Decide that you want to make some money from photography and whether you’re setting up as a professional or just hoping to earn a little extra cash at the weekends, you’re going to be spoiled for choice. You could become a wedding photographer, a specialization with plenty of demand, high prices… and lots of competition. You could aim at portrait photography, a field with a fair amount of creativity, some enjoyable personal interaction… and also, lots of competition. Or you could decide that you want to be a landscape photographer, an area that’s going to bring satisfaction with every image, an occasional sale… and lots of competition.
Or you could aim for something more esoteric and position yourself as a car photographer, an equine photographer or an expert on photographing orchids. While you’ll still have to do the marketing, you wouldn’t just be selling the quality of your pictures, you’ll also be pitching your knowledge of a narrow topic, an asset that few other photographers possess.
And you can even choose to specialize in a particular style, letting the uniqueness of the look of your photos help you to stand out from the crowd and build a brand.
Shoot your Hobby
There are two ways to choose a specialization. The first, and probably the most common, is to shoot what you love. Grace Chon, a pet photographer in Los Angeles, began taking pictures of animals while working as an advertising art director. Her roommate had two dogs and Grace would constantly take pictures of them.
“I even had their photos at work, which coworkers were always asking questions about — like ‘How did you take those?’ or ‘What camera did you use?’” she recalled. “I was just using a little Canon Elph point and shoot at the time, but it was really cool to get such positive feedback.”
Eventually, Grace upgraded to a DSLR, began taking head shots of homeless dogs for a rescue center, and encouraged by the compliments she received from people who saw her pictures, turned her hobby into a side business. Today, Grace is an award-winning pet photographer whose images are used on the cover of magazines. She’s invited to judge photography competitions — and she charges up to $1,150 for a shoot.
Grace isn’t the only pet photographer in Los Angeles but she is now the first photographer that many people in the city turn to when they want photographs of their animals.
For Grace, a love of photographing pets has given her a career and a reputation in one particular field of photography. Jerry Lodriguss also moved into photography as a result of an interest in a particular field. For Jerry, a love of astronomy led him to buy a camera to put on the end of his telescope back in 1971. He still makes money from his astrophotography, writing books and selling stock images, but he’s best known as a sports photographer, a job he’s been doing for more than 25 years.
Both Grace and Jerry began with a clear interest in their subject and only later moved into a photography, but other photographers have been known to move in the opposite direction. Matt Adcock and Sol Tomargo both had successful wedding photography businesses before they met through mutual clients. Having teamed up, their joint photography business is now best known not for its wedding photography in general but specifically for its Trash the Dress photography, a style in which the bride is shot in her wedding dress in unusual locations. She might be photographed floating in the sea or, Del Sol’s particular specialty, standing in cenotes, water-filled caves in Mexico. It’s a style rather than a subject, but one which has won Del Sol a shelf full of awards and media attention around the world.
Although the effect is the same — Del Sol is now branded as a Trash the Dress photography studio and known for its specialization in the same way that Grace Chon is known as a pet photographer — the method of choosing the specialty is very different.
How Big is Your Niche Market?
But either approach can work. It’s possible to choose a niche based on a hobby and build a photography business around that expertise, and it’s possible too to push an established business in a narrow direction.
Established businesses though will always have an advantage. They’ll know the market and the size of the competition.
That’s always going to be vital. Start shooting something you love and you’ll soon amass a pile of attractive images on a topic you find interesting. You’ll pick up expertise in a particular field so that you’ll know your way around the star system, for example, and which part of the sky to point your camera. And you’ll know how to photograph those subjects, understanding the importance of polishing a car’s paintwork so that it looks good in the image, for example. But you’ll still have to figure out how to put those images in front of buyers.
For new photographers, even that marketing knowledge should come naturally. As you attend events related to your field and share your pictures, your name will spread. For car photographer Andreas Reinhold, a side-career shooting for magazines around his day job as an engineer developed after meeting an editor at an auto show. That might have been a chance encounter but it happened because Andreas was so interested in cars that he was prepared to spend his spare time attending related events.
And that’s the most important factor in choosing a new niche. The ability to create the pictures is going to be important. The size of the market is going to be a factor in your success too, as will your ability to reach buyers. But to really master a niche, you will need to have the dedication required to fully understand it and want to keep learning about it.
That’s as true of pet photography and astrophotography as it is of car photography and particular styles of wedding photography.