There comes a point in every photographer’s career where they ask themselves the proverbial question, “Should I specialize in a specific genre of photography? Or should I just keep photographing anything and everything that comes my way?” There are several schools of thought on this dilemma, depending on who you ask, and what you read. Ultimately the answer is very personal, and specific to each photographer. The point of this article is not to convince you, the reader, of one way verses the other. The objective here is to simply state my personal reasons for how I would answer that question, and leave the final decision making up to you.
#1 Jack of all trades, master of none
I really believe in this age-old motto. I find that when you focus on multiple genres of photography, your photographic style and creative voice takes that much longer to develop. Different genres of photography require different strategies. What works well for family portraits, may not work well for still life. What works great for food photography, may not work for pet photos. Yes, the basic concepts of lighting rules, composition techniques, and technical camera knowledge, are mostly similar, but the style of photography varies depending on the subject. When you focus on multiple genres, there tends to be a mishmash of imagery in your portfolio, which may not be what you want in the long run.
#2 Attracting your ideal client
In my mind, an ideal client is one who loves your work, and is willing to pay the right value for your services, no questions asked! Clients always demand and expect the best value for their money. When a client inquires for a particular job, they expect to find someone who is the best at what they are looking for.
For example, a family looking for beautiful, timeless, annual family photos, will expect the photographer they hire to know what he or she is doing, not just from a photography standpoint but also in terms of posing, lighting, post-processing, and delivery. So, when they inquire about family photos, they are expecting to hire someone who has enough experience under their belt so as to make the client’s experience an enjoyable one. Imagine for a moment, they hire a photographer who has limited experience photographing families, but is great with still life or product photography. Now suddenly, halfway through the shoot, the kids decide enough is enough and start acting up. Will the still life photographer, who does not expect his subject to simply get up and walk away, really know how to handle the situation? It’s more than likely that photographer is going to panic, making the client extremely upset, and they will expect to be offered a full refund, no matter how the final images turn out. Remember a positive client experience is the number one priority of any professional photographer!
#3 Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses
I feel like this one is not just relevant for photographers, but for everyone in general. When I get asked what I like to photograph, I immediately know what to say. I love photographing people and travel (preferable with people in the images). I specialize in portraiture because I feel one of my key strengths lies in interacting with people, and getting natural emotions and expressions through my imagery. As an extension to this genre, I love photographing weddings, because it is such an emotional day for all concerned. Being able to document a couple’s special day, surrounded by family and friends, has been a wonderful experience for me.
Now, if you ask me what I don’t like photographing, I have an even faster response ready! Traditional newborn photography is something I absolutely run away from. Don’t get me wrong, I love kids, but there’s just something about hanging baskets, swaddled blankets, and twisted limbs that freaks me out. The only two newborn photo sessions I have done in my five year career, have been newborn lifestyle photoshoot which may not have been exactly what my clients wanted.
#4 Paying the bills verses having a career
Now you may question this one. Are they not the same? On the surface these two may be the same thing for most people, and I have to admit for a while this was true for me as well. When I was just starting off, while family portraiture was what I gravitated towards, I did take jobs like real estate photography and birthday events because they helped pay my bills. But over time, I realized that the time and effort that I was putting into these so called “bill paying jobs” was not really worth it. The time to get to the event, hire a baby sitter, rent or borrow event specific equipment like light stands and extra flashes, as well image processing time, all added up and when I factored in time-to-money ratio. It just was not bringing in the money I thought it was. Often times we don’t realize that time is more money than money itself.
#5 Doing what you love
This one falls in line with point #3 above. Most of us get into photography because we love taking photos. It is a field where creativity and motivation run high, when we do the things that we really enjoy. However, the moment photography becomes a chore, it looses its charm. We start to feel burdened, and lack motivation and creativity. We all know that photography is a field where a mediocre job is very apparent in the images we produce. Bad lighting, loose composition, and bad editing, very quickly become very apparent to all. But when we photograph things that we really enjoy, we tend to produce stellar imagery that we love.
With all this being said, I don’t mean to imply that you should say no to jobs that are outside your expertise, especially if you are just starting out in this field. But don’t promote yourself as being the person who says “yes” to everything.
Specializing also doesn’t mean you have to give up photographing all those other things out there. Go ahead and photograph those apples sitting on the counter with the warm mid-day sun streaming through your window, or get the action shot of your kids playing soccer, but those should not make their way to your portfolio. Don’t suddenly start marketing yourself as a sports photographer. It might just repeal that client who is looking for a fashion photographer, which is exactly how you want to be known.
So, what is your speciality?