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Useful Photography Tip #27: Specialize to Succeed

by Thomas Campbell on 05/18/2012

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Photography is a pretty crazy business. There is no barrier to entry and it is one of the most popular hobbies in the world. Over the past few years, many people have quit or lost their jobs in the down economy and have decided to seek to use their hobby as a full time job. Because of this, the photography market is incredibly saturated with photographers. To make it, you need to stand out in some way. That way is specialization.

I realize that as I write this, I am a terrible example. I am crazy diversified. I shoot weddings and pro sports and corporate photography. And if I could do anything, I would do travel photography and on-location creative portraits. I absolutely love to travel and finding unique looks where I travel. But there isn’t much market for travel photographers. But specialization does not have to mean that you forgo all other kinds of photography – it means that you find one niche in photography and specialize in it. Travel photography is my hobby.

Find Your Niche

There are tons of specializations in photography and within those specializations, there are great niches that are filled by fantastic photographers. The more specialized you can be, the more you can stand out.

Finding your niche in photography will allow you to explore your abilities and hone your vision for that niche. Because you are not trying to be a great wedding and travel and football and baseball and basketball and hockey and baby portrait and environmental portrait and corporate portrait and school portrait and whatever type of photographer, you can really focus in and tweak the little things that go a really long way in making you look different.

The old saying of “jack of all trades, but master of none” is especially true in photography. I know that the more I have learned in photography, the more I have realized I still don’t know. While lots of things you learn will carry over from one specialty to another, there are so many intricate details that when combined, make or break your work. Specialization allows you to become an expert because it allows you to focus on the minute details of your niche and you can fine tune your work. You will become great at one thing much faster than you can become great at everything.

To truly specialize, you need to decide two things for yourself:

1. What you shoot – This is your first step. Decide what your focus is. And this step is pretty easy. Babies, Families, Weddings, Sports, etc. Deeper specialties will come with time and once you complete step 2…

2. How you shoot it – This is the truly difficult one. This is where you find your voice as a photographer and dictate your style. One of the highest compliments you can receive is when someone sees and image and tells you they knew it was yours before they saw a credit.

The Business will Follow

People generally search for a business that specializes in their needs. If you have heart problems, you go to a cardiologist, not to a general practitioner. Likewise, a new mom probably wants someone that specifically works with babies and knows how to safely pose them, not just anyone that takes pictures.

When you specialize in a trade, you become an expert in that trade – at least in perception. Becoming an expert may not happen over night, but you are working towards that and you APPEAR to be an expert on the sole basis of specialization. Specialization lends itself to credibility because why would you specialize in something you are not credible in?

The dirty little secret about specialization is that you will get opportunities to do other things. Last night, an old friend who I haven’t talked to in years asked if I would shoot portraits of her son, who is due in July. I only market myself as a documentary wedding photographer, but I get requests like this fairly regularly. If it is something I want to do, want to learn or just want to earn some extra money, it is easy to take the gig. I am completely packed with weddings at the moment, so I can build goodwill with other photographers by referring the business to them. And if I find a baby photographer specialist, maybe they will send some business back my way when they get a wedding they don’t want to do. Everyone wins.

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