by J. Rae Chipera

Every artist ends up with a style they become known for, photographers included. Most of the time, that means choosing a photographic genre like portraits, landscapes, wildlife, etc. Exhale, though, because that doesn’t mean you have to stick to the genre you choose exclusively. Even some of the greatest photographers of all time ventured outside their chosen specialty if there was a photo that was screaming to be taken.

Ansel Adams is known for black and white landscapes, but he also shot in color. He took some portraits too. Robert Capa took a few landscapes.

But how should you choose your genre? There are a few different approaches you should consider when answering this question.
First, there is the mind of the businessman to consider. Lots of photographers do this. If you put “what kind of photographer” into search, the first suggestion is “what kind of photographer makes the most money.” However, there is a reason why this doesn’t work for most entrepreneurs: how much money you make does not have anything to do with the subject matter you shoot. Instead, it has to do with how well you shoot, and to a greater extent how good you are about bragging about your work.

If you decide to photograph weddings because you think wedding photographers make a lot of money, you should do it if you like that style of photography. If you don’t like what you do as an artist, you will grow to be resentful of your own creation, and that is the recipe for failure every time.

Of course, I’ve known some photographers who have made a decent living shooting only what the world around them demands. They are photographers for the business and had no attachment to the art whatsoever. So it’s not all-exclusive that one must be an artist as a photographer, but I would say that at least 99% of photographers consider themselves artists at least to some extent.

It’s best to satisfy your artistic mind. Most people don’t become artists because of the high pay, but because they enjoy their medium, whether it is photography, painting, sculpting, or otherwise.

Photographers take pictures of what they like and inspires them. Ansel Adams was an environmentalist, so it makes sense that he mostly enjoyed landscape photography. Capa was a photojournalist and Co-founder of Magnum Photos. He liked living on the edge and documenting atrocities of war, but that doesn't mean he didn't enjoy a pretty view every now and then.

Following this train of thought, maybe you should look through the photos you have taken, and see what you like to photograph most often. Maybe you like sunsets. Maybe you like flowers. Maybe you like wildlife. The first consideration when choosing a photography genre should be what you enjoy shooting most.

But what if you can’t decide? What if you like photographing everything? Okay. Next consider where you live. Travel to other places is often expensive, so what is around you that you can photograph? If you live in the city, wildlife photography might not be the most affordable option for you. Maybe you also like shooting sports. Choose something that fits with the area nearby where you live.

Are you still having trouble deciding? This time, consider choosing a style instead of a genre. Maybe you simply want to be known as a black and white photographer, but not specify the subject matter. Maybe you have a specific mood or emotion you enjoy portraying, no matter the subject.

Most people should now have an idea of what kind or kinds of photography they want to specialize in. If you still don’t know what to pick, you would be best off remaining a holistic photographer. You might not be ready to choose one thing over everything else yet. If that’s you, then you probably just need some more time to do more exploring of everything you can make photographically. And that is perfectly okay. 
 


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