Ask An Agent / Do I really need to specialise?
Ask an Agent is a regular monthly feature answering your questions about the business of photography – the photography industry’s first Agony Aunt!
If you have any questions you’d like to ask a photographers agent please send them to email@example.com. Questions can be on anything to do with the photography business, such as photoshoots, marketing, professional practice, pricing, contracts, legal stuff – anything.
I read in your the book (and elsewhere) that I am supposed to have a really clear offering, marketing myself as specialising in one area of photography. I am also advised to only shoot the work I am passionate about.
However, I cannot afford to specialise in one area. If I want to make any money around the small Suffolk town I live in, then I have to offer a variety of services, so I end up shooting everything from editorial portraits to schools to houses!
In order to try and simplify this I have started three different websites, but that seems to make life more complicated and it costs more money! I would prefer to shoot just editorial portraiture but there just isn’t enough market for it round here.
Anyway, I would appreciate your thoughts on this - am I making a mistake? What can I do to marketing myself more clearly?
Many thanks for your question, it’s one I’m sure many photographers consider.
In general, I believe that the more distinctive your identity, the better, and this is usually achieved by specialising on one area. There are three main reasons for this. Firstly it is more likely your work will be recalled by potential clients. Secondly if there is more clarity in terms of your brand offering, clients will have more confidence that they are making the right choice for the job they have in mind. And thirdly, it is more likely that you will be commissioned for the work that you feel passionate about.
Having said this, I think establishing a strong voice, can be a gradual thing you fine tune while still taking on a variety of work, as let’s be honest one needs to earn a living! Even then it’s a fine line between going all out to create a portfolio of work that you feel passionate about and being mindful of what is relevant and commissionable in your chosen market. I have come across award winning photographers who shoot incredible personal projects but perhaps because they are too ‘creative’ only tend to get the odd commercial commission.
It’s quite acceptable and even common for photographers to offer more than one discipline, for example portraits, wedding and events - especially in more regional areas. This maybe because jobs often come from word of mouth or recommendations, and also location of photographer is often important. But if you want to put your self on a national or even international platform and attract commissions from big brands, agencies and publications, then it becomes much more important to specialise in one area so that your ‘voice’ is ‘louder’ in a more competitive playing field.
One of the best ways to find your niche and strengthen your identity is to shoot some strong personal projects. This will enable clients to define you, understand how you see the world, what you are interested in, what inspires you. This in turn will hopefully then inspire them to commission you based on the projects you choose to shoot. Gradually your portfolio as a whole will become more fine tuned rather than a mixture of images that are other peoples ideas and out of your control creatively.
To answer your question about whether to have one website or not. I would generally advise only having one website and sticking to one niche. This really depends on your own vision and plan for your business as a whole though and I appreciate people situations are different and one needs income. If you want to build on the wedding photography side of your business I would have a separate website for that to be honest, and adjust your existing website to appeal to the other markets. It is really a different specialisation altogether. If you want to develop the events photography side of your business ( and you feel you get work in this area from your website) I would retain that as a gallery on your existing website. If you want to push more for higher end editorial and commercial work, I suggest focusing more on galleries that include certain subject matters of photography and define your type of work rather than your client areas- portraits, people, places, projects, commissions ( and include your events and editorial work in the commissions) - or something along those lines. At the moment the galleries are too much of a mix of subject matter and industry areas. You could have ‘shop’ if you want to sell your prints and maybe your book for example. The key is presenting your website so it is appealing and relevant to the ‘customer’ and what they are looking for.
Hope that all helps Tom!
Update - Since sending Tom the answer to his question he has replied and said the following, which is very interesting and just goes to prove the importance of personal projects!
In terms of personal projects, the biggest change I made in my career was actually through a personal project. In 2015 I shot 50 portraits of 50 expat residents of Singapore. I wanted to celebrate the diversity of the country during it’s 50th anniversary year.
I challenged myself to shoot each portrait quickly and with just one light, as I wanted to improve my skills as an editorial portrait photographer as well as to build my portfolio for when we moved back to the UK.
The project was picked up by a publisher who published it as a book. It was hugely beneficial for so many reasons.
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