Can you become a successful professional photographer without specializing in a specific genre of photography?


posted Friday, September 2, 2022 at 4:00 PM EDT


A big decision for photographers of all skill levels is to determine whether they will specialize in a specific type of photography or do a bit of everything. A specialist photographer becomes extremely skilled at one, or maybe two, genres of photography. A generalist photographer instead does many different types of photography, although by no means does that indicate a lack of skill in any particular genre. "Jack of all trades, master of none" doesn't accurately describe every generalist photographer.

A couple of weeks ago, David Bergman tackled the topic in his video series "Ask David Bergman." For Bergman, whether you should specialize in a genre or do a little of everything depends on your goals. Suppose you're a hobbyist with no professional goals for photography. In that case, you should focus on having fun and creating rather than worrying about how to divide your time between different types of photography.

However, Bergman thinks it's better to specialize if you're a professional or want to start making your living with photography. "I'd rather be known as the best at one genre of photography and get hired to do that," said Bergman. When Bergman offers critiques for clients, a common issue he sees with portfolios is that a photographer is all over the place. If someone wants to hire a photographer for a specific job, they want to hire someone extremely skilled at the precise task at hand. To someone who wants high-end portraits, it doesn't matter if your portfolio includes nice wildlife photos.

Pye Jirsa of SLR Lounge continued Bergman's conversation in the latest episode of "Master your Craft" for Adorama TV. Following the thread of Bergman's advice for professional photographers and aspiring pros to specialize, Jirsa outlines four reasons why you "need" to specialize in photography if you're trying to build a successful business. Jirsa contends that reaching your highest potential as a pro photographer is almost impossible if you don't specialize.

Some photographers trying to establish themselves think that being a generalist means that they expand their potential client pool. After all, if you can do everything, that means many different people can hire you. However, Jirsa thinks this approach is misguided. You may not be as good at any genre as you think. The more experience you have with a specific type of photography, the more skilled you'll become and the more critical you'll be of your existing work. If you spread yourself thin, you'll progress slower across every genre rather than be able to get very good at one thing. For example, it'll be challenging to become an excellent portrait photographer if you spend half your time shooting landscapes. Likewise, the path to becoming an amazing sports photographer is arduous if you're barely shooting sports.

If you're a generalist seeking financial opportunities with your photography, you're not competing against other generalists. You're competing against everyone, including specialists who have spent their entire career becoming extremely skilled at one thing. Not only is a specialist likely to be better than you at any given genre, but they're also likely to understand their audience better and know how to market to them.

Readers, what do you think? Do you describe yourself as a generalist or a specialist, and do you think it's possible to become a successful professional photographer if you do a bit of everything?

(Via Adorama and SLR Lounge