Friday, June 15, 2018

Niche or No Niche!

(pronounced either neesh or nitch....both are acceptable)

As a serious photographer, or dedicated hobbyist, have you found your niche? 

Have you discovered a subject you love to photograph above everything else?  If you can answer that question with a confident “yes”, then stop reading and go spend this time photographing more puppies, mushrooms, brides or whatever your passion is!

But if you are inclined to answer that question with a hesitant “maybe” or a frustrated “no”, then continue reading to get my perspective on how to find your niche, or more importantly, how to decide if you really need to have a niche!

If you travel in photography circles, you no doubt have run across discussions that give advice about narrowing down your subject matter to what you truly love to photograph, and then concentrating on honing your skills in that specific area or genre. 

Usually these discussions end with something like, “Don’t worry if you haven’t found your niche, or discovered your signature style, just keep on shooting and it will come.”  And many times it does!   Your niche often evolves and will bring a certain level of comfort and encouragement to help you move forward in a specific direction. 

But I have discovered that many photographers, even many who have been shooting for years, (or decades like me), still haven’t found their niche!!  Why not!  For me, limiting the genre of photography I enjoy, or the subjects I like to shoot, or the styles I like to experiment with, feels too boring, too restrictive, too confining, like being in a photographic prison!  (Okay, that last part may be a bit dramatic!)

For years I thought about this and worried about it.  If I continued to photograph everything I saw that was interesting to me, I probably would never be skillful at shooting anything, (you know, to paraphrase the saying, “A Jack (or Jill) of all trades is a master of none”).  But I knew if I had to limit or curtail what I photographed, the joy I find in photography would be greatly diminished.

But today, after decades of shooting, I can proudly say I am still ‘niche free’, (and worry free), and at the same time have continued to maintain my love for photography!  With some critical and honest contemplation, here is the most important question I had to answer to help me embrace being ‘niche-less’:

What is my foremost reason for wanting to be a photographer? 
Here is a short list of some possibilities for you to consider:

·      I want to use photography as a career.  This will be a business and I must do what it takes to develop a customer base and earn money.
·      I want to have a usable skill to help my family and community.  I would like to be the official photographer at family weddings, birthdays, sports games and community events.
·      I want to be able to take great pictures documenting all the places where I travel, so I can make quality photo books.
·      I want to take photos of my children’s milestones and family growth through the years.
·      I want to develop a solid presence on social media.  It gives my self esteem a boost when others enjoy my photography and say I’m a good photographer.
·      I want to use photography as a stress reliever and a pleasant diversion from my everyday work and routine.
·      I want to use my photos as the starting point for my art projects.  I love the creativity of using editing software to transform a photo into something from my imagination.

I’m sure you can think of more reasons, and most of us probably have several reasons, but once you nail down your primary motivation for being a photographer, you can decide if identifying a niche will be an important part of your success and contentment, or not.  Here are some examples: 

If you are looking to earn money, branding yourself and advertising your area of expertise, (your niche), will help funnel potential customers down to the ones who are actually looking for your particular photographic skills.

If you are looking to build a large presence on social media, posting images of one genre or style, (your niche), will attract a larger group of dedicated followers who have your same interests.

If your motivation is more internal, meaning you take pictures primarily because it brings you joy, (no niche), then you are not as concerned with earning money, gathering followers or being motivated by other outside influences.  You may have little or no incentive to narrow down your subject matter or define a shooting style.  This leaves you free to explore, experiment, change, evolve, discover, learn, and grow in many directions. 

Of course I’m not suggesting that by having a specific purpose or niche means you won’t find happiness or joy in your photography.  In fact, if you have chosen a niche you love and are attaining your goals, (i.e. earning money, becoming popular on social media, or improving your skills, for example), you will also love being a photographer.

But if you get bored easily, or just enjoy variety, I would like to offer an alternative to developing a specific niche.  And that is to simply photograph whatever you enjoy with no qualms or qualifying ‘ifs, ands or buts’!  Your interests may change from year to year, season to season, or even day to day.  But you will make connections with, and learn from a diverse group of photographers who will help enrich your photography experiences and expand your creativity.  And yes, your skills and talents as a photographer will still continue to increase and expand, even if you are a Jack or Jill of many genres and styles of photography.

In practical terms for me, this means, shooting flowers in spring, and landscapes in the summer and fall months.   Winter will probably mean concentrating on still life and food photography indoors. At the beginning of the school year I’ll be shooting portraits of my grandkids, and in December I’ll probably be shooting Christmas lights.  Last month I was shooting Hindu temples in Bali and real estate photos for a friend selling her house.  And inbetween there is street photography, black & white, high key, macro photography, and the list goes on and on!  The expectation of what I might be shooting next and what my finished image will be, is invigorating and exciting!

To sum up, developing a niche or not, depends on whichever decision leads you closer to your goals as a photographer, and at the same time adds the most to your enthusiasm for taking pictures.  Imogen Cunningham said,  “Which of my photographs is my favorite?  The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”  Me too!