Finding your speciality – hobbyist to pro
Photography can be vague in terms of subjects and styles, but it’s fair to say that those who stand out are very specific with what they do. When it comes to hobbyist photographers the same is also true—people find their niche and tend to stick to it. Whether it be portraits, automotive, landscapes, macro, or any other subject, here’s how to find your specialty.
I’m Dave Williams, and this is #TravelTuesday on ScottKelby.com.
The beginning for a photographer is exciting. You’re taking pictures of everything and everyone, honing your new skills and working on techniques. This might be accompanied by a distant notion of wanting to turn it into a career or a side hustle, or it may remain a hobby, but you’re still at the diagnosis stage. There’s no need to rush into narrowing down your focus—stick with the exploratory surgery of your photography for as long as it takes. When you’re ready, ask yourself these questions: –
1) What Are You Drawn To?
In my opinion and for the sake of your own well-being, your niche should not be decided by demand first, but rather that which you are naturally attracted to. For me, there were a few. I had and still have a love affair with aircraft, and despite not being very good at it, I like to shoot photos of people. What got me into photography in the first place was the realisation that photography was an expensive hobby and if I were to be able to afford the new gear, I needed to find a way to fund it. I started to shoot weddings and quickly developed interests elsewhere, moving on to shoot yoga and portraits. My interest developed further still and I moved to my passion in photography: travel. I was fascinated and wanted to learn how to photograph things and create my own style.
Try not to pigeonhole yourself too much at this stage. If you like portraiture and photographing animals, don’t immediately decide on only one. Make this decision when you’re really ready.
2) What Variations of This Genre Are There?
Firstly, there are more than you think. Secondly, there are more than you are even aware of. Sit down and write a list of every different way your favourite genres can be applied. If it’s portraiture, there are headshots, fine art, fashion, editorial, photojournalistic, and so on. Narrow down your niche within your niche.
3) How Can You Offer Value to This Genre?
So many of us—and I used to be terrible for it—look at the working world to see what they can get out of it. Instead, you need to look at what value you can add to any area you choose to enter. Why would anyone pay you to shoot this niche you’re discovering? What is it about you that makes someone want to book you rather than the next photographer? If you can’t immediately answer this question, don’t despair. Sometimes, even a niche requires further honing to find your angle, particularly if it’s a competitive field.
4) How Difficult is Entry to This Field?
Even if you instantly knew the genre you loved, found the right variation, and are confident you have a valuable service to offer, you are some way off of being set. The next step is finding someone to pay you to work within your niche, and this step varies in difficulty wildly due to a number of factors. How competitive an area is, and where the income can actually come from, are two big factors.
If the market is overpopulated and there are photographers left, right, and centre trying to dominate the niche, you might find it hard to outshine people or get any recognition. At the same time, it indicates that there is a good amount of demand and you just need to get your foot in a few doors. If there are very few photographers working in your desired niche, there’s a chance with the right work that you can be the leader in the field. However, you need to seriously investigate why there are so few? Perhaps I’m naive, but I believe you can make most areas work for you if you’re clever about it.
5) How Can You Secure Your First Job?
Now comes the step where there are as many pieces of advice as there are cameras. Some will tell you to do work for free, some will tell you to “fake it until you make it,” some will tell you to build a portfolio and get your name out there. Truth be told, no answer is demonstrably wrong or right. I took a path that weaves between and partially through all of these, and it’s one that seemed the most pragmatic to me. It went like this:
- Create some images of your own volition so you have example work to show. This means creating your own shoots, booking your own locations and models if necessary.
- Collect the details of small and start-up companies you’d like to work with, then reach out and build a connection so you can work together to help one another grow.
- Work out a rate that doesn’t preclude people from taking a risk on you, but isn’t a waste of your time. It should work out that you make enough money and the client feels value.
- Having secured the first job, use it as leverage to approach other companies, and add the killer shots to your portfolio.
Let’s unpack these points a little more. Creating a small portfolio of high-quality images to show companies is crucial. There’s taking a risk on a new photographer, and then there’s blind risk. Prove you can create work of a desirable standard on your own dime, and it will pay you back.
Searching for companies and small brands to approach couldn’t be simpler in the modern age. Use Google, use hashtags and location tags on social media, too. Instagram is a fantastically powerful tool for this sort of thing, and DMs aren’t unprofessional so feel free to use them too. Some may advise to “aim high” and approach the big companies. You’re welcome to do this, and I did, but to get past their gatekeepers took industry connections, persistence, and social proof, which all take time.
Working out a rate isn’t as difficult as people make out. Do your best to work out how much time it would take you to complete your desired job, and fly close to it to begin. If you’re charging more than even you think your work is worth, you’ll be found out sooner or later. You might pull in a good job or two, but it’s unlikely you’ll build a successful career.
The contact part is seemingly easy, but crucial to get right. If you ignore everything else I say, just heed the advice of this small paragraph. Tailor every single email, DM, or phone call to the company you’re approaching. Research their story, their products, their market, their aesthetic and discuss it. If you can’t be bothered to do this and you instead just copy and paste a message to every email address you can find, you won’t get anywhere and frankly you don’t deserve to. Be open and honest about being new to the area and wanting to establish yourself in the industry, and why you chose them. And address it to a specific person – find out the name of the person in charge of marketing, for example. FYI – pretending you’re an influencer is transparent and easily disproved by anybody.
It really does only take one. Someone will give you a shot sooner or later. I got very lucky and the first brand I spoke to hired me, and then so did many others. However, this won’t always be the case and you have to have patience. Because I spend the time to write personal messages that are well-informed to my prospect’s image and goals, few people ignore it. In fact, I very rarely get outright “no” to my contact. In fact, it’s only happened once – every other contact leads to communication that may eventually go to a “yes” or “no,” but that communication is the start.
Finding a niche can not only make all the difference to your business revenue, but to how fulfilling your career is. It’s great to be an expert in an area and for me and many other photographers I’ve discussed it with, the deeper in your niche you go, the more diversified you become. Counter-intuitive, but true.
I wish you the best of luck and if you have any questions, I’ll make sure to answer them on my social media – Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. If, however, you’ve developed your own niche, perhaps share your words of wisdom too!