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When it comes to photography, there can sometimes be this strange assumption that we are (or should be) experts in all types of photography. Photography is essentially painting with light, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to do newborn photography, astrophotography, weddings, family portraits, landscape photography, and food photography, right? Light is light, whether it’s on a newborn or a spider, right? The simple answer is yes, and no. But, there’s good news, you don’t have to master it all. Let’s talk about how to find your photography niche.
Much like a chef benefits from learning about cooking as a whole, photographers benefit from learning the fundamentals that apply across all types of photography: aperture, shutter speed, ISO, finding light, capturing movement and emotion, and focus. However, much like chefs often break off into different specialties, photographers also tend to break off into different niches. Some photographers find that they love newborns, but hate weddings (raises hand). Others love landscapes, but don’t enjoy photographing humans ever. Some photographers love to work in a studio, while others prefer to work only outdoors with natural light. Finally, some photographers prefer to shoot in digital, while others prefer film.
Whichever type of photography sparks your passion and fills you with joy? Do that. Whether that’s black and white portraits, lifestyle newborn images, macro photography of spiders, or architecture – do what you love.
Then when it comes to post-processing, if there’s a method that transforms your image the way that you’ve always pictured it in your head, do that. If it’s a hipster vintage wash, do it. If it’s a quick curves adjustment and nothing else, do that too. Heck, if it’s black and white with selective coloring that makes you happy when it comes to post-processing, by all means, do that.
Do it even if it isn’t cool, and no one else is doing it. Whether you consider photography to be a craft or an art, it is most certainly an opportunity to have a creative voice. And as corny as it may sound, your authentic voice, whether expressed in cooking or in photography, is important.
Just in case no one has ever told you before, it’s okay not to do it all. If you specialize in food photography and someone calls you up and asks if you’ll consider accepting a wedding booking, it’s okay to say, ‘Thank you so much for thinking of me, but no.” It’s okay to love photographing families and have absolutely zero interest in doing macro photography of insects.
Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, it’s really hard sometimes to admit that a particular area of photography isn’t your preference or your strong suit. No one wants to feel incompetent. On the other hand, there’s no shame in telling someone that you are unable to accept a newborn booking because it isn’t your specialty and consequently you aren’t familiar enough with newborn posing safety to feel comfortable with accepting that job.
Say it with me – I do not have to master it all.
If you’re reading this article and thinking, “Okay great, so how do I find my niche?’ The answer is simply to try everything you can. Trying different types of photography is very different than feeling compelled to master every type of photography. Giving different genres of photography a try in low stakes (often unpaid) environments allows you to experiment, and to discover what it is that you really love.
It also requires possibly humbling yourself a bit and allowing yourself to be taught by someone else. Even if you’re the best wedding photographer in your state or area, you may not know the first thing about being a wildlife photographer. So if you really want to learn, you have to be ready and willing to be taught.
My personal niche in photography is newborns and families. It’s what really makes me excited, and what I really enjoy most. However, every time that I’ve stepped outside that comfort zone, with the goal of learning about another genre of photography, it’s been worth it.
I’ve not been a master of every genre that I’ve tried, nor have I enjoyed them all, but I’ve learned something valuable in every case. When I buckled down and focused on landscape photography, it gave me an opportunity to review techniques of composition, metering, and shooting with a relatively small aperture in ways that I don’t typically use on a daily basis when it comes to people photography.
When I made an attempt to learn about astrophotography (a genre of photography that had always greatly intimidated me) I had the opportunity to learn more about long exposures, and the technique of shooting with a wide open aperture in a different application than portraits. Are my astrophotography images perfect? Absolutely not! I’m not an astrophotography expert, and probably never will be. I have two kids, so staying up all night to photograph the stars is a special kind of sleep deprivation torture that I have no interest in repeating with any frequency.
Yet, there’s also a certain importance in taking something that you have no idea how to do and learning the steps necessary to make it happen. When all the pieces finally fall into place, and you have an image that sort of resembles the gorgeous astrophotography images that you see in magazines, it’s a pretty amazing feeling. Like creating something out of thin air.
The more types of photography you try, the more you’ll find yourself saying both “Yes!” and “Nope, I don’t need to do that ever again.” You may also find that there are several types of photography that you enjoy, which is fine. When I suggest finding your niche, I’m not suggesting that you choose one photography genre and one post-processing style and stick to those for the rest of your life and career.
Your niche in the photography world should grow, shrink, and evolve over time. Give yourself the freedom to identify the types of photography that you really enjoy, and forget the rest of it. You do not have to master it all.
What’s your photography niche? What types of photography do you love? Are there any types of photography that you hate? Chime in below!