What Kind of Photographer Am I?
If you're a photographer, you've probably been asked this question: What do you shoot?
For photographers who shoot one type of subject matter, and only market themselves as such, the answer might be simple. "I'm a wedding photographer", or, "I'm a real estate photographer", or "I do studio portraits". And those are great answers; short, clear, and easy to understand. But I believe there are a large number of photographers, myself included, that find themselves evenly splitting their time between multiple genres - some that have very little to do with another. Before I go any further, let me try to clearly describe all the subject matter I like to photograph (some I do more than others).
Intimate Nature (textures, patterns, light, etc.)
Astrophotography (wide field & light DSO interest)
Real Estate Photography
Portraiture (couples, families, etc.)
Adventure Lifestyle Photography
Tourism Focused Location Showcasing
There's probably more, and some of these cross paths a bit, but this helps make my point. Listing all of this out in text makes this an easier task, but to quickly describe to someone in person what kind of photography I do isn't so easy. My typical go-to answer is "a little bit of everything", but then immediately the natural obligation is to follow up. "I do this, and I shoot that, but mostly I do this, but I do a lot of business with this and this"
Before I go any further, I want to preface the next section with this; not every photographer cares or needs to care about this. There are tons of artists out there who strictly do their art for personal satisfaction and that is awesome. The rest of this post is going to be me reaching out to those who do care about the way others perceive them, and especially to those who are trying to make photography into a business for themselves.
Now back to that moment. Describing your passion to someone. This is the moment I concern myself with, but not just in conversation. How I present my diverse shooting interests can be really challenging. It can become so easy for others to lose interest in me as a photographer because perhaps I don't specialize in the one area they are most interested in as a consumer. No, I'm not strictly a wildlife photographer, but I do feel a great passion for it, and while I spend a lot of time photographing wildlife right now, I know that in a few months, or maybe next year, I'll get more tied up with landscapes, or astro. I know later in the summer and fall that I'll be spending nearly every weekend shooting weddings - that leaves very little time for other areas of photography, but here's the thing... and this is very important; this is the job I chose and it makes me happy - and that's certainly a privilege I don't take for granted.
There are so many people out there who don't like their jobs - who work a job they really dislike to feed their families or put themselves through school or whatever the case may be. This post isn't to discredit anyone who works a job they don't like, but I can see why this conversation may seem a bit ridiculous from the outside perspective. However, I feel it's valid to talk about.
Now, this isn't necessarily a crushing issue. Having an interest in lots of types of photography is just as healthy and fulfilling as someone else who only loves wedding photography. However, the difficulty that this diversity brings to marketing myself can be hard to contain sometimes, so I want to open a dialogue on the topic.
Should I care?
If you're trying to make photography into a business, the answer is probably yes. You need to be able to advertise yourself and putting together marketing materials is going to be much more challenging if you want to advertise yourself as someone who is professionally shooting multiple genres of photography. It's important to be able to convey to potential clients just what types of photography you're proficient in, but how do you do that if you shoot a lot of different subject material? I'm not going to pretend to have all the answers, because I'm posing this question as someone who's been facing this challenge for a long time now. I can however clue you in on what I've done to solve some of this. Here's a few things that have helped me communicate my style and get new fans of my work to know just what I'm all about.
Have a Well Designed Website
I'm no expert web designer, but I've been building on and adjusting this site since 2016 and happen to like where it's at right now. Your website is going to be your first impression on many new potential clients and it needs to be built with that in mind. On my home page, what's clear is my business name, which includes my actual name, followed by my site navigation. I have a background photo of an image I took of the Mackinac Bridge (an iconic Michigan landmark) at sunrise, and a signup form for my monthly newsletter and that's pretty much it. I keep it simple. People appreciate being able to quickly recognize how to get from the home page to any page they think is relevant to their visit. Try not to clutter your home page with too many distracting elements. Additionally, Photo Galleries is my first menu button, and upon hovering the mouse, all my portfolio titles can be seen right there. If someone wanted to know what kind of photography I pursue, that dropdown list is going to be the first clue for site visitors. The rest of the site is essentially irrelevant to this topic, so we'll move on, but there's plenty more to having a good website than just this, so don't use this as your only resource if you're currently building your own site.
Interaction With Social media
Whether you're a multigenerational photography veteran or you're just picking up a camera for the first time, if you intend to make a successful business out of photography at some point, being active on social media is just about necessity at this point. There are a lot of reasons to dislike social media, especially for personal use, but it can make or break a business in today's world where nearly everyone is on their phones every single day consuming content (and advertising). Using social media with some consistency can be a great way to show people what you spend your time doing and what people can expect from you as a professional. I effectively run two social media accounts on a daily basis to keep in contact with fellow photographers whom I admire and would like to work with or talk with, communicate to potential clients, and post new work to drive attention to my site or for specific campaigns at the time. One of the most used social media features for me is Instagram Stories. I'm active on my Facebook Page and I post on my Instagram when I can, but the stories feature there is what I use to communicate what I'm doing in the moment for any given activity. If I'm out shooting wildlife, I'll snap a picture of what I'm looking at and send it to stories. cutting and framing artwork? I might shoot a quick timelapse and show off my process. If I'm going out to shoot astro, it might be difficult to shoot some images from my phone to show what I'm doing, but I still do because I feel it's important to be able to show viewers the full spectrum of my range work. Posted IG stories only last for 24 hours and then they disappear, so it's a good place for snapshots and quick thoughts to go up for people to see once and move on from. It's just one aspect of keeping people engaged with what I do everyday.
Being a Good Writer Leads to Being a Good Communicator
I've enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember. I took journalism and creative writing classes through high school and actually enjoyed English classes through college. Not everyone likes sitting down to write, so this next tip may be hard for some to apply the time to, but being able to effectively communicate your artistic intent, your business statement, or just tell people what photography means to you, is a critical part to getting your audience to know what it is that you do. One of the tasks that I've committed to is writing a descriptor piece for every image that I take for my portfolios. If I've spent a couple hours planning a shot and then a couple hours in the field, I can take ten or twenty minutes to write out a thoughtful summary of my time and approach to the image. This is practice to keep me thinking critically about my relationship with photography and it's practice I certainly recommend others take up. I also took half of 2020 to write my first book! This was a months-long process that really challenged me to look at a large collection of my work and communicate my thoughts, then in the field, and looking back on it now, into cohesive stories. In that book, I used my writing to teach compositional tools, technical tips, and delivered a chronological tale of the evolution of my relationship with photography as an artform. My intent is to make several books, and once done, I'll have a physical series to show just what it is that I like to shoot. Again, this is just one piece of the puzzle that eventually helps tell the story of who I am as a photographer.
So What Now?
We've covered the why and the how, so now it's up to you to employ the tools within your reach to get yourself out there and understood. I spend so much of my time shooting, editing, website building, learning, posting, and talking with other creatives, that all of this stuff is just a natural part of my work day now, but for some of you, these ideas may be new and daunting. Don't have a website yet? Don't fret, places like Wix.com or Squarespace.com can help you build a site like mine and many others and they make it relatively easy to do. Don't think you're a very good writer? Practice, practice, practice - and get feedback from people you think are good writers. Personal feedback from those who are willing to give an unbiased response is so important to your growth. And don't be afraid to publish those little photo summaries when you post your images. Sometimes you'll get little encouraging comments when someone takes the time to recognize your efforts. Of course, don't do it only hoping for that, because genuine comments containing value are rare (but appreciated!). It's important not to attach your self-worth to social media, but that can be a difficult balancing act when business is involved.
There are lots of little things you can do to become an understood artist. Sometimes we fail at points along the way, but keeping your head up and moving forward and learning from mistakes will eventually lead to success where you want it. It takes time and dedication to the craft, but you can get there. For now, I'll probably be grabbing my 200-500mm lens for a little while longer to catch some bald eagles and swans on the Jordan River, but I know it won't be long before I'm back out for a sunset on Michigan Beach, or under starry skies shooting the milky way. Regardless, I'll keep having fun, continue to learn and grow, and will always share my experiences for others to learn from.
See you out there,
David w. Sargent jr