Choosing Areas of Specialization in Digital Photography

Diversity and specialization are exact opposites, and usually it is a bit of diversity that can help a business to survive. Where professional digital photography is concerned, however, this is not exactly the case. This is because a photographer who has one or two areas of expertise or specialization is going to be able to realize a much more consistent stream of income than a photographer who boasts of “doing a little of everything”. This does not mean that you should stop experimenting with all kinds of techniques, but it does mean that you must not express expertise in too many areas because you run the risk of “underwhelming” your potential clients.

Wedding Photography
Photo by Mike Baird

A Good Specialization Example

Need an example? A professional wedding photographer can advertise their specialty on their website, in their business literature, and throughout their marketing campaigns. They will need to back up their claims of specialization with a portfolio of past work to show to potential clients. This portfolio might be electronic and available for browsing at their website or it could be in a printed format that the photographer brings with them to meet interested couples. It will be full of stylish and appealing wedding and wedding-related work, and will instantly demonstrate the freelance photographer’s proficiency with this type of specialization.

If a photographer had done only one or two weddings on a somewhat limited or experimental basis (even if they did an incredible job) it might not be as convincing or reassuring to a potential client as the freelance photographer with stacks of images and experience in this particular area.

Still Room for Experimentation

Does this mean that you must forget about your dreams of being a professional artist with gallery showings and even a coffee table book full of artistic and purely creative works? No, absolutely not, but it does mean that you must think in two separate streams of thought. The first is that you must identify any potential areas of specialization based on your interests and experiences. The second is that you must understand how this personal interest can help to forward professional goals. Your personal interests will continually stimulate you to explore new methods and new techniques, and will usually prevent a professional photographer from getting a bit bored by the work which is their proverbial “bread and butter”.

Macro Photography
Photo by Martin Cathrae

For example, let’s say that you love to do macro photography (the sort of super-zoom work that lets you see the tiniest details of even the smallest subjects). This might not offer someone a lot of income earning potential unless they understand how to use their enthusiasm to generate work. So, as a macro specialist you might photograph products like food, jewelry, or even generate all kinds of “stock” images which use the dramatically close-up perspective. Your love of the technique will continually motivate you and your work, but you will also be using your energies towards more profitable endeavors at the same time.

Sports Photography
Photo by Ricky Romero

The Overlap Factor

Remember too that many areas of specialization will tend to overlap as well. For instance, the photographer whose heart is into photojournalism might find that they can earn a decent income from portraiture and adventure work, or from sports and action photography too. Alternately, the person who likes to shoot images of buildings and architecture might find themselves in demand by advertising agencies, commercial groups, or even large corporations with many buildings of their own. Also remember that you could use the works of your favorite photographers to understand where your area of particular interests might lie. For example, let’s say that you want to be a fashion photographer. You should make a point of studying the works of your favorite photographers and also of the most popular photographers at work in the industry in the current era. Then you can use these works as a basic set of guidelines for your own.

It is up to the professional to do the thinking and to begin identifying the ways in which they should specialize or gear their work. Remember too that if you are just a “start up” venture and you select a very complex specialization you could have created a situation in which your budget is incredibly strained.

Photography Gear
Photo by Nimages DRCosts Associated with Specialization

For example, the studio photographer and the macro photographer have to normally invest in lots of special lighting equipment and gear that enables them to create the highest quality imagery possible. This means that before committing to one area of expertise or specialization, be sure that your available budget can meet the financial demands for acquiring the equipment.

Finally, when beginning to determine your areas of specialization be as organized as possible. Consistently label your work in whatever photo editing software you prefer, and be sure that you keep track of your most successful shots. This is to ensure that you are able to pull together a valid portfolio that demonstrates your skills and which will help you to get the work you want.