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Should You Specialize in a Photography Genre?

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Ask five photographers if you should specialize in a photography genre and you’ll get ten answers. Why can’t it be easy, right?!

So here’s my take on the pros and cons of specializing in a photography genre. And why I came up with my conclusion at the end.

To specialize in a photography genre

Proficiency

How will you ever become proficient in one thing if you don’t practice that one thing?

For photographers who don’t have a lot of time to practice the art of photography, this is often on their minds.

If you wanted to get really good at baking sourdough bread, how will you master that if you spend all your time experimenting with other types of bread?

There’s that old saying, a jack of all trades and a master of none. Sometimes you might need to put all your effort into one photography genre to master it.

While I disagree with this concept as a general practice, sometimes your specific situation might demand that you do this.

Messaging

All the money is in weddings, so you want to get more wedding clients. A potential client goes to your portfolio webpage and is immediately presented with a mix of bold landscape photos, ethereal wedding photos, and contrasty black & white street photography.

How will they know you’re the right person for their wedding? Why confuse them with all these other styles? They don’t want to see your diversity, they want to see your weddings. They’re going to drop a lot of cash on this once-in-a-lifetime event – don’t let them doubt your skills!

You may confuse your clients if you don’t specialize in a photography genre, which could be the difference between a contract and a bounce.

Don’t specialize in a photography genre

You’re an artist

This one is easy. If you’re not trying to sell your photography to anyone, then who cares what you do?

You’re an artist, a photographer. Whose business is it if you specialize in one genre or not? Do what brings you joy. I’m tired of this “Instagram advice” that you should have a consistent feed and post the same style. That’s nonsense. You’re posting to share the work you’re creating, not to appease other people.

Artists should never be told to limit the work they create. That’s how art is created. By not having those limits. By being able to explore new opportunities.

Diversity

There’s something to be said for portfolio diversity.

When you’re sending your portfolio to a publisher or gallery, you want to have a cohesive theme. But why not have the ability to send portfolios with different themes to different people at different times? If you’re good at photographing several different genres and enjoy doing it, then you should want to build that portfolio diversity!

And if you are trying to get clients, perhaps you’re in a market where you want to diversify?

Offering several genres like portraits, weddings, and commercial photography might make better business sense. Countless photographers do this exact same thing and are very successful!

This is where you’ll have to weigh your messaging and your market. Is your market big enough to be so specific that you can specialize in one photography genre? For most of us, no, we’ll probably need to allow ourselves several income streams by diversifying the genres we photograph.

Conclusion – what’s my opinion?

These are all valid reasons for whether or not to specialize in a photography genre. They’re some of the top reasons cited by other photographers when advising on the topic.

My own advice?

Go nuts. Try new things. Try every genre of photography at least once.

To specialize in one thing doesn’t mean not doing other things.

Trying every genre can help you become proficient in other genres. For example:

  • Trying studio portraits and learning lighting can help you create better environmental portraits in travel photography.
  • Dabbling in macro photography can help you “see” landscape compositions better.
  • Experimenting with black & white street photography can help you better see shapes & arrangements in color compositions.

It’s all connected!

If you want to market to a specific genre, then do that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try other things! If you’re going to sell, you should create a strong marketing message. But continue taking pictures of everything to grow as a photographer.

And that’s really what this is about. Growth. Creative growth. Personal growth. There is no room for growth if you pigeonhole yourself into one genre.

How will you know if you enjoy a different genre better? Or are better at it? How will you round out your skills as a master photographer if you’re only working in one genre?

Let other people see what you’re capable of. Show yourself what you’re capable of. Try it all – just don’t muddy the marketing 🙂

What are some other reasons for specializing or not specializing?

Joost

Sunday 8th of May 2022

Dear John,

Thank you for this liberating article. Yes, why should we listen to the oppressive pressure of social media like instagram? As a hobbyist I allways tell myself: 'You don't have to earn your living with your photographs, so do what you want. Nobody is your boss. Be an omnivorous photographer!' And that gives me the really free feeling. I only use manual lenses on my Fuji X camera. So composing a photo takes (more) time. And that is precisely the reason for this hobby: Taking the taking the time to look around. I use my camera as if it is my 'dog'. Whenever I can, I take my Fuji X with me: 'walking-the-camera'. Sometimes I come home without having taken a single photo; I couldn't find the inspiration. An other day I can not stop taking photo's. Nobody cares. I'm enjoying the luxury of having a good camera. It's great to have the possibility to freeze a moment in time whenever I want. Thank you for your inspiring articles and lessons!

Greetings from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Joost

John Peltier

Sunday 8th of May 2022

You just do what you want to do, and if it earns some money, that’s great, so long as it makes you happy first! I do something similar with my X100. I call it my sketchbook. Always trying to sketch even if I’m not out with my larger cameras. Cheers.