I am in many networks and circles comprised of professional and aspiring professional photographers. There are a lot of questions that get asked on a regular basis, but one of the ones I hear the most is “Should I specialize?” Should they focus on one genre or a couple of related genres, rather than being the Jack/Jill-of-all-trades?
When we first start out in photography, most of us will take pictures of pretty much anyone. We have no idea what our artistic voice and vision will be. We explore and experiment in nearly any field we can, finding our styles and preferences. Eventually, we figure out what we like and don’t like to photograph.
Those of us who decide to turn it into a profession face the decision to narrow our focus on the genres we enjoy most or cast a wide net into several genres. Most professionals choose to keep it broad and general, so they can attract as many clients as possible.
Picking just one or a few related genres to photograph often means turning down other inquiries and sometimes receiving fewer total contacts for photos. It may also require a complete rebranding, if prospective clients know you to offer a lot more. So, should you specialize or not? There is no universal answer; however, I chose to and here is why.
1. Specializing Makes You Better At That Thing:
It’s pretty simple; practice makes perfect, right? The more you do something, the better you get at it. You will improve even more if you immerse yourself in education on that genre, hang out with others in that genre, and read related topics to that genre. But more than anything, just shoot more of it.
This is not to say that a newborn photographer shouldn’t pick up their cameras unless they are heading to a newborn session. Your overall craft will continue to improve by shooting everything you can. However, by taking only – or mostly – newborn clients, that photographer will refine their abilities within that genre far more quickly than they would if they were taking seniors and boudoir, as well.
2. It’s Easier To Market:
If you specialize in one genre and focus on a specific clientele, then you can target that market more effectively by creating campaigns that are tailored to the clients that want what you offer. Not only will targeted marketing get you more clients within a certain genre, it will also help you find clients that are willing to spend what you are charging. Effectively marketing to your ideal client means knowing what your client will buy.
3. It Sets You Apart:
In portraiture, the vast majority of photographers will photograph almost any person that will give them money. By choosing to master and offer one or a few related genres (wedding and couples, maternity and newborn, families and children), you become better known as the person who does that thing. Photographers are everywhere, but most of them cannot claim to be a “boudoir photographer”, even if they do it.
If you do it right and do it enough, you can become a household name in your genre. Brand recognition is the lifeblood of any business. Even most non-photographers know Anne Geddes as the newborn photographer with babies in flower pots. She didn’t get there by photographing weddings any more than Jose Villa became known for fine art weddings by photographing preschools.
4. Brand Prestige:
When you become known as the expert in your genre, you can command prices well beyond what others in your area and genre charge. Pricing yourself way above others carries its own prestige, which makes people generally think you are worth more just by charging more. This only goes so far if your work doesn’t show the level of expertise that your prices imply. If I am going to charge five to ten times what Jan and Jim charge for couple’s portraits, my site cannot be overrun by images of toddlers running around and photos of hawks and deer.
When someone sees a body of work that is [almost] completely comprised of your specialty, your pricing will add to the perception of value. That is why Louis Vuitton can charge $2500 for a purse and people will by it. LV may carry all kinds of high-end accessories, but the brand is known for handbags.
5. Sometimes, It Just Makes Sense:
I chose to specialize in studio and newborn photography. I also photograph maternity and Birth Story, because they are interrelated. As a man in a genre that is dominated by women (much like daycares and other child-focused industries), I needed to specialize and become known as an expert in my craft. Most parents feel more comfortable placing their child in the hands of a woman than a man.
I loved photographing babies, but I did few and far between because people wouldn’t inquire with a man over a woman without a good reason. The image of maternal instincts gives my female competitors an advantage there. By removing all other bodies of work and rebranding as “newborn portraiture”, I am now seen as someone who has a mastery in the field, which transcends gender inclinations.
For me, specializing was about survival within the genre I love most or giving it up to focus on genres that are more co-ed.
Should You Specialize?
Not everyone wants to or needs to focus on one or a couple of photographic genres. There are many photographers who are successful and happy photographing in many different areas. Most of them are inclined more toward one thing or another, but they show a good mix and reach a dynamic clientele.
If you are like me and have one type of subject you just love to photograph and would be happy doing nothing but that, then it may make sense to rebrand and specialize. If you choose to, you’ll want to go all in. You won’t succeed in specializing if you still keep advertising everything and accepting every inquiry that comes your way.