Using your personal interests and hobbies can be a great way to create a stock photography niche that is both creatively and financially rewarding.
The photography industry includes a wide variety of genres and within each genre, there is a demand for different niches of images. While many photographers tend to dabble as generalists and shoot several genres, there are many benefits to being a specialist and focusing on a single niche.
Why Specialize in a Niche?
Throughout my career, I have heard from editors, mentors, clients, and peers that the best way to build your portfolio is to target a niche and master it by developing your own identifiable personal style within it. I have found this advice to be sound, especially when starting a career.
For starters, it's much easier to specialize in one thing rather than master several at once. The costs of investing in the specialty gear needed for some niches can be a large investment with little to no benefit in other genres. For example, gear for underwater, aerial, or wildlife photography has little application outside those specific fields. That said, if you enter into a genre with an existing interest or knowledge of a subject, it can give you a huge advantage in your photography. Already having the necessary dive gear and training needed puts you ahead of the photographer who is just starting out. I’m an avid surfer and rock climber. This knowledge and experience requires less time to perfect my surf and climbing images and allows me to spend more time working on my style.
Developing a Niche for Stock
I, like many photographers, have struggled to focus on just one thing. Oftentimes photographing my interests or developing personal projects has led to great images that just don't fit in my portfolio, marketing, and social media even if they are some of my best works. These outliers to your portfolio and client work can be the perfect start to developing a niche for stock.
Your passion and knowledge give you that advantage to get images that those who generalize just can't. This tactic has helped many professionals from other fields find success in the photography world. Just last year I met a photographer who had one of the largest dental photography businesses in the country. This was something I had never even heard of. He was a successful dentist and got into photography as a hobby. He quickly realized his access, experience, and knowledge gave him a huge advantage in filling a gap he found in both the dental and photography world.
I have also seen this happen first hand with athletes in all kinds of sports as well. An athlete finds themselves at the top of their sport but just can’t make the leap to pro. They're friends with pro athletes, have lots of contacts, and a high level of experience. With just a basic knowledge of photography, they often have a huge advantage over a talented photographer starting out in that sport.
What Makes a Good Niche?
Success comes when you find a balance between industry demand and competition. Start by examining your interests, personal projects, and the knowledge you already have. Then look for gaps in the market that you think you're qualified to fill. In my previous article on Photography Trends, I talked about using your knowledge of a subject to take advantage of current and future trends. You can use this same knowledge and tactic to find niches that have enough demand but are not yet oversaturated. Of Course, there are some hobbies and interests are both in high demand and over saturated.
The fact that a lot of people are actively involved will lead to strong competition. My surfing is a good example. The abundance of knowledge combined with the ease of access to surfing means there is a lot of great content being created. Chances are, being knowledgeable on these topics comes built in with the needed research and up to date trends that will allow you to find those gaps in demand that few are filling in. The tech world has a massive demand for content and a lot of competition, however, there are always gaps and new developing tech that can be capitalized on.
About a decade or so ago I was writing for tech blogs as gadgets and general "geekery" were a pastime of mine. I was working on an article on cryptocurrency and couldn't find imagery to accompany it. I made up a few graphics that envisioned what I thought Bitcoin might look like and published it. Soon after it became a popular topic being discussed in the tech industry and I had some of the few images available. This became my first step into stock photography and some of those images still bring in some money.
Finding a niche within your existing work or shooting what you love and finding the demand for it in stock can be a great way to use images that might not otherwise fit within your business model. It can help fund or lead to the development of personal projects that are often a great way to reinvigorate creativity or take your photography in a new direction. Building a great stock portfolio around a specific niche can also lead to new opportunities and clients that you might not have been aware of. Examine the things you feel you have a talent and knowledge for from the perspective of a photographer and a client to see if you can find the gaps and trends you can fill.