CHAPTER 13-: This is the thirteenth chapter of “A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Professional Photographer.” – Once you have acquired a sufficient amount of information about the world of photography, cameras, photography techniques and gained decent experience working in the field with other photographers, you need to start thinking about funneling your talent into one particular area of expertise.
In other words, once you have spent two or three years taking photography courses in school or online, working with a number of different subjects and in a variety of locations, you ought to make a decision about your future in photography. Like with any other profession, specialization is an integral part of becoming a professional photographer.
You Can’t Do It All
One of the elementary mistakes made by the beginner photographers is that they assume that they can do it all. This is far from the truth. The reality of the situation is, no matter how skilled, talented and proficient you are in the various fields of photography, being a complete all rounder will not be of great benefit to you in your career. Take for example a sports team. Not everyone in the team is required to do everything. Yes, the celebrated players in a top tier team have the ability to pull off all the tricks in the hat.
For example, a player who is renowned for being a striker in a soccer team will be required to play defence occasionally when his or her team is in desperate need of defending a one goal lead. A similar example can be put forward about a defensive player, who are expected to lunge forward in attack and create more goal scoring opportunities when his or her team is look for a last minute equalizer.
Other than these exceptional situations, soccer players are more or less valued for their areas of expertise. They are judged on the basis of their specialized talent, and not their all round ability. The same is the case with other professionals in the economy, and photographers seem to be no exception to this rule. People including clients and critics will judge you on the basis of how good you are in a particular field of photography, instead of the diversity of your talent and the versatility of your arsenal of skills.
Don’t Turn Passion into Obsession
There are some other novice photographers who take this rule of specialization to the extreme by concentrating only on one particular area photography, while completely ignoring the other options that are available. For example, if you have an ardent interest in wildlife photography, then you are encouraged by all means to spend the majority of your photography sessions shooting majestic animals performing breathtaking stunts in their natural habitat.
However, this passion for wildlife photography should not turn into an obsession or an addiction just yet. You need to hold your horses and concentrate on exploring a certain unchartered territories. You can never truly understand your area of expertise or find your true calling without trying out other forms of photography and learning new skills that you had never been acquainted with. You must possess a certain degree of skill in various forms of photography for two different reasons.
The first has to do with enhancing your portfolio of skills. The more knowledge you have of various forms of photography, the better equipped you will be to become an expert in one particular field. The knowledge attained from other fields of photography can be used to come up with innovative techniques and tricks in the field of photography where you are specializing.
Unpredictable Consumer Society
The other reason why it is so important to spread a few eggs across other baskets is because the economy that we are currently living in is driven by the consumer society whose tastes are more unpredictable than weather in a tropical area. This ever changing preference or taste of the consumer society affects the photography industry as well. Types of photography that are in demand today and considered a hot commodity may not be so hot tomorrow.
You can never know when components of photography lose their charm, relevance and importance in this tumultuous consumer society that we live in. Therefore, if you want to ensure your long term existence and relevance in the photography industry, you should possess a certain degree of knowledge and expertise in other areas so that you can jump the sinking boat and adopt a new line of profession within the industry if things go south for your field of photography.
Three Stages of a Photography Career
To sum it up, your entire photography career can be divided into three stages. In the initial stage, you are required to gain ample knowledge and a decent level of expertise in the various fields of photography that are prevalent in your locality, city, state or country. The next step is to channel all your resources, skills and energy towards one particular field of photography or in other words towards one particular niche.
Once you have gained a considerable amount of experience working in a specific niche, you can then go on to further broaden your horizons as a professional photographer, and occasionally test your skills in other forms of photography so that you do not completely go out of touch with the areas of photography that you had learned about in the early stages of your career. As you can see, sustaining a successful career in professional photography is all about creating and maintaining a balance. Without this balance, you may lose your footing in the photography industry.
Why Should You Pick a Photography Niche?
You have learned about why it is important to maintain a balance and attain skills in different fields of photography. Now, you should focus on understanding why picking a niche can do wonders for your career. To begin with, images that are specialized and concentrated on one particular topic sell more and are thus more marketable. This is the 21st century. You are no longer just an artist or a freelance photographer. You are a service business on your own. Without the marketability factor, it will be very difficult for you to survive in the industry let alone thrive in it.
The more specialized your photos are, the quicker they will sell with the clients and make it into the stock photography markets. You are currently living in the age of citizen journalism. This means that you do not have to be journalist to be regarded as an authoritative source of reliable visual content. As a citizen, you have every right to post visual content on whatever subject that appeals to you and piques the interest of others. As long as you produce high quality visual content, people will buy into your photography and consider your skills to be legit. Therefore, now is a better time than ever to invest your time, money, energy and resources in niche photography.
a. A Purpose Greater Than Money
The reasons to delve into niche photography are not just financial. Sure, you will be earning a lot more than the person who is simply floating from one field of photography to the other, but you have to ask the question to yourself, is money the only factor behind your decision to concentrate on a particular niche? Most amateur photographers who have a true passion for the career that lies ahead will agree that money or affluence and fame can hardly ever be the complete driving factor or source of motivation behind cutting off ties with other forms of photography and channelling all your attention towards one particular niche. The decision to do so has to be influenced by purer and stronger intentions and emotions.
Niche photography or specialized photography should stem from your desire to be recognized, respected and acknowledged for your craft. For example, if you focus on street photography, then deep down inside your heart, you will always long for people to exclusively associate you with street photography and endow a prestigious label upon you that defines you as the ultimate street photographer of this era. This is why it is important to develop a niche. It helps you to satisfy your long term cravings in the field of photography. It gives purpose to your work and makes you feel as if you are involved in something that is truly larger than life.
b. Turning Hobby into a Career
If anything, niche photography is the best way to let the world know that you are done using photography as simply a hobby or a habit. Engaging in niche photography is similar to making a declaration that you are about to embark on your journey towards being one of the greatest professional photographers. It lets people know that you have matured as a photographer and are now willing to take on the challenge of specialization.
What is Niche Photography?
Before you can head dive your way into niche photography, you need to first understand the meaning of the word niche and how it relates to photography in general. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, niche refers “a place, employment, status, or activity for which a person or thing is best fitted”. This definition is ought to clear up some basic misconceptions that you may have had about nice photography.
Selecting an area of expertise is not exactly as simple as picking a line of profession within the industry that is most lucrative or convenient or acceptable or praiseworthy. There is a saying that you do not select the niche, but rather it is the niche selects you. Let your heart decide the path for your photography career. If you were born to take pictures of landscapes, then do not force wildlife photography unto yourself. Stick with your inhibitions and instincts. More often than not, these help you realize your true potential and dreams.
5 Steps to Developing a Niche in Photography
Developing a niche in your photography career is not actually the hardest thing in the world to do. What is truly difficult is the part where you have to turn that niche into a moneymaking machine for you. Moneymaking does not only refer to income generation, but it also takes into account the amount of reputation and dignity that you earn from society for your work. In other words, making your niche successful is one of the biggest challenges you will face in your career as a professional photographer.
Making the niche work is not necessarily different from making specialization in any other career field work. You need to have a great understanding of the particular form of photography that you have chose and combine it with technical knowledge and a business sense to make your career in niche photography work. This is how talented photographic artists transform themselves into prosperous niche photographers. If you are not a niche photographer, then you are probably doing it all wrong. The following are a list of things that you need to take into account as you begin to develop yourself into a niche photographer.
1) Passion and Affinity
Passion and affinity often work as two peas in a pod. However, there will be times in your professional career where you will feel as if your passion is not entirely consistent with your affinity. In other words, what you really want to do in your career is not always in line with what you excel at. This poses a dilemma that you need to deal with, and deal with quickly. The temptation during these times is to focus on both your passion and your affinity, but the veteran advice would be to stick with the area of photography that you excel at and learn to love it as much as the area that you have grown passionate about. Besides, it’s not like you have to completely give up on your passion. You can still engage in fields of photography that put on a smile on your face during your break hours from work.
2) Research and Education
After you have made up your mind to pursue a specialized career in a particular field of photography your next objective is to conduct a thorough research on all the various aspects of that field including a comprehensive business research on market, sales, competition and expenses which will come in handy later on in your career. As a part of your research, get in touch with other photographers who have established or tried establishing a career in the field of your choice. Get to know more about their experiences, their success stories and failures.
The seasoned veterans in a particular line of profession can teach you more about the ins and outs of the profession than any tangible source of information such as books, magazines and articles can. When you are hearing their stories, do not just simply listen to them as fables. Try to analyze the stories and figure out where they went wrong and why they went wrong. You should also stay updated about the latest technological developments that have taken place in your niche of photography.
3) Niche Collection
As a professional photographer, you will be required to build your own collection or portfolio of photos that you can display to critics, clients and general photography enthusiasts. When coming up with a portfolio, it is extremely important that you incorporate as many niche images that you possibly can. Niche images, as mentioned before, are a great way of creating the impression that you have mastered the art of photography in a particular field and are an absolute genius in that particular area. These niche images will also appeal to clients who want to view specific photos that are related to their fields of interest and their line of profession.
For example, if your niche is wedding photography, then your portfolio should contain pictures of as many brides and bridegrooms possible so that to-be-wed couples can come in to the place where you store your photos, be impressed by your wedding photographs and then hire you as the chief photographer at their wedding. This is how you build connections with the clients through niche images.
Once you have a portfolio under the bag, do not leave it to dust in the open. Make sure that you work on your portfolio and improve the quality of the images constantly. Replace the older photos with new photos from new clients or new projects. This helps to keep the portfolio fresh and keeps those clients who keep coming back, interested in your work. A photographer who is meticulous about changing his or her portfolio every now and then is one who has the desire to evolve and improve.
Craftsmanship and photography go hand in hand. With that being said, just because you have worked for a few months as a photographer and have a few gigs to your name does not mean that you are a craftsman. To acquire the true essence of craftsmanship, you need to gain a considerable amount of experience working in the niche that you have selected for yourself. Style and craftsmanship develops over time and it develops faster in those who have the desire to push to their limits and come up with innovations in their niche.
5) Business Instincts
The problem with photography is that it is so enjoyable that you forget to concentrate your efforts on earning money by marketing your services to the right clients. More often than not, the business side of things of being a professional photographer is often overlooked. Some may say that money will follow you as long as you have talent. However, the reality of the situation is that money will never chase after talent unless your nurture the talent and make it suitable for moneymaking.
As discussed before, one of the cornerstones of niche photography is the attainment of a business sense. People go into niche photography knowing well that it will benefit them financially. Although you do not have to be money hungry, greedy and ambitious photographer to be successful in your niche, but you do have to be cautious about the value of your niche images and how they can be marketed to the right clientele so that their value is not undermined or underrated. The successful niche photographers are those who not only have the acclaim of people around the world, but also are financially well off and have turned their photography skills into a golden goose that will continue to lay golden eggs for a long period of time.
Examples of Niche Markets in the Photography Industry
Now that you have a more or less clear understanding about niche photography; it is time that you become familiar with the various forms of niche photography that you can pursue a career in. Here are some popular niches:
- Fine Art
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