Pfab (2017) suggests ‘what sort of photographer are you?’ is a question familiar to most professional photographers.
‘There are many labels you can give yourself: documentary photographer, food photographer, fashion photographer, commercial photographer or stock photographer, among others. But which one is right for you?
Is it important to know? Do you need to specialise?’
Pfab explains her position on this very succinctly: ‘I think you do, because if you don’t know what your final destination is, then you will never reach it.’
How, then, can specialisation be achieved? Put another way, although seemingly obvious, what is specialisation?
According to Pfab:
‘Most photographers therefore specialise, at least in style but often also in subject matter – this will help you stand out and make your work recognisable – but you don’t necessarily have to limit your client area or market. So it might be your unique lighting technique, style or colour palette – Nadav Kandar is a great example here – or it might be your subject matter. I believe it’s important to find your niche: how else will a future client identify and remember you? A consistent portfolio stands out, and is much more likely to be remembered than a portfolio full of varying styles, colour palettes and lighting styles.’
Pritchard (2012) outlines the following advantages of specialising:
There is more chance of being remembered when a suitable job comes up
If you choose one area that you genuinely are interested in and enjoy, you will naturally take better pictures and be more motivated
There is more likelihood of your becoming an expert in one area if you spend more time on this one area
It will make a potential client feel confident that they are making the right decisions, thereby giving you a better chance of getting the job
Having a niche generally gives you focus and direction. You can put all your efforts into one area and not be distracted.
As previously discussed (see ‘Down to Business’), and it’s well worth repeating, Scott (2014) identifies three different types of professional photographer:
‘The first is the high-end professional who works with a cross section of professional clients within one or across a wide spectrum of photographic genres. They are defined by a high quality client base, which in turn results in a strong financial reward for their work.
The second is the general professional who also works with a cross section of professional clients within one or across a wide spectrum of photographic genres. They have a slightly less prestigious client base and therefore receive a lesser financial reward for their work. The general professional aspires to be a high-end professional. They usually come from a creative academic background and are informed by the work of their peers. Both of these areas are focused on creating, keeping, and enlarging their commercial client base.
The third is the domestic professional. They do not work for professional clients whose job is to commission photography, but rather they work in the wedding, events, and domestic portrait market. This sector is most often self-taught, regionally focused, and dependent on constantly finding new clients, as the clients they have rarely recommission due to the nature of the reasons for their commissions. The domestic professional is an area that also appeals to the semi-professional, as they do not have to always be available for commission and much of the work is weekend based.’
Scott, then, suggests that it is possible for professionals at the pinnacle of the career to operate successfully across a number of photographic genres. Pfab, on the other hand, is in agreement that it is better to specialise.
Is there any common ground that can be found within this?
I think the two key statements are Pfab’s suggestion that specialisation can be ‘at least in style but often also in subject matter’, and that specialisation ‘might be your unique lighting technique, style or colour palette … or it might be your subject matter.’
Here she is very clearly indicating two possible options.
Firstly, to specialise in terms of subject matter (just not being too specialised).
Secondly, developing a signature style to operate successfully over a range of genres.
Relevance for my photographic practice?
I have been very aware recently of the need to develop a marketing plan, and the place that this occupies within Sustainable Prospects. This requires a clear and concise definition of my work, and this requirement has consequently led me to question what exactly my work is and how this relates to how I define myself as a photographer.
Sometimes, I think, it is necessary to disengage from an idea and to explore other options in order to see both the strengths and weaknesses of the original idea – in effect providing a benchmark.
It is through such dissonance that surety results. It is only through critical evaluation, with the possibility borne in mind that one’s beliefs could be wrong, that the positives and negatives of any idea can be fully appreciated.
This is about making art that is saleable – a commodity that people want to invest in.
There are many clear advantages in specialising, from a commercial point of view. Operating as a food photographer commercially does not (and should not) preclude me from working in other genres, this can be classed as personal project work and showcased accordingly.
Professional practice, like so many things in life, is about finding a compromise and I think this solution finds a happy medium. But rest assured, one thing which will never be compromised is quality … the intention, at all times, being to exceed expectations.
Pfab, Anna-Maria (2017), ‘Sustainable Prospects’: Defining Your Photographic DNA. Falmouth: Falmouth University [Online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/84/pages/week-4-defining-your-photographic-dna?module_item_id=5351 (accessed: 14 October 2017).
Pritchard, L. (2012), Setting Up a Successful Photography Business. London: Bloomsbury Printing plc
Scott, G. (2014), Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained. Oxon: Focal Press