Jack of All Trades Versus Tunnel Vision Photographers

Jack of All Trades Versus Tunnel Vision Photographers

When it comes to photographers, there seem to be those that dabble in a bit of everything and there are those that shoot one and only one genre. It's a difference of mindset and of perspective, but is either better than the other or does it boil down to a matter of preference? Is there a clear cut benefit for either stance? I'm a one-track mind type of guy and I'm here to tell you that it doesn't bother me one bit.

The jack-of-all-trades photographer pursues bits of everything. He or she is a wedding photographer, portrait, street, food, still life, real estate, and everything-in-between photographer. Their bag of gear is as varied as the pursuits themselves, owning lenses for each and every job and client that they may encounter. Is this the type of photographer who masters a craft, or is this the pursuer of all but master of none?

The tunnel vision photographer pursues one genre or one style with almost absolute exclusivity. He or she owns few lenses beyond the ones they need for their craft and their gear bag is often a simple one. Their pursuit is mastery of one thing and one thing only. This single path may lead them to excel and master one aspect of photography, while leaving them less skilled or knowledgeable about areas not related to their single pursuit.

Both have advantages and both have very clear weaknesses. The jack of all trades may be skilled in many areas, able to shoot decent, even great images across many genres. But as they spread themselves across all their different interests, can they ever achieve mastery of any single aspect? The one track mind may master their genre, being able to create genuine master piece images, all while finding themselves helpless to shoot work outside of their expertise.

Is it just a matter of mindset or is it something deeper in each of us that draws us down one path and not the other? Some people have genuine passion for everything related to photography and will spend a lifetime shooting everything that ends up in front of their lens. Others find their interest are so narrow that their career will consist of only one stream of content. Do you know which type you are? Are you able to recognize your strengths and weaknesses based on which category that you fall into?

Every genre will be full of both types. There are wedding photographers who are the genuine crème de la crème, the absolute best in their field, able to command any premium that they set for themselves. Passionate about people, and moments; a single smile or kiss. The same is true for portraits, real estate, food, sports, video, street, and everything else you can think of. There are also wedding photographers capable of taking wonderful images that bring people immense joy and happiness who are just as content to shoot images of your pet.

When it comes to myself, I know that I am the type with tunnel vision. I pursue mastery and though it may take me my entire career, my determination is limitless. I may never even get there, but as long as my goal remains to someday look back and be able to call myself a master I don't care. If I'm not the guy to take wedding photos, so what? It doesn't bother me that I don't own a lens that would make for great real estate images. Concerts are not my jam (no pun intended) and I'm not the guy you're looking for to shoot your live music event. For me, I find that the path to improvement is a path faster traveled when it's the only path I am walking on.

Let me know in the comments a few things about yourself. Are you one to shoot it all or do you only want to shoot one style? Maybe you disagree with my whole premise; Do you think think that it is possible for a person to master multiple genres? Could you be both a true master of weddings and a master of automotive or still life? Know that whatever you consider yourself, this is not meant to put any type of creative down. I do not believe that either is better than the other, rather that they are different just as people are different. I also believe that there is value to be had in identifying and quantifying things about yourself. So tell me, who are you?

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Evan Kane's picture

I completely agree with you that when people are starting out, that is the time that we are most likely to be shooting anything and everything. Rightfully so I think, there is never anything wrong with exploring all the creative avenues to discover where and what your passion is.

You also make a good point about growing bored, which I think is definitely a common place to find yourself if you limit your genre. However, I don't believe that the sole focus of a subject or genre limits your ability to grow as an artist.

As far as who or what actually constitutes mastery, that is the age old question that honestly I don't think there is a concrete answer to haha!

Anonymous's picture

Evan thanks that you have commented on just about everyones' comments so far.You have an encouraging spirit. Well done.

Evan Kane's picture

I appreciate that Geoff, thank you! :D

Paul Condron's picture

Lots of food for thought Evan. My initial thoughts, relative to my own experience and creatives that inspire me, is that there are folks out there who are just masters of their craft. That being said, I don't think anyone is a true master, because as soon as you've nothing left to learn, it's time to move on. But if you think of someone like Prince, he's a polymath - a master of piano, guitar, bass, drums, songwriting, producing...

However, with photography, I think the conundrum comes when you're trying to market what you do. Like it or not, the idea that someone is, quite simply, a great Photographer seems to be a difficult concept for many to grasp, and understandably so. Instagram doesn't lend itself to those who practice creative diversity, which is why people have multiple accounts, or use more portfolio orientated sites like Behance, Flickr or 500px.

Shantanu Starick, the man behind the Pixel Trade project, has some very interesting thoughts on the subject. Worth a looksee.

Great article dude! I shall be pondering this over the weekend.

Evan Kane's picture

Thanks for the comment Paul! I wouldn't say that mastery necessarily means that you have nothing left to learn. I kind of see that as impossible, there is always more to learn, even for the master. I've got to agree with you about Prince haha!

I'll have to look into Shantanu Starick and Pixel Trade, I'm not familiar with either.


Jason Lorette's picture

My first love is for sure 'portraits' but I'm definitely an 'all-around' photographer, there are a few things that I won't usually do, but not much.