Specialization may be a goal we all strive for, though it can also be a double-edged sword. For those in large markets, specializing will help you to stand out. However, if you’re in a small market, this may limit the work that comes your way. To further complicate matters, some of the clients that tend to exist in small markets may force you in to some sort of specialization.
Early in my career, a mentor told me that if I were to consider a specialization in photography, I should look within and apply my personal passions to this decision. Personal interests, hobbies, and past experiences will make the path you take to specialization much more successful and interesting to you. If you go down this path, be sure you can sustain this interest, as burn out is definitely something you want to avoid.
The specialization you choose will require some market research, regardless of whether you’re in a large market or a small one. Find out who the big players are and who is buying photography, then look for that synergy within you and these potential clients. Another possible negative to taking a specific path is the satiability of the specialization. While this is tough to predict, choosing a trendy specialization that will disappear in short order may require reinvention before you can make this chosen niche pay off.
Another subject related to specialization is your photography style. Style development should go hand in hand with your chosen specialization and your passions. In the world of food photography, my chosen passion and specialization, the style is really what closes the sale in the end. The style of your work is what sets you apart from the rest of your competition. The other plus to a specialized personal style is that as trends change and niches come and go, you can apply the uniqueness of “you” to the next big thing that comes down the road.
The reality of all of this is that no matter what road you go down, you need to stay on the cutting edge, you need to evaluate yourself and your style all the time. The landscape of professional photography is in flux and always has been. Technology and trends are truly moving targets. So, if you want to stay viable, keep this quote from General Eric Shinseki, retired U.S. Army Chief of Staff, in mind: “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”
Ric Deliantoni is a professional photographer and director with thirty years of experience, with a focus on still-life and lifestyle imagery for advertising, design and publishing. He has developed a unique style that has been described as impressionistic and bold. Ric has also spent much of his career teaching and mentoring students of all levels to better themselves as artists.