my eye with travel photography, and simply be curious to learn how I can create a visual language with various subjects. 

exploring photography genres like wedding and fashion editorial in developing signature photography style by mili ghosh
Photographed on a Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at f/5.6, 1/1000 sec. and ISO 125.

I shoot a lot of fashion in between wedding shoots. It’s the way I get to hone my eye for shaping the light, finding new compositions, understanding posing and beauty. This is a story series of a “new age duchess.” I shot this in our studio with nothing but a window light, and the gobo effect you see is coming from the large industrial metal windows. This shot came together with the pose and keeping the dress undone, as if she were halfway between changing and was caught in a dazed mood. 

8. Stick to what matters.

The real challenge in photography is curation without being overwhelmed by what you could capture. Making your shots count builds a weight of having to put thought behind what you’re trying to create. Sticking to what matters to the project, your aesthetics, your goals and need of the art will serve you well.  

capturing key moments in signature photography style by mili ghosh
Photographed on a Canon 5D Mark IV and Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 lens at 18mm, f/5, 1/10 sec. and ISO 320.

This was photographed on the dance floor with on-camera flash. Oftentimes, we see beautiful expressions and light stories coming out of slow-shutter-drag photography. I love this one in particular; it was mid-moment and framed to freeze the laugh and clap, while also seeing her dramatic sleeves. This frame made me feel closer to old Vanity Fair soirées.  

9. Do not settle!

The determination to discover your signature style and aesthetic requires time—likely many years. Do not let yourself slip into the comfort of forgetting the intricacies of tiny details.

For me to acquire the talent to capture moments between the seconds took years of practice, numerous sleepless nights and frustrating days of cluelessness to finally harness my artistic eye.

timeless talent in harnessing signature photography style by mili ghosh
Photographed on a Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 28mm, f/2.8, 1/125 sec. and ISO 640.

Normally, I wouldn’t try this in a wedding—it’s more of something I do in controlled situations, like a studio or a concept shoot. This was shot at the bride’s home during lockdown. I was looking to create something with atmosphere and bring texture into the photo. My husband, Sid, and another photographer, Carsten, had helped me stage this. This look can be achieved with an aerosol or a fog machine. Since I had some time after the wedding, I knew I could play with the direct light that was hitting through the windows. While I had shot mainly to create shafts of light, I ultimately loved this frame—it felt more delicate and timeless once the atmosphere had died down. 

In Conclusion

Fifteen years in the industry and my effort of building my signature brand paid itself by creating a strong presence in the market. Being so stubbornly behind finding the right definitions to fit the Mili Ghosh brand left me oblivious to when I had already carved my path of being a pioneer in fashion editorial Indian weddings.

If I had to tell you one thing to remember, it would be to focus on what calls you out, regardless of what’s expected, and stick to it. Never give up on it. Feel your art in your bones and let your gut do the judgement. Your signature style will craft itself.

Mili Ghosh is an editorial photographer who shoots Indian weddings and fashion. Born in Africa, she’s a TEDx speaker whose visual roots are deeply inspired by cinema.