I’ve been wanting to write about how I found my niche in this industry, and how you can find yours, for a long time. I tried so hard to condense it into one post, but it’s gotten a little bit out of control, so I’m going to distill it down into four parts: Part 1 – Preface to finding your niche || Part 2 – Why specialize? || Part 3 – How I found my niche || Part 4 – Finding yours!
I want to start this series by saying that I don’t think there’s one formula that will work for everyone trying to find their way in this industry. I know successful photographers who specialize in one particular thing, like I do; and I know successful photographers who do a little bit of everything and rock it out. That was never going to work for me, and I don’t know why. (Ok, I do know why, but we’ll get to that later.) I started out wanting to do it all, and I very much failed. I did not find any kind of real success until I found my niche. This is what has worked for me, and if you’re struggling trying to define yourself in this business and as an artist, maybe this will help you; but this might not work for everyone. Maybe you can do multiple things well, and if that’s the case, I don’t necessarily think you should give it up to focus on one thing. Basically what I’m trying to say is… this is not the only way. This is just my experience. So with that being said, let’s jump in!
I was going to begin with why it’s important to specialize, but I found myself thinking about what comes before that – the whole actually deciding to start a business thing. I think one of the harshest realities of the photography industry is that the “best” photographers are not always the most successful. It’s not enough to be talented, to be technically proficient, to be able to consistently create gorgeous photographs. It HELPS. And you should be able to do that before you even think of starting a business. But it’s not enough. It would be really nice if that were all it took, but this industry is brutal, and so much of it comes down to marketing. You can churn out incredible work all day long, but if nobody knows who you are, what you do, or how to find you… then, that’s that.
So before we even get to this point of figuring out what to specialize in, how to specialize, and making a career of this photography hobby* of yours, you need to know your craft inside and out; want it more than anyone; be willing to work your ass off, seven days a week; get no sleep; and expect to not make any kind of a profit for years, if ever. That is the reality. And even if you figure out exactly what you want to do, you won’t be able to jump ahead and immediately have a full calendar. It would be so awesome if it worked that way, but it’s going to take a long time for your work to pay off. If you stick with it, constantly practice, have good systems, and give your clients an incredible experience – it will pay off. But it won’t be tomorrow. It probably won’t even be next year.
If you aren’t willing to give your fledging photography business everything you have, sacrifice your time and money and soul, then I don’t think you should start one. It’s okay to just have a photography hobby. Just because you like taking photos doesn’t mean you should make that your career. Give it absolutely everything you’ve got or just don’t do it. Don’t. Because I promise you, there are ten other people who want it more and are willing to out-work you any day of the week. I don’t think there’s room in this business for people who are going to half-ass it. Because if you’re not willing to give your little business everything you have, you’re going to fail. The end. So save yourself the time and trouble (and money), and just keep shooting for fun.
There are days I want to pack it all up and go do something completely different. But I don’t because those moments are fleeting and I love my job second only to my husband/friends/family/cats. If you don’t love it that way, it will be torture, just like anything else. If you don’t have that love… you’ll fail. I 100% guarantee it. So dig down deep, take a good hard look, and think about if you really have what it takes to do this. Running a photography business is probably 5% shooting and 95% everything else. And you have to love it all. (Well, you don’t have to love it all. I really hate bookkeeping. But you have to be able to tolerate it all or be able to outsource the parts you hate.)
SO, with that being said, do you still want to do this? Do you still want to start a business and put in the blood, sweat, and tears? AWESOME. It’s going to SUCK. A LOT. But oh my gosh, if you have that real love for this thing, it is so worth it. It will fill up your soul like nothing else.
If I haven’t scared you away, I’ll be back next Wednesday with The Why. Why bother specializing? What’s the point? Wouldn’t it make more sense to do a little bit of everything? Nope! And I’ll explain my reasoning next week!
*Sidenote to this whole series: Don’t shoot weddings until you feel totally technically proficient. If you’re still not sure of the difference between f/1.4 and f/16, you’re probably not quite ready. Second – or preferably third – shoot. Photograph portrait sessions all day long. I know some people think it’s okay to shoot a wedding with zero experience and “spray and pray,” but that is the worst advice EVER. Don’t screw around with someone’s one wedding day. Just don’t do it. There are no do-overs. You are a total jerk if you take money to shoot a wedding and have no idea what you’re doing.