So, you want to be a photographer, huh? You just went out and purchased your first DSLR, the guy at the store getting you a great deal with two lenses and a bag coming free with the camera itself. He even threw in a memory card! Now, you sit at home on your laptop, reading this blog in hopes of learning how the hell to even use the thing. It sits idle in its box aside of you, waiting for you to open, charge, and use it. But a part of you is afraid; maybe it’s not a large part of you, but a part nonetheless. You’re afraid that you will never be as successful as the great masters of photography. The fear of being inadequate rips at your very soul. All throughout your life you have been known as the perfectionist: what happens if you never release any work because you feel it isn’t good enough? What if – even worse – you never take an image that you actually think is half-decent enough to keep?
Here's the thing: it is all going to happen to you. There is no way to avoid thinking that your work is garbage; no way to avoid believing you won’t make it. Every artist in the world, since the beginning of time, has had to struggle with these thoughts. But this should be a reassurance to you. While you may be thinking, “I wish I was as good as Ansel Adams,” Ansel could have been in the darkroom thinking, “I wish I could make art as good as Picasso!” And, in time, if you push yourself to make work you love, some artist from the future may sit at her desk with her camera in her lap, thinking, “I wish I was as good as (insert name here).”
So long as you are putting your work out there, you have just as good a chance of becoming well-known as Ansel Adams and all of those other guys have. There’s only one caveat to this, however, but it is a very simple fix:
You need to find your niche
Look at all your favorite photographers. Really analyze their work. Now tell me – what do they take photographs of? Do they take pictures of everything in sight? Is there portfolio filled with photographs of their pets, their family, pretty sunsets, and anything and everything else they could point their camera at?
I promise you, that’s not the case.
Instead, they have found a genre of photography that they absolutely love. They are passionate about what they photograph, and it shows just by looking at a single image they made. And that’s the thing: they don’t take images – they make images. When you make an image, you are creating it from scratch. You are filling it with emotion, light, and subject. While you can obviously do this when taking photographs of everything out there, there is no way for you to do it as well as you could, had you specialized.
By specializing, you are able to hone your skills. You gain the ability to intimately know your subject. If you are shooting wildlife, you will know your subjects better than anyone else out there. You’ll know exactly when to go outside for the best chance to see them; you’ll get to know when they have offspring and when their mating season is; you’ll soon get to know them just as well as you know your mother. The same can be said about every other photography genre out there. When you choose to specialize, you gain an upper hand over the photographers shooting even just two genres.
So, how do I find my niche?
In order to figure out what genre of photography you should be shooting, you must first ignore everything that I have just said about finding a niche. Your first few months of shooting should consist of you figuring out how to use your camera in the first place. Instead of dwelling over what you want to shoot, you need to figure out how to shoot. Simple, yes?
After a few months of learning your camera and the basics of photography – such as composition, types of light, how to shoot manual, etc. – you should then move on to figure out what you want to shoot.
And by this time, you should have begun figuring out what it is you enjoy taking photographs of. Maybe you are drawn to the outdoors, or maybe you find yourself constantly taking photographs of your family and people. Naturally, you will find yourself taking more photographs of one thing than any other. Look through all of the photographs you had taken while learning your camera, and see if there are more images that fit one genre than any other. That, my friend, will become your niche.
What genres are there?
With photography, there are hundreds of genres you could find yourself specializing in. In all honesty, it truly depends on how specialized you wish to become. For instance, I am a landscape photographer; however, I photograph seascapes, mountainscapes, the more intimate aspects of nature, and some wildlife. Many times, I wonder if I should simply call myself a nature photographer, as that would seem to encompass all I do in a cleaner format. Alexandre Deschaumes is a landscape photographer who has chosen to spend most of his time taking photographs of mountains; this helps him to stand out from other photographers, since he has specialized not only in landscape photography but in mountain photography as well. If people want to see some moody, mysterious images of mountains, his name will be one of the first to pop up. This is the ultimate benefit of specializing. People will begin to associate your name with the genre that you choose.
The problem with specializing
I am not about to lie to you and say that specializing in photography is full of benefits. While it is true that your skill level will benefit and that you will find an audience that truly loves your work, the biggest downside to specializing comes down to money.
Landscape photography and nature photography in general is a very difficult genre to make money in. Nowadays, people do not value prints as they had even twenty years ago. And it all comes down to the internet and the idea that you can view any image online for free – so why should you bother paying so much money just to have the same image hang on your wall? Hell, you could simply save the image on your laptop and print it at home for a tenth of the price! Who cares about the image quality, right?
But in all seriousness, when you are specializing, you risk not being able to make a full-time career out of it. It becomes ten times harder to make a living off your work, since you only have that one genre to stay within. This is why a lot of photographers choose to shoot in multiple genres. There are a ton of wedding photographers who shoot portraits in order to get some more cashflow. And while that is similar enough – as both genres have to do with people – there are others out there who photograph weddings and landscapes. Why? Because their passion is landscape photography, but they need the money that shooting weddings brings in.
In the end
Truthfully, it all comes down to what you want to shoot. For me, this means that I will continue staying true to my landscape photography. This allows me to really hone my skills and become the best I can possibly be. By working within this one genre, I can figure out my style and really grow my audience. Yes, I may end up shooting weddings or something else in order to gain some sort of revenue, but here’s the big difference: I will truly want to shoot these subjects. So long as you have a passion for the genre you are pursuing, then there is nothing wrong with shooting more than one genre, in my mind.
Just know this: the fewer genres you try and specialize in, the better you will be at each.