Choosing Areas of Specialization in Digital Photography

Diversity and specialization are exact opposites, and usually, it is a bit of diversity that can help a business to survive. Where professional digital photography is concerned, however, this is not exactly the case. This is because a photographer who has one or two areas of expertise or specialization is going to be able to realize a much more consistent stream of income than a photographer who boasts of “doing a little of everything”. This does not mean that you should stop experimenting with all kinds of techniques, but it does mean that you must not express expertise in too many areas because you run the risk of “underwhelming” your potential clients.

Choosing Areas of Specialization in Digital Photography

Diversity and specialization are exact opposites, and usually, it is a bit of diversity that can help a business to survive. Where professional digital photography is concerned, however, this is not exactly the case. This is because a photographer who has one or two areas of expertise or specialization is going to be able to realize a much more consistent stream of income than a photographer who boasts of “doing a little of everything”. This does not mean that you should stop experimenting with all kinds of techniques, but it does mean that you must not express expertise in too many areas because you run the risk of “underwhelming” your potential clients.

A Good Specialization Example

Need an example? A professional wedding photographer can advertise their speciality on their website, in their business literature, and throughout their marketing campaigns. They will need to back up their claims of specialization with a portfolio of past work to show to potential clients. This portfolio might be electronic and available for browsing at their website or it could be in a printed format that the photographer brings with them to meet interested couples. It will be full of stylish and appealing wedding and wedding-related work, and will instantly demonstrate the freelance photographer’s proficiency with this type of specialization.

If a photographer had done only one or two weddings on a somewhat limited or experimental basis (even if they did an incredible job) it might not be as convincing or reassuring to a potential client as the freelance photographer with stacks of images and experience in this particular area.

Still Room for Experimentation

Does this mean that you must forget about your dreams of being a professional artist with gallery showings and even a coffee table book full of artistic and purely creative works? No, absolutely not, but it does mean that you must think in two separate streams of thought. The first is that you must identify any potential areas of specialization based on your interests and experiences. The second is that you must understand how this personal interest can help to forward professional goals. Your personal interests will continually stimulate you to explore new methods and new techniques, and will usually prevent a professional photographer from getting a bit bored by the work which is their proverbial “bread and butter”.

For example, let’s say that you love to do macro photography (the sort of super-zoom work that lets you see the tiniest details of even the smallest subjects). This might not offer someone a lot of income earning potential unless they understand how to use their enthusiasm to generate work. So, as a macro specialist, you might photograph products like food, jewellery, or even generate all kinds of “stock” images which use the dramatically close-up perspective. Your love of the technique will continually motivate you and your work, but you will also be using your energies towards more profitable endeavours at the same time.

Macro Photography

Marco photography has always fascinated me because practitioners of the art/craft continually amaze me with the small details of our gigantic world. Much like a Seinfeld bit, Macro photography typically consists of finding an everyday object and photographing it at such close proximity that the perhaps mundane – now taken out of context – is startling and interest-piquing. Marco photography can be extra enjoyable and elucidating, as you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the myriad of minute details your camera records. Icicles hanging on a tree branch or side of the house can become surreal when viewed through macro photography.

Avoid Camera Shake

When you shoot Macro, your Depth of Field is extremely shallow, so critical focus is paramount to get a more than good shot. And what’s the main culprit for soft focus in macro photography? You guessed it, camera shake. To avoid camera shake you’ll need to shoot at a higher shutter speed, use a tripod and/or a cable release. Also, never, never, never use the Auto Focus setting when doing Macro photography, because the computer can easily be tricked (not that it matters if you have a huge memory card, but why waste the time?). By manually focusing your lens, you have precision control of what tiny – but now huge – details will be the centre of attention.

Composition

With macro photography, you can (and should) take your time to get the composition precisely perfect (or perfect for what you envision), so don’t hesitate to move up, down and all around the subject of your gaze. Unless you’re shooting a bumblebee or a hummingbird, you have no time constraint, so using bracketing to get the best exposure to match the flawless composition. Bracketing, if you didn’t know, is taking at least three of the exact same photographer at different exposures (over, neutral and under) to get colour accuracy & vibrancy, shadow & highlight detail and depth of field that you can compare and make the most dynamic selection.

Checklist

Here are some quick things to remember, sort of a checklist, for macro photography:

  • Simplify your image as much as possible.
  • Fill as much of the frame as possible with your subject.
  • Overcompensate for sharp focus.
  • Experiment with various angles to find the most aesthetically pleasing.
  • Be very aware of the background (which will be out of focus) and eliminate anything that will be distracting.

Macro photographs show you details of the world that are more often than not overlooked because even the simplest subject can seem more than important and poignant when its surface details are being examined at such a high magnification. Remember, by looking closer – borrowing a phrase from American Beauty – you’ll see that you have a whole new array of subjects to photograph.

The Overlap Factor

Remember too that many areas of specialization will tend to overlap as well. For instance, the photographer whose heart is in photojournalism might find that they can earn a decent income from portraiture and adventure work, or from sports and action photography too. Alternately, the person who likes to shoot images of buildings and architecture might find themselves in demand by advertising agencies, commercial groups, or even large corporations with many buildings of their own. Also, remember that you could use the works of your favourite photographers to understand where your area of particular interests might lie. For example, let’s say that you want to be a fashion photographer. You should make a point of studying the works of your favourite photographers and also of the most popular photographers at work in the industry in the current era. Then you can use these works as a basic set of guidelines for your own.

It is up to the professional to do the thinking and to begin identifying the ways in which they should specialize or gear their work. Remember too that if you are just a “startup” venture and you select a very complex specialization you could have created a situation in which your budget is incredibly strained.

For example, the studio photographer and the macro photographer have to normally invest in lots of special lighting equipment and gear that enables them to create the highest quality imagery possible. This means that before committing to one area of expertise or specialization, be sure that your available budget can meet the financial demands for acquiring the equipment.

Finally, when beginning to determine your areas of specialization be as organized as possible. Consistently label your work in whatever photo editing software you prefer, and be sure that you keep track of your most successful shots. This is to ensure that you are able to pull together a valid portfolio that demonstrates your skills and which will help you to get the work you want.

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