Building a respectable name for yourself as a photographer can oftentimes feel impossible, especially in a market saturated with other photographers. In an industry with so much competition, you need to differentiate yourself and your work from the rest your competitors if you really want to stand apart from everyone else. That sounds extremely overwhelming, but there is a very practical and efficient way to carve out your own niche in this market.
Unlike a lot of other photographers, I never planned on being a photographer and I didn’t go to school for photography. Photography was just a hobby that fell on my lap long before I realized that it could be a viable career choice. My day job afforded me the opportunity to attend workshops and miscellaneous lectures of some really talented and established photographers. I became so enamored by their work that I would take their “photographic formula” and use it with my own subjects. While my photos were beautiful, they weren’t “my own.” It was inauthentic.
A few years later, I was hired as the studio manager/videographer/video editor for a fashion photographer who also taught photography. Everything she photographed, whether it was private clients or educational content, I had been on set for. I’d seen it done hundreds of times (picture that scene in "A Clockwork Orange"). Needless to say, I could basically light and shoot everything she produced with my eyes closed and I did.
It wasn’t until I photographed a lookbook for a client that was featured in Elle that it hit me: the work that I had photographed, while mine, felt inauthentic. It wasn’t my own photographic voice. It wasn’t me. While being published in Elle should have felt like an accomplishment, it didn’t. It felt like I was being rewarded for someone else's work. That was the day that I decided to create my own stylized work.
I started conducting market research and quickly realized that no one specialized in photographing men. There were books, workshops, and classes devoted to photographing women. No one cared about photographing men. Later that week, I spent two full days shooting a variety of photos for an entirely new portfolio. Three months later, I was recognized as a men’s portrait and fashion photographer. In March 2016, my first book "Photographing Men" will hit store shelves.
After teaching miscellaneous classes, workshops, and lectures, I see photographers who struggle to get over the same hurdle that I did: finding their own voice.
The secret to successfully building a name for yourself as a [blank] photographer can be achieved in three short steps. A really dedicated person can reasonably accomplish these tasks within an hour a day.
Step 1: Figure Out What You're Good At
I didn’t pick out photographing men just out of thin air. I spend way too much time on men’s clothing sites, like Uncrate and Jackthreads than is probably appropriate. I understood men’s clothing and fashion better than women’s fashion. I understood the way men’s clothing is supposed to feel and fit. It was a seamless transition.
In your case, what else are you good at? What else do you have an eye for? If you’re amazing with children for example, why not become a portrait photographer for children? Have an eye for details? Shoot weddings. Incorporate what you’re good at into your work and you’ll excel at it exponentially.
Step 2: Analyze the Market
One of the most critical aspects of carving out your own niche is analyzing the market. If there’s no potential clients, there’s no way to earn income and you’re doomed to become a starving artist. Your potential market is everyone you are capable of reaching and selling your photography services to. This is also the time to ask yourself, “Who do I know?”
Opportunities don’t just pop out of nowhere. They come from people. If you know the right people you can leverage those relationships into getting paid.
Step 3: Commit and Market the Sh*t Out of Yourself
This is step that most photographers struggle with because they don’t want to pigeonhole themselves. Crafting your niche is scary. There’s no doubt about that, but at some point you need to just suck it up and commit. The longer you wait to commit, the more opportunity you’re giving others to fill the role in the market.
Once you commit, tell everyone what you’re doing. Tell your family, tell your friends, tell your dog. Network. Socialize. Whatever you choose to do, make sure that everyone knows what your niche is. This does two things, it holds you accountable to what you committed yourself to and it also allows your to become the established as the expert in your photography niche.
thank you Jeff, inspiring at wish.
Thank you kindly! I'm glad that this could be of use to you. :)
Nice write up and your work is great . When is your next workshop? Thnx
Thanks so much! Working on the 2016 schedule now. I should have everything finalized after PPE. :D
Great article. Looking forward to your book!
Thank you so much! :)
Thanks For Sharing Jeff
Anytime! :) Thanks for reading. :)
nice article Jeff! 3 fundamental steps simply put. To the point. Good stuff.
Thank you kindly! :)
well said, Jeff
Thanks so much Yechiel! :)
its for posts like this that i follow fstoppers!
Thank you kindly Charles! :)
I totally agree Jeff, when possible... For example, if someone wants to do high fashion in the middle of nowhere with no market, you cant simply create a market. I agree study the market and carve out a market that works for me/you but if your goals is to do high fashion they'll be limitations other than doing high fashion for senior portraits purely for a business purpose. But even then, senior portraits are a seasonal business model, so you plug into other similar markets in portraiture to fill the year of bookings.
Not much of a niche if you're doing 3-6 different types of portraits unless the niche itself is just portrait on a overall scale?
I know in a bigger populated areas it can help to specialize within a specialty, niche within a niche, but in areas with much lower populated areas like outside of major cities such as NYC and Philly, etc. its a whole lot more difficult.
I mean at the least focus on one niche while taking other types too, to keep the cash flowing right?
Go make money. lol. <3
Fully with you on this Jeff, and I thank you for the inspiration! Know where your passion is, what you know about, and if you see it as a neglected market, you have seen a niche that needs filling.
I also am going into the male portraiture side of my photographic work for exactly these same reasonings. I fully believe that specialising in the male face, and body, is such a totally different challenge to working with women that there is a big opening for those of us who understand how to get the best out of our subjects.
That's awesome! Can't wait to see what you come up with! :)
Great Article Mr. Rojas! I appreciate your time writing and sharing your experience! I know as a very part time photographer everyone thinks you can do anything, from seniors, to weddings, to kids to fashion! Your advice is the best~
Thank you very much! I'm glad that I could be of help! :)
Great article Jeff and looking forward to reading the book. I have also found my work leaning towards mens portraiture. No one in my area even comes close to specializing in that genre.
Thanks so much! :) Good luck! :D
Some great tips, Jeff. Bought your book at B&N and I gotta say, it was a refreshing change from the usual photography books.
Thanks so much! I'm glad that I could be of help! :) :D