Whether you're an amateur looking to learn how to be better in a specific area of photography or a new professional looking to dominate a market, how do you know which niche you should choose?
Specializing in photography is important, and this is well-covered territory. To truly master a certain type of photography takes time, intentional practice, and a lot of effort. While many are happy shooting everything, most will gravitate to one genre over another. But few of us have an equal love for every brand of photography out there, but inevitably enjoy more than one, so how do you know which specialty is the best path?
There's no one size fits all answer, but there are key indicators I'm going to go through that might aid in your decision. It's worth noting that you don't need to pigeonhole yourself into just one niche. Most successful photographers have something they're known for, but also dabble in other — usually related — areas too. That said, you don't want to be a jack of all trades. Photographers who try to do everything commercially or even just as a hobby will likely never be known for any of them. If a company wants to hire someone to do photography for them, they're going to Google and search for something very specific. I work with lots of watch brands for instance, and the ones that find me have sought out "watch photographers." I'm never going to receive an inquiry from an architect asking for me to capture the inside of a building. For that, the company will search for architectural photographers.
My journey went exactly where I intended it to go. I have always loved and been obsessed by portraiture and fashion photography, and that was where my initial commercial focus gravitated. However, my hobbyist love for macro then ended up clashing with this when I combined it with my love for watches. They may initially seem disparate concepts, but I was soon putting watches on people and taking pictures. Now, the bulk of my money earned from photography is portraiture for magazines and companies and with watches and jewelry brands. This isn't to say I have no other areas of photography I enjoy. I could see myself being happy as a sports photographer, a photojournalist, an automotive photographer, a wildlife photographer, and so on. I love the medium and almost all forms of it, but spreading myself that thing would have been the incorrect move both commercially and even just from the perspective of improving at my craft.
So, how do you know which genre to fly the flag for? For people with no interest in making money from photography, I would suggest just going with the first suggestion as little else matters. For those who want to go professional or make a little side money, here are three suggestions:
The first should be obvious, but isn't. Whether you're an amateur looking to master your craft or a new professional looking to get a name for yourself, you need to follow your passion. Photography is not an industry that many would choose for any reason other than an interest in it. The same goes with specializing: find what you love to photograph the most and then work out how to get to the standard you want to be and how to make money in it. There are lots of downsides to working as a photographer, so choosing to do a genre you don't enjoy because it might make you a little more money is likely short-sighted. Some areas are harder to make money than others (landscape is more difficult to make money from than weddings, for example.) That doesn't mean it can't be done. If you have a passion for it, research who is doing well in that genre and look to emulate their movements and innovate.
This isn't a fun consideration, but for the pros and those who want to make some money from their photography, it's crucial. However, it's difficult to delineate what exactly can and cannot make you reasonable money. If an area is crowded with photographers looking for work it means both that there is money to be made, and that it might be hard to make it. If there appears to be no photographers working in a niche, then it means both that there is a gap in the market, but that the market might not be big enough. Do as much research as you can, talk to people working in that area (both photographers and, if possible, people who hire them), and learn as much as you can about the industry.
This feels like a new consideration, but I'm sure it isn't. The truth is, photography has been moving quickly, as has technology. There are lots of areas that became outdated terrifyingly quickly and you don't want to hitch your wagon to a dying horse. I can even give you an example from my own career. I started shooting macro stack images of watches on plain white backgrounds to show off the design. It was pretty work-heavy and therefore reasonably expensive for the client. Not long after I'd started doing it, I noticed that more and more brands, from start-ups to Rolex, were using renders instead. This has become more prevalent, and as a result, is something I've moved away from. So, consider as best you can whether your niche has a future, particularly if you want to do it commercially. The cheapest and easiest solution will always be the one most businesses opt for.
My advice, in brief, would be to first identify what type of photography you're passionate for. There is likely more than one, so are they related? Then I would ask yourself what you want to achieve with your photography. If it's monetary in any way, you need to look into commercial value within that industry and if there are any imminent and predictable threats to that value.
What advice would you give somebody looking to specialize in photography? Are there any tips you can offer in making the decision? Share them in the comments below.