How to Choose Your Niche to Be a Successful Photographer
With almost two dozen specialties to choose from, here's exactly what you need to know to narrow your focus and create a successful photography business.
The field of photography is probably more diverse than you think. Let’s look at some of the more popular photography specialties that have traditionally allowed professional photographers to earn a respectable income.
Fine art photography
Fine art photography is for the creative individual who enjoys taking pictures for their aesthetic value -- landscapes, nature, wildlife, nudes or portraits. These high-quality images are often categorized as works of art and sometimes displayed and sold in galleries, with prints reproduced in limited editions for collectors, dealers and curators. Many fine art photos also appear in books for the general public. Fine art images are sometimes printed on note cards, calendars, and posters (all potential revenue generators), although some collectors would consider those to be “inferior” products.
Photojournalism is the ability to tell a story through images of a particular subject, at a specific location, or of an occasion. The photographer shoots the scenario happening around them, without interfering in any way -- in other words, no staged or formal shots. A photojournalist might be called on to shoot a crime scene, a newsworthy event, or images that’ll go along with an article being published in a newspaper, magazine or on a website, for example.
The candid style of photojournalism is also becoming popular in commercial photography and is now used regularly at events, such as weddings, birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, corporate functions, charity events or other social functions.
Wedding and special event photography
Wedding and special event photography is for the individual who enjoys working with people and wants to help them celebrate one of the most memorable days of their lives. Most of the work is done on location, although some photographers have studios for bridal portraits and engagement photos.
Wedding photographers typically follow a pre-created shot list, which includes a selection of carefully scripted poses for ring exchanges, cake cutting, and bouquet tossing, for example. However, wedding photojournalism -- shooting the big day emphasizing a candid documentary style of photography -- is also becoming popular.
Portrait photography has become a wide-ranging commercialized area because so many people enjoy having portraits made to commemorate special events like births, milestone birthdays, family reunions, weddings, anniversaries, and graduations. Besides shooting in a studio, a lot of portrait photographers will also take photographs in natural settings, such as outdoors or in the home or business of the individual.
People’s passion for pets has led to increased opportunities for photographers. In addition to selling traditional prints of pets, selling products featuring pet photos, such as clothing or coffer mugs, is also popular and potentially profitable. If you live in a rural area, you can opt to specialize in livestock and farm animals (like horses).
Special occasion (noncorporate) event photography
Event photography is pretty much self-descriptive. You’re capturing events as they unfold, at family gatherings, proms, political or sporting events, pet shows, school events, or business functions. However, event photography is also a very broad term, and you should narrow your specialty to no more than two or three types of events that you specialize in. The more specialized your niche is, the better.
Additional niche photography fields
The following list includes information about additional photography specialties that you might choose to pursue:
- Advertising and commercial photography. Freelance photographers are typically employed by an agency or company to take pictures for ads, catalogs, brochures, product packaging, newsletters, websites, social media feeds, etc.
- Aerial photography. Images taken from the air (such as from a drone, helicopter, plane, hot air balloon, or specially rigged kite) are used for military purposes, commercial advertising, land use planning, environmental studies, and real estate marketing, for example.
- Architectural and industrial photography. This specialty is ideal for the individual who appreciates structural design. Photographers must be skilled in taking both interior and exterior shots.
- Catalog and website photography. This involves shooting specific product images in one of two ways. Your client might want a product showcased with close-up images to depict extreme details, while using a simple, solid color background and perfect lighting (with no shadows). These shots are typically created in a studio setting. There’s also an ongoing demand for lifestyle product photography, which showcases products being used in the real world.
- Fashion photography. This specialty is a cross between commercial and portrait photography. Fashion photographs are used for magazines, ads, catalogs, and websites, and are also displayed in retail stores. For this type of work, the subject is typically the clothing, makeup, or accessories, as opposed to the model.
- Food photography. Images made for restaurants, supermarkets, and food companies are used for promotion in posters, ads, circulars, magazines, websites, and menus, for example. Shooting food images for cookbooks is also part of this niche.
- Forensic and evidence photography. Photograph crime scenes and autopsies for scientists and law enforcement agencies.
- Nature and wildlife photography. This niche is perfect for someone who enjoys the outdoors as well as photographing wild animals, landscapes, and wildlife.
- Photographic analysis. This field requires studying and analyzing images to determine if they have been altered or tampered with.
- Portfolio photography. Artists, corporations, singers, models and actors need photographs of their work or themselves for presentations. Every actor, for example, needs professional headshots that showcase their looks and personality in a specific way that’ll appeal to casting directors.
- Public relations photography. Photographers are hired to promote businesses or individuals by taking pictures at documented and prearranged events, such as trade shows or press conferences. You may also be hired to take product shots or portraits of company executives.
- Real estate photography. Most of these pictures are used by real estate agents to showcase and sell residential and commercial properties. There’s also a growing demand for showcasing properties using 360-degree images (for use on websites) as well as drone photography (which also falls under the niche of aerial photography mentioned earlier).
- School photography. This type of photography covers class portraits, sports team photographs, teacher portraits, graduations, etc.
- Scientific and technical photography. Photographers need to understand and illustrate the subject they’re photographing. The pictures can be used for research, presentations, education, and other purposes. Photographers are usually in-house and rarely freelance.
- Sports photography. A subset of event photography, this niche comes with the best seats in the house. The more you know about the sport you’re shooting, the better, because you’ll be able to anticipate when the perfect photo opportunities are about to happen.
- Travel photography. This is great for individuals who enjoy being on the road, but beware this niche is very competitive. Again, you’ll need to capture a wide range of indoor and outdoor locations, and make the locales look amazing.
- Underwater photography. Photographers should be excellent swimmers with scuba diving skills and special underwater camera equipment.