The advice I often hear on the internet is this: choose a photography genre and stick to it. I want to float the idea of developing your style instead and shooting what you’re passionate about. I’m not talking about the jack of all trades approach, but developing your skills in a few genres that you like and come naturally to you.
It is true that at a certain level, very specialized photographers get hired over those that shoot many genres. But what if you can’t commit to one or love shooting various things? In this article, I talk about the concept of choosing and loving multiple but related genres that are united in style.
Shooting Across Multiple Genres: The Benefits
Selling additional services to current clients makes more commercial sense than finding new ones. Your multiple specialties can make you a great fit for companies that also trade in more than one product area or service. For example, as I love shooting both interiors and food, department stores are great clients for me, as they often sell both homewares and food. The same principle can be applied to wedding photographers who later on may get commissioned by the same clients to shoot family photography.
If you’re a multi-passionate person like me, the obvious benefit is getting to photograph a variety of work. Getting to shoot the breadth of things you love will make you not only happier but also more skilled and flexible in your approach to shoots.
Shooting multiple genres can help you get work all year round; when it gets quiet in one genre, you still have other types of clients to approach and rely on.
The Importance of Having a Photography Style
Unless clients already know you they tend to hire you based on your style. I do believe your work should be united by a style across genres. A photography style is defined by color, lens, composition, and other artistic choices. In some areas, like fashion photography, the styling of an image makes a big difference too. Your personality will guide you. Maybe you love to shoot wide open and your style is quite dreamy, whereas you’d hate to shoot with a flashgun and a 35mm lens.
My lighting and framing style is natural, and I have a fairly limited color palette, with neutrals and pops of color. A straight-on flash is a no-no for me. I prefer the natural point of view of a 50mm lens for most things, and I rarely go with a wide angle.
What are your influences in photography and other art forms? Finding and defining your style is a constant work in progress as you develop and shoot new things. I am in no way the perfect example of having a coherent style, but for the most part, I know who I am as a photographer.
One of the biggest influences in my professional practice is Bauhaus. I love the ideology of function over form and the primary colors within that design and art movement. Films and stories are a big inspiration for me, and I always aim to tell stories with my images: a moment of calm in the kitchen, the joy of newly changed bedding, or a breakfast feast to die for. One photographer I particularly admire is Gregory Crewdson, whose work is elaborately staged but still close to looking real. My still-life and interior work are highly curated and styled, and I enjoy setting up the scenes and transporting the viewers into other versions of reality.
Shoot the Genres That Suit You
There are too many genres of photography to list. For example, wedding and medical photography are very different and therefore require individual sets of skills, but more importantly, dissimilar personalities. Some genres are often shot in the evening, such as club and party photography, whereas product photography can be as close to a 9-5 as it gets. Certain hours and environments suit different lifestyles, and something as simple as that can define the genre you end up in.
How social are you? Some genres require you to work with other people more than others. In portrait and fashion photography, you direct people and need the ability to make people feel at ease. Do you prefer to work on your own or collaborate? I love to collaborate on creative still-life shoots with stylists and art directors.
Your personality, skills, and preferences matter, but your resources and location may dictate even more. If you live in a rural place, it is perfect for landscape photography. On the flip-side, if you live in a city, you may have many businesses needing restaurant photography. Resources include access to a studio or space to shoot at home, or proximity to a beach to shoot certain fashion photography looks. Let’s face it: if you have connections to a certain industry, it is much easier to access clients within it.
If you love cars or travel, you should make time to shoot those things for your portfolio. If refining lighting for a shiny little product makes you constantly frustrated, then that is a sign that it may not be for you. When you photograph what is interesting to you, it shows in your work, both in the process and in the final images. Photography shouldn’t need to be a grind.
Related Photography Genres
Instead of shooting absolutely everything, you should choose a few genres that relate to each other. Weddings, family events, and portraits are examples of related genres. If you have completely unrelated work, keep it out of your website and marketing materials so you don’t confuse clients. What you put in your portfolio needs to be coherent.
The areas that you pick should easily use your core kit. If they’re too different and you need to invest lots of money for separate specialist kits, then it may not be financially worth it.
Shooting a few related genres can give you a great income with various clients. If you’re earning excellent money shooting one type of photography and are happy to let the others go, then it may be time to specialize.
Let’s Sum It Up
You can be successful shooting across multiple genres if they are related. Knowing who you are as a photographer and having a coherent style will make you attractive to potential clients. Photographing the things that suit your lifestyle will play to your strengths, and you will be happier overall. Lastly, if you shoot what you love, it will most certainly show in your work.
These types of articles are popping up a lot lately. I had no idea that specialization bothered so many people.
The idea of a "profession" implies specialization. The idea of a "photographer" is a specialist in one particular form of media. We don't call people that paint or people that play music "photographers." For example, when photographers branch out into video and other mediums then they tend to be viewed more as content creators or producers rather than just photographers. But when a person only uses photography then specialization in photomedia is what determined the title. There is something counterintuitive about simultaneously claiiming to be a photographer and NOT also a specialist.
I understand that a lot of people tend to talk about specialization in terms of genres of photography rather than photography itself. But that's just a matter of degree and not of kind. Shooting 3 genres vs 1 genre may seem like specialization vs generalization, but really it's just a difference between degrees of specialization within photography itself.
This just looks like the pendulum returning to the other side, a few years ago the "Specialization" article was all the rage, now is going the other way. I still think what Tim Tadder said still applies, you specialize to get your client, then generalize to cater to your client's needs.
There's a lot of truth to that because my first job in photography was at a studio where only about 5 clients made up 90% of the yearly billing. The studio's number one priority was to keep each client so we were always shooting anything and everything that the agencies needed. When I started my own business, I considered it "multi-tasking towards a single goal."
I like the term 'degrees of specialization'!
Thanks, I was hoping that would be a similar idea to what you were advocating
I'm sorry Kasia, but this title's article could change to be pro-specialization, and still make sense. I just think you narrowed the scope of what "specializing" is. You can be a specialist in Fashion, and still do high fashion, editorial, beauty, or be a specialist in still-life, and do product, e-commerce, advertising, art still-life, or architectural, and do architecture, interiors, or Landscape, and do travel, editorial, landscape. I don't think you're wrong, at all, it's just about the way we define the terms. This is mine, with a broader way of looking at what genres are, and it's also ok, we're having a conversation.
I don't mind at all, It's good to have conversations about these subjects especially as our industry is going through a lot of changes right now.
I'm going to be controversial here... first up, if you are a pro, you should have the skillset to shoot pretty much anything.
Second, one genre - wedding photography demands you shoot pretty much everything, in the field, under time pressure too. With weddings, you need to have mastered photography totally... which is why it baffles me that it is often the first genre people often shoot.
Third, from a commercial point of view, some specialisms are seasonal, which is why many of us have a second or third specialising.
Wedding photography does not necessarily require a studio or extensive lighting equipment, particularly for someone with a photojournalist approach. A camera and one or two off camera flashes and you are good to go. Wedding photography has a perceived low barrier of entry.
Great article Kasia, the style you create as a photographer is the one that clients pay you for and if it's transferable over multiple genres the better.
Specialty is typically the result of clients sense of security. One thing that I believe many people ignore is the client internal chain of command. Not every client is the same and for many it’s not how flashy you may be, but simply how you provide and your ability to innovate on the long run. They just don’t expect the impossible. As a photographer, always keep in mind that you are a solution provider.
A photographer acquires specialization from practice that makes one an expert of certain learned skills.
Now if you practice shooting dirty dishes, you might want to go out more. Kidding aside, specialization is about understanding light, space and time within a particular genre. If that involves humans, then a whole new set of skills are required. Those are human skills, like putting people at ease by the way one speaks, For someone who specializes in landscape, then it really is about light and space and the time you go out. But if you spend all your time shooting at high noon trying to get a great shot, you may want to revisit what makes a shot special within that genre.
I thought the term "Specialization" referred to marketing rather than a style of photography, we were advised by the experts and on this site for a start, to advertise only our specialty when marketing ourselves on social media, websites etc. That was supposed to give us an advantage as potential clients seeking a wedding photographer did not want to waste their time searching through your site to see if you shot weddings if in fact you only shot landscapes. It was more about the short attention span of the public and the increasing popularity of using phones and pads to search the internet as opposed to the skill set of the photographer. I think most of us would shoot anything that interested us but that won't get us top billing on Google..
if you have been photography full time or even part time for lets say 20 years and have been doing 1 genre in that time. It wouldnt take you that long to learn another genre in photography. I mean, you already know how to edit, compose a photo lighting. You might have to spend maybe several hours learning more about lighting and composition for that genre. But it wouldnt be months or years