Building a respectable name for yourself as a photographer can oftentimes feel impossible, especially in a market saturated with other photographers. In an industry with so much competition, you need to differentiate yourself and your work from the rest your competitors if you really want to stand apart from everyone else. That sounds extremely overwhelming, but there is a very practical and efficient way to carve out your own niche in this market.
Unlike a lot of other photographers, I never planned on being a photographer and I didn’t go to school for photography. Photography was just a hobby that fell on my lap long before I realized that it could be a viable career choice. My day job afforded me the opportunity to attend workshops and miscellaneous lectures of some really talented and established photographers. I became so enamored by their work that I would take their “photographic formula” and use it with my own subjects. While my photos were beautiful, they weren’t “my own.” It was inauthentic.
A few years later, I was hired as the studio manager/videographer/video editor for a fashion photographer who also taught photography. Everything she photographed, whether it was private clients or educational content, I had been on set for. I’d seen it done hundreds of times (picture that scene in "A Clockwork Orange"). Needless to say, I could basically light and shoot everything she produced with my eyes closed and I did.
It wasn’t until I photographed a lookbook for a client that was featured in Elle that it hit me: the work that I had photographed, while mine, felt inauthentic. It wasn’t my own photographic voice. It wasn’t me. While being published in Elle should have felt like an accomplishment, it didn’t. It felt like I was being rewarded for someone else's work. That was the day that I decided to create my own stylized work.
I started conducting market research and quickly realized that no one specialized in photographing men. There were books, workshops, and classes devoted to photographing women. No one cared about photographing men. Later that week, I spent two full days shooting a variety of photos for an entirely new portfolio. Three months later, I was recognized as a men’s portrait and fashion photographer. In March 2016, my first book "Photographing Men" will hit store shelves.
After teaching miscellaneous classes, workshops, and lectures, I see photographers who struggle to get over the same hurdle that I did: finding their own voice.
The secret to successfully building a name for yourself as a [blank] photographer can be achieved in three short steps. A really dedicated person can reasonably accomplish these tasks within an hour a day.
Step 1: Figure Out What You're Good At
I didn’t pick out photographing men just out of thin air. I spend way too much time on men’s clothing sites, like Uncrate and Jackthreads than is probably appropriate. I understood men’s clothing and fashion better than women’s fashion. I understood the way men’s clothing is supposed to feel and fit. It was a seamless transition.
In your case, what else are you good at? What else do you have an eye for? If you’re amazing with children for example, why not become a portrait photographer for children? Have an eye for details? Shoot weddings. Incorporate what you’re good at into your work and you’ll excel at it exponentially.
Step 2: Analyze the Market
One of the most critical aspects of carving out your own niche is analyzing the market. If there’s no potential clients, there’s no way to earn income and you’re doomed to become a starving artist. Your potential market is everyone you are capable of reaching and selling your photography services to. This is also the time to ask yourself, “Who do I know?”
Opportunities don’t just pop out of nowhere. They come from people. If you know the right people you can leverage those relationships into getting paid.
Step 3: Commit and Market the Sh*t Out of Yourself
This is step that most photographers struggle with because they don’t want to pigeonhole themselves. Crafting your niche is scary. There’s no doubt about that, but at some point you need to just suck it up and commit. The longer you wait to commit, the more opportunity you’re giving others to fill the role in the market.
Once you commit, tell everyone what you’re doing. Tell your family, tell your friends, tell your dog. Network. Socialize. Whatever you choose to do, make sure that everyone knows what your niche is. This does two things, it holds you accountable to what you committed yourself to and it also allows your to become the established as the expert in your photography niche.