What type of photographer are you? Discovering your style.
Over the coming weeks I will begin to explore the tricks and techniques used by the best photographers but rather than just saying “hey, here’s how to shoot an HDR image” I want to photograph these techniques in the style that I love to shoot. Every pro photographer specialises in a certain kind of photography and I want to talk about why it’s so important to define your niche and explain how I eventually stumbled across mine.
When your passion for photography first ignites you’ll want to shoot everything in sight. Every flower, every sunset, every local event. You’ll find excuses to go places just so you can take your camera and begrudge going to events where cameras aren’t allowed. I was stuck in this snap happy wonderland for about three years before I started to consider making money from my hobby. But to be able to market yourself as a photographer you need to have a specialty.
At first I thought this was ludicrous. Surely the fact that I can and do shoot everything makes me a better prospect for every photography job ever. But the more I thought about it the more I realised why this doesn’t make sense. If someone wants a children’s portrait, then they want to employ someone who shoots children’s portraits because that person will know exactly how to put children at ease in front of a camera. They don’t want someone who sometimes shoots kid’s portraits but also shoots food photography and sports because they’ll look at your website and won’t understand what they’re getting. (Unless you specifically shoot children eating food at sports games and then you have a specialty—even if it’s a creepy one).
If, however, someone only shoots macro fungi then whenever a company is looking for a well-shot mushroom they’re going to save themselves time and employ the person who lives to shoot that subject and knows where the best mushrooms are and the best light to shoot them in, like THIS GUY, and not the guy who shot a mushroom once. And this is why it pays to specialise. Not just in photography, but in whatever your chosen profession is. It limits your competition and allows you to perfect your niche and be the best at what you do.
I really struggled to define what it is I wanted to shoot. Whenever I tell someone I’m a photographer most people assume I shoot weddings and portraits because that’s what photography means to them and that’s traditionally where the dollars are. And for awhile I too pictured myself as a wedding photographer because it was the only field I knew I could make money from right away. But deep down I didn’t want to be a wedding photographer and I didn’t want to take family portraits. What I did like to shoot was landscapes and wildlife, but how do you make money out of those? Especially when there’s already so many people doing it better?
Then one day on CreativeLIVE I saw an ad for a course on how to turn photographs into works of art and decided to tune in because the concept intrigued me. After watching Brooke Shaden’s class for a couple of hours I knew that THIS is what I wanted to do with every fibre of my being and I bought the course without hesitation in what became one of those life-defining moments. I would be a conceptual fine art portraitist.
A WHAT? Well, normally when a portrait is taken it is commissioned by a person, family or company with the intent to showcase the subject’s beauty or professionalism. Conceptual fine art portraits on the other hand are created as an art form. Instead of smiling, candid subjects these portraits aim to tell imaginative stories through the use of costumes, props and posing. They are experimental in nature and in many circumstances utilise in-camera tricks or post processing to add an element of magic or the unreal, and it’s mainly these kinds of techniques I will explore throughout this blog. Conceptual fine art portraiture is a broad field so it’s incredibly hard to describe but as a picture paints a thousand words, here are some examples from a few of my favourite photographers.
I was drawn to this field instinctually but over time I’ve asked myself why that might be. A few years back I would have told you I didn’t have a creative bone in my body but I’ve always loved the arts so have gravitated to jobs in this area. I can’t draw or play an instrument. I tried creative writing but it felt like drowning. I’ve since learnt that creativity is so much more than being able to dream up and make pretty things. It’s not a skill gifted at birth and it’s actually surprisingly easy to train yourself to be receptive to creativity when you find the medium that allows you to express it best. I now come up with at least three concepts for photos a day, whereas before, I was hard pressed to imagine ANYTHING.
I’m also a perfectionist so being able to refine one concept is immensely appealing to me, whereas if I take a trip and shoot 3,000 photos, that’s an overwhelming amount of work for me and is the primary reason why most of my photos remain unseen.
But most of all I’m a huge fan of magical realism, where elements of a magical world seep into our own and are presented in a way that makes it seem entirely normal. This idea is thrilling to me and conceptual fine art photography has given me the medium to express my fascination with this concept and a way to add magic to my everyday.
So in defining your photography niche it pays to analyse your strengths and interests until you find a field that fits. If you’re really stuck this article succinctly wraps up some points that may help you define yours. But above all you need to love what you do because to succeed at something you need to pursue it doggedly and if your heart isn’t in it you’re destined to fail.
Defining who you are is important because it gives your photographs intent, which makes them powerful. Good photographs have a clear subject, whatever it may be, and they tell a story about that subject.
Sadly, choosing your field is not the end. Then the world expects you to have a personal style! Something about your work that is instantly recognisable and sets you apart from everyone else. Usually style comes naturally with experimentation. Mine is currently a work in progress but I know I like dark autumn colours, muted blacks, foreground interest, painterly techniques and cinematic lighting, and am sure these will manifest in my work, but for now this is still part of my journey.
Discovering what you love to do is the fun part. Enjoy it! But if you’re a hobby photographer who loves taking photos for the sake of taking photos then that’s just fine too.
Let me know how you discovered what you love to shoot!