Photography Niches, Grooves and Ruts

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In this post photographer and author David duChemin from PixelatedImage and@PixelatedImage on Twitter explores the highs and lows of finding your photographic niche, groove and avoiding the ruts.

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On Saturday July 18, photographers across the world got together to walk and shoot on the Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk. Here in Vancouver we walked along the beautiful Stanley Park seawall and finshed with something a little different. Photographer Dave Delnea and I brought in 3 fantastic models and a truck-load of lighting to give participants a chance to shoot and play in a way that they might normally not have. Dave and I did minimal teaching, played along with the photowalkers, and shot until the sun went down. I went home more excited about photography than I’ve been in a while, with a head full of ideas and inspiration. I also stumbled on something I’ve been trying to put words to for a while, and it concerns niches, grooves, and ruts.

Most photographers that endeavor to combine their craft with the world of commerce will eventually find a niche – a corner they carve into the market that plays best to their unique skills, passions, and vision. It’s a powerful place from which to market. It’s also a dangerous place in which to be a creative. A niche differs from a rut only in a matter of degrees, I think. It’s easy to spend your days so focused on what you shoot and the creative skills needed to create those images, that you become so specialized your other skills get rusty. If you don’t use those skill anyways, what does it matter, right? Well it matters a great deal because creativity occurs with the combining of multiple unrelated elements, and the more of those – including your skills and experiences – that you can draw from, the better.

As photographers we focus so heavily on our technique that we risk become a little too focused. We shoot the way we like shooting so much that we often don’t explore other possibilities. Here’s where the photowalk taught me this lesson again. I am an international assignment photographer specializing in humanitarian and world photography. As a result I don’t shoot beautiful models very often. I don’t use much more than modified natural light very often, so the chance to play with my strobes, soft boxes and gels doesn’t too often present itself. No, it’s worse than that, I just don’t make the opportunities happen. But the few hours I spent photographing a couple beautiful women in settings and light I wouldn’t normally play with gave me new insights, new ideas, and new solutions to problems I meet on the field. And better than that, those few hours knocked me out of a rut and into a groove. I didn’t know I was in a rut, we usually don’t until we’re awakened by the sound of our creativity hitting the sides of the thing. But I was. My niche had become my rut.

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A groove differs from both a niche and a rut. Where a niche is marketing talk, and a rut is a place in which we get stuck creatively, a groove is a channel that leads us, funnels our creative energies, allows those energies to flow purely in one direction without having to spend effort in steering them. A groove is a great place to be. It’s a place where there is room to play, to explore, to boldly make mistakes. Where a niche applies to those with commercial concerns, a groove is for all of us, a place to which we aspire as creatives.

A groove isn’t something you create, but you can set the stage for it. By working on your craft and exploring the corners you’ve left untouched. Learn about off-camera lighting, borrow a Tilt/shift lens for a week, play with a 4×5 field camera. If you’ve never lost track of time in a wet darkroom, take a course and see what you can learn. If you shoot people all the time go take a landscape course and learn from their fanatical pursuit of light. Get out early for a week of dawn photo-walks, or stay out late and only shoot when the sun dips below the horizon. Discover play again. Stop being so serious. Tape down the focus ring, shoot in manual, or render your work only in black and white for a week. If you’re a working photographer, take pains not to let your niche become your rut. If you’re a hobbyist, then you’ve got the luxury of not needing a niche but the dangers of waking up in a rut are no less yours. However you do it, jump the rut and find a groove.

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David duChemin is an international assignment photographer based in Vancouver, Canada. His niche is humanitarian and world photography, his rut is often found in naturally-lit portraits, and his groove is anywhere he can escape the homogeny and sameness of western culture. David is the author of the bestselling book, >Within The Frame, The Journey of Photographic Vision, and his newest book, VisionMongers, Making a Life and a Living in Photography, is due out in November 2009. David can be found blogging at PixelatedImage.com/blog and on Twitter @PixelatedImage.

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  • RJS

    I really dig Davids work … am right now in the middle of his book “Within the Frame” – it’s certainly a good read … so far it’s packed with great insights –

  • Very nice post. I agree, my routine is probably more of a rut than I realize.

  • Great post David! I particularly like the idea to tape down the focus ring, and I will definitely be doing that soon! Little ideas like that, on how to experiment and be creative, are always lots of fun!
    Perhaps you could compile a few of those ideas in a future blog post?

  • Ed V.

    I’m also halfway through “Within the Frame” and find it inspirational, especially since I shoot mostly kids sports. I’m pretty much a get-the-focus-and-exposure-then-fire-till-the-buffer-fills kind of person. I can see the value in getting out of my lazy comfort zone.

  • I think that I might tape this one to the refrigerator! I need to remind myself to stay in the groove.

  • Dawn in NJ

    I really enjoyed today’s post by David duChemin. It was short, yet insightful and also suggested a few practical ways to get out of a rut and into a groove 🙂

  • Thanks for posting this enjoyable article. I particularly liked the niche, groove & rut definitions. While most will agree that a rut is a terrible place to be, we often confuse niche & groove for the same thing & end up back in a rut, trying for what is marketable rather that going for that groove. This would be a good one to post somewhere as a daily reminder. Thanks for the article!

  • OzShadow

    Having been in both a rut and a groove, this should be required reading for most new photographers, knowing when there niche becomes a rut, and knowing how to move it into the groove 🙂

    the photographers new groove :p

  • Love all the photos.

  • that’s why I just stick to taking photos of meat and grass.

  • Some excellent reminders here. Thank you!

  • Damn – you were in Vancouver! I wish I had come out for that photo walk. Keep up the great work on a great blog!

  • I totally understand what David is talking about. I’ve been trying to get myself out of my rut for a while now. I’ve been shooting the same style and subjects for way to long. It time for me to explore new boundaries and learn from them.

  • An inspiring post.

  • euro-mac

    How inspiring ! Your article put into words what I have had rumbling around in my head for some time now. It’s so nice to have you post like this, so succinctly and spot-on. Thanks for the thoughts and suggestions.

  • Laura

    If only I had known you were going to be here in Vancouver! I really wish I found out earlier 😛
    Really good article also 🙂

  • JOnathan

    Great article. I’m new to the DPS website and devouring tons of great content! Thanks for sharing!

  • The works are amazing, the words even better.
    Something I instantly fell reliable from where I stand.
    Strongly inspiring to do.

    Especially loved the first and the third photo. Such a depth, such details.

  • jocelyn

    Thanks, David. Those sounds like good words to live by, too.

  • Thanks for the inspiration. Glad to hear you had a great time with the photowalk.

  • GCUrsula

    Great advice, thanks!

  • Rehab K.

    wow that was kinda a wake up call for me so thank yoou 🙂
    I’m interested about your job as an international assignment photographer specializing in humanitarian and world photography, I am 20 years old studying photography at the faculty of applied arts in Egypt. If you could tell me more about your job and how you got in to it in the first place that would be a greaaaat help 🙂
    Thank you for the inspiration once again 🙂
    PEACE

  • I really dig david’s work, and i aspire to make photography like him. I love the depth and detail. Id love to know which camera he uses..


    ThePhotographer
    http://the-digital-photography-guide.blogspot.com/

  • thank you for posting a wonderful post. Sometimes, I experience the rut usually it is at the end of a season: winter,spring,summer,fall. I despise the end!

  • Great article!

    Definitely something worth pondering over: the rut i never knew i was in.

  • fantastic article… I absolutely feel the rut sometimes, & then out of the blueI get my groove back baby! Happens to us all on the journey to finding that niche! I love your work!

  • gLennon

    those picture is not nice its fantastic damn beautiful… i wish i could get a shot like that…

Some Older Comments

  • gLennon August 13, 2009 02:09 am

    those picture is not nice its fantastic damn beautiful... i wish i could get a shot like that...

  • Jennifer Martinez August 6, 2009 11:13 pm

    fantastic article... I absolutely feel the rut sometimes, & then out of the blueI get my groove back baby! Happens to us all on the journey to finding that niche! I love your work!

  • DaedaLusT August 3, 2009 05:39 pm

    Great article!

    Definitely something worth pondering over: the rut i never knew i was in.

  • Deborah Ormsby August 3, 2009 01:25 am

    thank you for posting a wonderful post. Sometimes, I experience the rut usually it is at the end of a season: winter,spring,summer,fall. I despise the end!

  • ThePhotographer August 2, 2009 05:14 pm

    I really dig david's work, and i aspire to make photography like him. I love the depth and detail. Id love to know which camera he uses..

    --
    ThePhotographer
    http://the-digital-photography-guide.blogspot.com/

  • Rehab K. August 2, 2009 09:09 am

    wow that was kinda a wake up call for me so thank yoou :)
    I'm interested about your job as an international assignment photographer specializing in humanitarian and world photography, I am 20 years old studying photography at the faculty of applied arts in Egypt. If you could tell me more about your job and how you got in to it in the first place that would be a greaaaat help :)
    Thank you for the inspiration once again :)
    PEACE

  • GCUrsula July 31, 2009 04:51 pm

    Great advice, thanks!

  • JPsGrfx July 31, 2009 03:45 pm

    Thanks for the inspiration. Glad to hear you had a great time with the photowalk.

  • jocelyn July 31, 2009 09:40 am

    Thanks, David. Those sounds like good words to live by, too.

  • Émilie July 31, 2009 06:33 am

    The works are amazing, the words even better.
    Something I instantly fell reliable from where I stand.
    Strongly inspiring to do.

    Especially loved the first and the third photo. Such a depth, such details.

  • JOnathan July 31, 2009 05:49 am

    Great article. I'm new to the DPS website and devouring tons of great content! Thanks for sharing!

  • Laura July 31, 2009 04:55 am

    If only I had known you were going to be here in Vancouver! I really wish I found out earlier :P
    Really good article also :)

  • euro-mac July 31, 2009 03:43 am

    How inspiring ! Your article put into words what I have had rumbling around in my head for some time now. It's so nice to have you post like this, so succinctly and spot-on. Thanks for the thoughts and suggestions.

  • Akshat Gait July 31, 2009 03:03 am

    An inspiring post.

  • Captain Kimo July 31, 2009 02:33 am

    I totally understand what David is talking about. I've been trying to get myself out of my rut for a while now. I've been shooting the same style and subjects for way to long. It time for me to explore new boundaries and learn from them.

  • Scott July 30, 2009 02:28 pm

    Damn - you were in Vancouver! I wish I had come out for that photo walk. Keep up the great work on a great blog!

  • Chris Horner July 30, 2009 01:55 pm

    Some excellent reminders here. Thank you!

  • tyler July 30, 2009 12:46 pm

    that's why I just stick to taking photos of meat and grass.

  • MeiTeng July 30, 2009 12:36 pm

    Love all the photos.

  • OzShadow July 30, 2009 11:15 am

    Having been in both a rut and a groove, this should be required reading for most new photographers, knowing when there niche becomes a rut, and knowing how to move it into the groove :)

    the photographers new groove :p

  • samsstuff July 30, 2009 06:14 am

    Thanks for posting this enjoyable article. I particularly liked the niche, groove & rut definitions. While most will agree that a rut is a terrible place to be, we often confuse niche & groove for the same thing & end up back in a rut, trying for what is marketable rather that going for that groove. This would be a good one to post somewhere as a daily reminder. Thanks for the article!

  • Dawn in NJ July 30, 2009 04:14 am

    I really enjoyed today's post by David duChemin. It was short, yet insightful and also suggested a few practical ways to get out of a rut and into a groove :)

  • Jeffrey Chapman July 30, 2009 02:51 am

    I think that I might tape this one to the refrigerator! I need to remind myself to stay in the groove.

  • Ed V. July 30, 2009 02:39 am

    I'm also halfway through "Within the Frame" and find it inspirational, especially since I shoot mostly kids sports. I'm pretty much a get-the-focus-and-exposure-then-fire-till-the-buffer-fills kind of person. I can see the value in getting out of my lazy comfort zone.

  • Matt Beaty July 30, 2009 01:53 am

    Great post David! I particularly like the idea to tape down the focus ring, and I will definitely be doing that soon! Little ideas like that, on how to experiment and be creative, are always lots of fun!
    Perhaps you could compile a few of those ideas in a future blog post?

  • Paul R. Giunta July 30, 2009 01:27 am

    Very nice post. I agree, my routine is probably more of a rut than I realize.

  • RJS July 30, 2009 12:55 am

    I really dig Davids work ... am right now in the middle of his book "Within the Frame" - it's certainly a good read ... so far it's packed with great insights -

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