There are dozens of types of photography, covering a wide range of subjects and themes. Some genres focus on people, others center around the natural environment, others emphasize human-made landscapes, and still others consider cultural objects such as food and products.
Thinking about branching out into a different photographic genre or simply on a hunt for inspiration? Here’s a list of 26 photography types to get your creative juices flowing!
1. Abstract photography
Abstract photography is about expressing a visual image through association, isolation, and recontextualization. Also known as experimental photography, abstract photography isn’t bound by standard photographic conventions (although a sound knowledge of composition and technique can help improve your abstract photos!).
By prioritizing abstraction over the figurative or representational renderings of subject matter, an abstract photographer crafts an image that audiences can explore through intuition and impression. And with a focus on aspects such as light, distance, detail, color, texture, line, camera movement, and focus, abstract photographers experiment with ideas about what actually makes an effective image.
2. Aerial photography
Also known as airborne photography, aerial photography involves making photographs while a camera (either held by a photographer or mounted on special equipment) is airborne. Vehicles for aerial photography can include kites, aircraft, parachutes, rockets, and even pigeons (a technique invented in 1907).
The first aerial photos were made by French photographer Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, who took pictures over Paris in a balloon in 1858. However, the resulting photographs are lost to time, and the earliest surviving aerial photograph, made by James Wallace Black and Samuel Archer King, depicts Boston from a balloon in 1860.
Nowadays, drones are a popular tool for aerial photography. And as drones become more efficient, user-friendly, and economical, many photographers are taking the opportunity to capture unique perspectives from the air.
3. Animal photography
From whales to cats to gerbils, animal photography encompasses both domesticated pets and wildlife. Animal photographers strive to convey the spirit of their subject, and preventing harm to animals is paramount.
Because of the varied behavior and size of animals, animal photography can involve a wide range of gear. Lenses include telephotos, wide-angles, zooms, and primes. Equipment such as hides and camera traps, as well as camouflage and Ghillie suits, are sometimes used to photograph wildlife.
For pet photography, standard zoom lenses are a common choice, although prime lenses or a wide zoom such as a 16-35mm are good alternatives.
4. Architectural photography
Architectural photography is the photography of buildings and similar structures. Architectural photographers prioritize a balance between realism, technical accuracy, and pleasing aesthetics. The first permanent photograph (titled View from the Window at Le Gras by Nicéphore Niépce) doubled as the first architectural photograph. From there, early photographers like Henry Fox Talbot made numerous images with architectural subjects.
Attention to compositional tenets like leading lines, perspective, symmetry, and framing are key methods applied in crafting an architectural photograph. Sometimes, aerial photography is combined with architectural photography to present the viewer with a fresh perspective on an architectural subject.
Humans have been looking at the night sky for millennia, and the jump between the first successful photograph of an astronomical object (the Moon in 1840 by John William Draper) to present-day astrophotography is amazing.
Depending on the subject and your desired outcome, there are tools designed to make the process of photographing the heavens easier. For broad night sky photography, a wide-angle lens with a wide aperture and a quality mirrorless or DSLR camera with an interchangeable lens configuration and manual capabilities is ideal (and a full-frame camera will likely perform better in low-light conditions). A remote shutter release or intervalometer will minimize camera shake.
If you plan to photograph fixed renderings of the night sky (as opposed to star trails), a tracker mechanism is highly recommended. A sturdy tripod is a crucial piece of equipment, and a flashlight for light-painting the surrounding environment to create context can be a useful creative tool.
Apps that track weather and light pollution or indicate the darkest times of the month can be handy for determining a shoot date in advance.
In terms of photographing the moon, a telephoto lens mounted to a full-frame camera can work well. Again, a mirrorless or DSLR with an interchangeable lens system and manual capabilities is recommended, along with a remote or shutter release cable and a sturdy tripod. Here’s a useful guide for choosing the right settings to capture beautiful lunar astrophotography.
6. Conceptual photography
While the phrase “conceptual photography” derives from the late 1960s Conceptual Art movement, the term has been used retrospectively to describe a genre or approach to photography that prioritizes the illustration of a concept.
Hippolyte Bayard’s Self Portrait as a Drowned Man (1840) was one of the earliest conceptually based photographs. Bayard, apparently provoked by French authorities failing to recognize his discovery of the photographic process as equal to Daguerre’s daguerreotype, faked a self-portrait depicting his own “dead” body with a summary of his demise written on the back of the photograph.
Conceptual photography thrives on the transmission of ideas. Often surreal or hyper-real in their approach, photographers like John Hilliard, Cindy Sherman, and Chema Madoz are well-known figures in the conceptual field. The diversity and scope of conceptual photography has expanded even further with the availability of photo-editing software.
7. Documentary photography
While sometimes confused with one another, documentary photography and photojournalism are two different fields. Documentary photography relates to long-form projects with a discernible storyline threading throughout a series. Photojournalism, on the other hand, focuses more on breaking news stories.
From the poor Depression-era farming communities documented by Dorothea Lange to Diane Arbus’s haunting portraits of marginalized figures, documentary photography shines a light on often underrepresented facets of life. Through their work, a documentary photographer can enhance awareness of a subject or theme and stimulate an emotional response.
8. Event photography
Put simply, an event photographer specializes in photographing events. Whether focused on a corporate occasion, a birthday, a wedding, or a funeral, event photography is as broad as the many occasions that warrant a photographer on site to capture the moment.
As with all types of photography, preparation is the key to a successful event shoot. Events can be held indoors, outdoors, or both, so lighting conditions can be complex and changeable. Packing a good low-light camera body and lens with a wide maximum aperture is useful for situations where flash might not be appropriate. And creating a shot checklist that is agreed upon by both photographer and client is a good way to establish and capture the images a client is after.
That said, depending on the event, you’ll want to keep an eye out for candid moments and little details; that way, you can create a more intimate collection of event images for the client. Also, don’t forget to stock up on memory cards and batteries.
9. Film photography
Nowadays, digital technology is the dominant medium for image making. Nevertheless, there are still many photographers who use film to create beautiful imagery.
Film photography can slow down the photographic process, encouraging a more mindful creative approach. A limited amount of film frames can also encourage photographers to shoot more conscientiously, and the use of manual settings can test and refresh technical knowledge.
The aesthetic value of film photography is both nostalgic and dimensional, with quirky cameras like the the Diana or Holga range also enabling spontaneous photography that intersects with the whimsy of cheap toy film cameras.
10. Food photography
There are distinct artistic and technical skills that come with every photographic genre, and food photography is no different. Under the camera lens, food can become a tasty still life artwork rather than your average meal.
The first known photograph of food as a subject was a daguerreotype taken in 1845 by Henry Fox Talbot. His photograph depicted a pineapple and some peaches contained in two baskets set atop a plaid tablecloth. Originally, foods were often photographed in an arrangement similar to the way people were accustomed to encountering a meal – the food was laid out on a table and photographed from overhead (mimicking the point of view of the consumer).
Today, meticulous lighting, selective focus, motion, extreme close-ups, overhead or flat lay perspectives, narrow-angle shots, and a shallow depth of field are just some of the carefully applied techniques designed to create a scene that appeals to a viewer’s taste buds. The introduction of contextual props, shooting in or staging a relevant space (like a café or restaurant), and focusing on compositional tenets like line, texture, and color can also help craft an inviting food-related image.
11. Intentional Camera Movement photography
Intentional Camera Movement (or ICM) is one of the more experimental types of photography. Put simply, ICM involves selecting a slower shutter speed and moving the camera and/or zooming during the exposure. The process creates impressionistic renderings of a scene that are marked by the physicality of the photographer.
Getting started with ICM photography is pretty simple. You’ll need a camera with semi-automatic or manual modes and a good camera strap. Secure the camera strap and set the shutter speed to around 1/15s. Press the shutter and physically move the camera around and/or adjust the lens focal length.
When the exposure finishes, check the LCD screen (if possible), take note of the results, and move on to the next frame, making adjustments to camera settings if necessary. The ICM process is experimental and endlessly varied, so trying many different combinations of gesture, camera settings, and subject matter is all part of the fun.
12. Landscape photography
Typically, landscape photographers capture natural (or sometimes semi-natural) vistas. Often showing little to no human activity, landscape photography focuses on strongly defined landforms usually illuminated with ambient light. Some of the most beautiful landscape photographs are motivated by a photographer’s appreciation of natural beauty and the need to see it preserved. Renowned landscape photographer Ansel Adams received both a Conservation Service Award and a Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of the influence his work had on the preservation of wilderness and the cultivation of environmental consciousness.
Prior planning goes a long way in photography, and landscape photography is no different. Scouting possible locations before shooting (if only through Google Maps) and calculating light and weather conditions with apps are important steps in the landscape photography process.
In terms of equipment, there are many different approaches to landscape photography. Some photographers pack a wide-angle lens, while others rely on a zoom or prime lens configuration. Regardless of which way you go in terms of lenses, a polarizing filter, a sturdy tripod, and a shutter release cable or intervalometer are major assets. A weatherproof camera setup can come in handy, too.
13. Macro photography
In the early 1900s, F. Percy Smith started photographing small natural subjects with the use of extension tubes and bellows. The increased distance between the negative and the lens culminated in enlarged renderings of subject matter. Nowadays, macro photography involves the use of specialized equipment to obtain close-up images of small subjects that are hard to discern with the naked eye.
With a wealth of lenses, filters, and extension tube configurations to choose from, macro photography provides a fascinating insight into the vivid details that make up our surroundings. Insects, plant life, small animals, snowflakes, raindrops, and spiderwebs are just a few popular macro photography subjects.
14. Minimalist photography
Minimalist photography is distinguished by its pared-back simplicity, focusing on the smallest amount of objective content possible. Arising from the minimalist art movement of the 1950s, minimalist photography revels in restrained or reductive techniques, appealing to the viewer through simplicity and the shedding of superfluous information.
Minimalist photographers often operate under the assumption that less is more, directing a viewer’s attention to subject matter with efficiency and a judicious use of space. Well-known proponents of minimalist photography include Michael Kenna, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Uta Barth.
15. Nature photography
Nature photography, as you might imagine, encompasses many types of photography genres. In general terms, nature photography describes photography undertaken outdoors in the hopes of depicting plants, wildlife, and/or natural landscapes. Macro photography is often included under the nature photography heading.
Trees, landscapes, beaches, insects, stone formations, wildlife…There are hundreds of nature photography subjects, and the selection of equipment for a nature shoot comes down to subject behavior and the desired outcome of an image.
For example, much of landscape photography is done with wide-angle lenses, but a telephoto lens can be critical for capturing wildlife. A macro lens (or a set of extension tubes) is handy for the close-up photography of plants and insects, while a tripod or monopod will be useful for bracing the camera and keeping things steady when a slower shutter speed is required. A camera body that performs well in low-light conditions and features weatherproofing is also ideal. And if you decide to pack all of the above options for one trip, investing in a good backpack is advisable.
There are some environmental concerns involving nature photography. The destruction of a landscape can be caused by the incautious efforts of photographers prioritizing a photograph over the natural environment. Wildlife photography encompasses photographing animals in their natural habitats, but interrupting, staging, or causing harm in an attempt to make a photograph is unethical, with many photo competitions rejecting submissions that negatively impact the well-being of wild fauna. In short, a leave no trace approach is encouraged.
16. Night photography
Night photographers specialize in making images when the sun goes down. From the eerily atmospheric street photos of Jessie Tarbox Beals (the first woman night photographer) to the meticulously staged photography of Gregory Crewdson, night photography is dense, beautiful, and sometimes unsettling.
Photographers working at night can use artificial lighting, ambient lighting, or a combination of the two. Astrophotography is conducted at night and uses longer exposures to capture celestial bodies. Light-trail photography captures illuminated subject movement with a slow shutter speed. Cityscapes photographed at night have a distinctly modern appeal, and nocturnal street photography used in conjunction with flash generates an intimate aesthetic.
Photojournalism is the gathering, editing, and presenting of photographic news material. Sometimes conducted in the face of danger, photojournalism has a long history, with many of its proponents advancing the overall course of photography with dedication, creativity, and daring.
According to the code of ethics created by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), “It is the individual responsibility of every photojournalist at all times to strive for pictures that report truthfully, honestly, and objectively.” The staging or manipulation of a scene through the direction of the photographer is considered un-photojournalistic or unethical. With the evolving use of modern post-processing techniques, the idea of truthful photojournalism has become an increasingly complicated facet of reportage. In general, a minimal approach to editing is advised, and sticking to simple edits (cropping, contrast adjustments, etc.) is a relatively common photojournalistic guideline.
18. Portrait photography
Portraiture or portrait photography aims to capture the essence of a person or group through photography. The art of portraiture grew with the daguerreotype in the mid-19th century. Reduced sitting times and the relatively low cost of the photographic process saw a general rise in the popularity of early portraiture. Subjects were often positioned against plain backgrounds and illuminated with soft natural lighting. As technology advanced, exposure times shortened further, and the ability to make portraits outside the studio became increasingly common.
Today, there are a range of techniques and approaches to portraiture. The traditional portrait involves a subject (usually in a studio setting), often looking towards the camera. The environmental portrait features a subject situated in a specific environment for context and narrative. A street portrait depicts a subject in a street setting. Conceptual portraiture is shot with an emphasis on ideas based around the sitter, while the self portrait involves a photographer taking a photograph of themselves.
19. Sports photography
Sports photography is a type of photography that covers sporting events. Sometimes considered a branch of photojournalism, sports photographers capture the unfolding drama of a sporting occasion.
Long lenses and camera bodies with high continuous shooting speeds allow for greater reach across the playing field and an increased chance of capturing the perfect shot. However, regular zooms, wide-angle lenses, and prime lenses may also be used during closer encounters, and a sports photographer can have several camera configurations at the ready.
Other important sports photography equipment includes a monopod or tripod. The use of drones and strategically placed cameras triggered by wireless shutter actuators are useful for certain sports activities. And although you never know how a game is going to play out for certain, a good general knowledge of the sporting event always helps to close in on those key moments.
20. Still life photography
Still life is the art of taking photographs of (usually) inanimate subjects. With roots in painting, genres like food photography, object portraiture, flat lay photography, and tabletop photography often coexist under the still life banner. However, there are two main types of still life photography: found still life and created still life.
Found still life photographs feature subjects captured without a photographer’s influence or manipulation. An example of a found still life subject could be an apple fallen from a tree. In contrast, created still life photographs feature objects that the photographer has purposely arranged or manipulated; artificial subjects like vessels (pots, vases, baskets) are often balanced with organic subject matter like flowers, food, vegetables, shells, etc. Well-known masters of still life photography include Olive Cotton, Jan Groover, Sharon Core, and Josef Sudek.
21. Street photography
Street photographers candidly capture life in the public domain, avoiding direct interactions with the subject. And unlike the name suggests, street photography can be done off the beaten track, too – beaches, indoor settings, and rural areas hold just as much potential for street photographers as big cities and crowded streets.
As for gear, street photographers generally use a smaller camera that’s less visible and therefore less intrusive or intimidating; such cameras are also lighter to carry around during the hours spent roaming the streets.
In addition, a camera may come with a soft or silent shutter mode for surreptitious exposures. Although the versatility of a zoom lens can be useful in some circumstances, the classic prime lens is more subtle, lessening the chance of interference. The nifty fifty or 50mm lens is a popular choice for street photographers.
22. Travel photography
Shaped by magazines like National Geographic, travel photography depicts a broad variety of subject matter. According to the Photographic Society of America, a travel photograph is a photograph “that expresses the feeling of a time and place, portrays a land, its people, or a culture in its natural state, and has no geographical limitations.”
As the accessibility of travel increases, the genre of travel photography has been taken up by photographers at all levels. Dedicated travel photographers once earned wages through magazine assignments, commercial undertakings, and stock photography. Nowadays, professional travel photographers also turn to blogging, teaching, touring, and public speaking to generate income.
23. Typological photography
Typological photography is not defined by a particular area of subject matter, but rather by the process and presentation of a photographic series. Typology in itself is the study of types or the systematic classification of subjects according to their common characteristics. Therefore, typological photography aims to document subjects that are similar in nature or theme, creating a visual body of work to compare, contrast, and appreciate as a whole.
Hilla and Bernd Becher, who made extensive photographic studies of industrial buildings and structures, forged a highly influential style of typological photography. As artists working in collaboration, the married pair recorded and then categorized the formal qualities of their subjects into a neat grid layout. They also maintained a consistent approach in photographing their subjects, relying on a foundation of uniformity to articulate the similarities and differences of each subject alone and as part of a whole. Today, much of modern typological photography revolves around this visual cohesion.
24. Underwater photography
The world below the water’s surface can be as fascinating as it is alien. Underwater photography is the use of specialized photography equipment to document the expanse of an aquatic landscape and its inhabitants (hopefully without drowning your camera equipment in the process!).
The first underwater photograph was believed to have been made by Englishman William Thompson in 1856. Thompson built a metal box housing for a camera to capture the marine landscape of Weymouth Bay in Dorset, England. The shutter was activated by pulling a string on the surface. Much later, in 1960, Jacques Cousteau’s Calypso was invented – the first amphibious 35mm film camera. Today, waterproof housings with control knobs and buttons are industry standard, with some including connectors for external flash units. Rugged compact cameras can also be used in shallow water without housings.
25. Urbex Photography
Urbexing (short for urban exploring) is the exploration of human-made structures usually found in a state of abandonment or ruin. Popular urbexing sites include abandoned houses, neglected industrial sites and offices, and dilapidated schools or churches. Many urbex explorers abide by the philosophy “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”
Incorporating photography into an urbexing expedition, many urbexers maintain websites or a social media presence to document their findings.
26. Weather photography
Photographers have braved the elements to photograph weather phenomena for over a hundred years. In 1884, a photographer from Kanas named A.A. Adams captured a single image of a cyclone twisting just 14 miles away from where he’d set up his box camera. Today, basic weather photography gear usually encompasses a lightning or remote camera trigger, a sturdy tripod, and a camera with manual and/or Bulb settings. Like landscape photography, wide-angle lenses are useful for capturing large vistas of scenery and weather activity. ND filters and an intervalometer are nice to have, too.
Monitoring meteorological activity and finding locations well before a shoot is a good idea. When dynamic weather activity unfolds, scrambling for a last-minute scenic spot is less than ideal. Above all else, safety and common sense are paramount – shoot storms from a distance, keep up to date with weather notifications and warnings, stay away from metal poles, trees, and open areas, have good weatherproof clothing, and invest in rain protection for your camera.
Types of photography: final words
There are so many different photographic genres that it’s difficult to cover them all in a single article. Nevertheless, a solid knowledge of different types of photography opens the door to new photographic opportunities.
If you’re tiring of landscape photography, why not take up astrophotography? Do you have experience in sports photography? Why not branch out into pet photography? The possibilities are endless, and with a good knowledge of photographic genres, new opportunities are always available!
Now over to you:
Do you have a favorite photographic genre? Do you plan to take up any of the genres discussed in this article? Share your thoughts in the comments below!