It’s probably the most powerful strategy any photographer can choose. Decide to specialize in a particular type of photography and you can reduce the competition, build a brand and focus your marketing.
You’ll find it much easier to land — and keep — buyers and you’ll grow into an expert not just on your field of photography but, no less importantly, on marketing to buyers within that field.
We’ve already seen a number of successful photographers who have chosen this route. Sean Davey has built a career out of photographing surfers. Jeremy Mason McGraw stays in luxury hotels as he jets around the world as a travel photographer. And Andreas Reinhold has been taking his camera to car shows only a little longer than he’s been selling his images to auto magazines.
But the choice of niche is always going to be vital. Choosing the wrong subject to sell can be as costly a mistake as a shop loading up on the wrong inventory. Here are the things you should consider when closing in on a niche.
How Much is This Niche Worth?
The most obvious place to start is with the value of the images. Because different photographic subjects are used in different ways, the prices photographer can charge can vary too. Andreas Reinhold’s work, for example, tends to appear in magazines while Sean Davey has also been commissioned to conduct commercial shoots for clients as big as Red Bull. Those sorts of jobs can clearly bring in a lot more revenue.
As you’re looking at a niche then, look too at how those sorts of images tend to be used by buyers. That should give you a good idea of the range of prices those pictures might be able to earn.
Choose a niche whose only use is in an actor’s portfolio, for example, and you’ll know exactly how much you can expect to make from your images.
How Big is the Market?
The size of the market will clearly be important too but that’s only part of the information you need to know. The benefit of choosing a niche is that you’re competing against fewer photographers so in addition to understanding the size of the market, you’ll also need to have an idea of how many photographers are contributing their images to it.
You won’t be able to pick up exact figures of course, and these days every field is likely to feel at least a little crowded, but you can get an impression, especially when you really narrow things down.
Consider specializing in photographs of skateboarders, for example, and you’ll be able to make a list of every skateboard magazine as well as the main companies selling skateboard gear that might need photos. You might also be able to identify the main photographers supplying those images to see how broadly buyers are able to source them.
How Much Work is Involved in the Photography?
Just as images in different markets might be used in different ways, so they require different amounts of work too. Choose to specialize in macro-photography of flowers, for example, and you’ll need some special lenses but finding subjects should be easy. Specialize in images of whales on the other hand, and getting out to the water and keeping your camera dry will mean solving some special logistical problems and spending lots of money on fancy gear.
All of that extra work has to be considered in the amount you charge, while buying the equipment up front is also an extra risk.
In general, you can reckon that the more work and expense is involved in shooting the images for your niche, the few competitors you’ll have and the higher the returns — but you’ll also find that any losses could be higher too.
How Much Do you Love your Niche?
Image values and the size of the competition are all important but when it comes to choosing your specialty, nothing is more vital than how much you love the subject. Sean Davey, for example, grew up surfing, and Jeremy Mason McGraw worked on a cruise ship before he became a travel photographer.
Because photography is always a competitive place to earn income, the best strategy is always to shoot what you love the most, then look for ways to sell the image. If you’re not successful at least you’ll have had a good time.
(And if you can learn to love a niche that pays well too, you’ll get the best of both worlds.)