Photography is a huge passion shared by many of us, and it’s also a vast industry with exciting and lucrative opportunities and careers for visual storytellers. So, what kind of photographer are you, or do you want to be? There are so many genres and niches you could specialize in, from landscape to portrait photography, fashion, wedding or travel photography… the list seems endless.
Finding your photography niche is one of the biggest challenges a budding photographer can face when starting your own business. It’s a key part of defining who you are as a visual creative and will allow you to really zoom in on what you love to shoot and become a better photographer in the process.
Rather than being a generalist jack-of-all-trades (and master of none) kind of commercial photographer, choosing a niche means you’ll develop a high level of skill and expertise in your area and become known for it. Focus on just one discipline and direct all your creative energies into it. Put another way: Discover your niche and own it!
What are the main photography niches?
So, what are the options that commercial photographers can choose? To get a better idea, let’s take a look at some of the main niches out there and see what each calls for.
1. Wildlife photography
If you love being in the Great Outdoors and get a kick out of spotting and capturing animals in their natural habitat, wildlife photography can be a real thrill. Don’t underestimate the hours of patience needed to get the perfect shot – it’ll all be worth it when you do.
2. Food photography
A competitive industry with high expectations (and high rewards!), it’s your job to perfectly capture all that we can eat and drink – all the way from a single apple to a full banquet feast – in a way that makes the mouth water. Set-up and equipment costs can be high but clients in the food industry tend to have deep pockets.
3. Wedding photography
Wedding photographers never struggle for work or decent rates of pay. It’s a well-established and very sophisticated industry and perfect if you have the right interactive skills, can deal expertly with emotional situations, and love to capture special moments. Larger events may need an assistant and a lot of kits. For a wedding, though, ensuring you capture that beautiful bride and happy groom can make an important day extra special.
4. Event photography
The events industry is vast and varied ranging from private celebrations to corporate events, cultural happenings, and more. You can specialize further into sub-genres where you have a particular interest like music events and festivals, dance & performance,s or sporting events. It’s an exciting environment to work in but can require a lot of traveling.
5. Fashion photography
An extremely popular (and therefore highly competitive) creative niche, fashion photographers must be comfortable dealing with a broad range of people, situations, and locations. The top professionals get published in highly recognizable media publications and can become famous artists in their own right.
6. Portrait photography
This is a big area (and a big market!) that can range from traditional portraiture to fine art, beauty, corporate or street photography. You’ll meet lots of different people who will all have their own ideas of how they want to look on camera, and establishing your brand in this photography niche can take a while.
7. Fine art photography
Rather than catering to market demands, you may decide to do your own thing as a visual artist using photography as your medium. Be realistic about the fact that it’s very hard to make your mark as an artist and perhaps also have a more commercial niche that can sustain you financially while you’re working on your art form.
8. Stock photography
On the other end of the spectrum is stock photography. Upload professional images to a service provider, ideally shooting and uploading every day to maximize your income, and see your work published on websites, online adverts, books, or other media. End users pay a one-time fee for a royalty-free license.
Experiment with genres and styles
Finding your niche is not a quick decision; it should come at the end of your journey of exploration and discovery and as a result of trying lots of different things. When you’re just starting out as a photographer, you want to look far and wide, getting out there and shooting a wide variety of subjects, trying numerous techniques, and experimenting with different equipment so you get to know what you like and dislike.
It’s important to get out of your comfort zone and try stuff you’re not sure about. Don’t let fear of failure stand in your way – no one is expecting you to master everything you do. It’s only through trying your hand at as many niches as possible that you can discover what you’re really good at and what you love to shoot the most.
So, do work with children and animals, shoot at parties, on the beach, put together a family gallery, shoot still life, hone your artistic eye… Practice makes perfect – and the better you become the easier it will be to determine your niche.
Develop your creative and commercial skills
As you’re searching for your ‘thing’, experimenting with different subject matters, industries, photographic gear, and techniques, you are deepening your knowledge about photography. Keep practicing every chance you get. Take your camera with you wherever you go, shoot in new environments, and experiment with different lighting and locations – nothing is off-limits.
Keep a close eye on the photography industry and its latest trends too. Mobile content and ‘phoneography’, for instance, is a huge development as smartphones and tablets are used to shoot, edit and post high-quality visual content on social media platforms. Make sure you keep up with your learning and incorporate new techniques into your shooting style.
Learn about the clients you want to work for and ask yourself some probing questions: Who is your ideal client? What’s their personality and their needs? Is it couples planning an intimate wedding reception with a wacky theme? Do you feel most comfortable shooting big gala events? Are you happiest surrounded by nature, or by pets? Try to get a handle on the type of client you would most like to have and it will help you to pinpoint your photography niche.
Love what you shoot
Finding your photography niche is all about truly loving what you shoot. What’s the alternative? Choosing a niche on the grounds of financial rewards is all very well, but it won’t be enough to sustain you creatively in the long term. You’ll be more likely to end up producing uninspiring work and may end up quitting altogether. Don’t get stuck doing something you don’t love.
In addition to ‘love’, ‘inspiration’ is the other big word to help you find your niche. In fact, you have to be inspired by something before you can develop a love and passion for it. What’s the alternative? You choose a random niche because it seemed like a sensible choice or someone recommended it, and you end up wishing you were doing something else. So, what inspires you?
Inspiration can come from any direction. Are you a huge football fan and would love nothing better than to follow your favorite team and be the one to capture their successes (and failures) on camera? Are you a nature lover keen to showcase the beauty of our planet and warn against the effects of climate change? Are you a hopeless romantic and get that warm fuzzy feeling when a couple makes the ultimate commitment to each other? Finding a niche that connects with your inspiration makes it all so much more meaningful. And that’s what you want.
Consider your lifestyle and stage
Photography as a career can take up as much or as little time as you would like. Before you commit yourself wholeheartedly to a niche, it’s a good idea to run a sanity check to see if you can and want to make your choice of niche work with your current lifestyle.
Are you a new parent and want to stay close to your kids and partner? Photography jobs that require a lot of traveling or time spent away from the family may be difficult to manage. Wedding photography takes up a lot of weekend time, while music gigs and events typically take place in the evening. On that basis, you may prefer the more regular hours offered by, say, corporate photography assignments.
On the other hand, if you’re a young professional with no ties and an appetite for adventure, regular travel to amazing locations and working crazy hours on festivals, fashion shoots, or advertising projects may be just the kind of niche that would work perfectly for your lifestyle.
Finding your niche
Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, sooner or later you will naturally gravitate to what you most enjoy shooting. Once you’ve found it, stick with it, for all the reasons mentioned above. In terms of your career, bear in mind that clients won’t feel comfortable choosing a professional photographer who specializes in many things – it just doesn’t inspire much confidence. Instead, they’re looking for visual creatives who can demonstrate a real passion for their niche. Defining your niche, then, is a key part of your market positioning. Make it count.