This question comes to me a lot.
Should I focus on just one specialty with my photography or more than one?
And I will start to answer this question with ... it depends.
Imagine you were on the street and you came across a man with a cart of goods. He tries to sell you something. Perhaps a fine scarf, or a watch. By the unique nature of his cart, you smile and slow your step to take a look. "You have many fine scarves," you tell him, as you browse. You specifically notice there are many varieties of silk scarves. Many colors, and a variety of textures, but all with a touch of silk and perhaps themes of florals. "Wow," you think to yourself. "If I were on the hunt for the perfect floral silk scarf, this guy has it all." As the man tells you of where the scarves came from and how they were made and tells you why they are the best quality, you think, "Wow, this guy really knows his stuff."
He even goes on to tell you how he made some of them himself and how he has traveled and seen the places they were made. He shares a story of one of those travels.
But in reality, you were never on the hunt for a floral scarf in the first place, while they are pretty, you just don't have a use for one, or it's too much money... whatever the reason, you start to walk. "Thank you, but I half to hurry off and finish my taxes!" you joke... as it happens to be April...
"Taxes you say?" the man exclaims, and to your surprise, he pulls out a green brimmed hat, a stool and pushes some scarves aside to pull out a mini desk, calculator, and some paperwork. He even has a stool. Slipping on spectacles he says, "I specialize in federal tax returns. If you have your W-2's we'll get started now!"
A little taken back and surprised by his unexpected preparedness, you smile and thank him, "Thank you, but I think I have a hand on it. Just off to grab a bite on my way."
"A bite?" he says. With a sparkle of hope in his eye. He then slides out another drawer with foil-wrapped burritos, another draw with cold drinks.
"What kind of cart do you have here!" you say, amused. But not really wanting anything he has to offer you say, "Um, thanks, but I am gluten intolerant" then as you start to walk away you flinch at the blister you have on your heal. "Ouch!"
"I've got just the solution." the man says. Then he pulls his stool aside and sits you down and in another drawer pulls out a medical kit. But instead of a band-aid, he pulls out a needle and string.
"Hold still!" He says as he leans in ready to stitch up your blister.
Taken aback by far you jump and move on your way.
While at first you may have been attracted to the man's cart, and seen his original specialty, which was floral scarves, you soon realized that while this man was attempting to wear many hats, and many appear to have many talents he also came across as too eager and even desperate. And while supporting him and his efforts could help him, would you really want to accept medical attention from someone who didn't know what they were doing. It was obvious he did not really know how to tend to your broken blister. "How many specialties can a person really have and be knowledgeable in all of them," you think to yourself as you walk away.
Alright. So maybe it isn't the perfect analogy. Or maybe you truly get it.
When I first started doing photography, I'll admit... as I was getting my feet under me, I was very eager to grab whatever bone was thrown my way! I wanted to try to be the expert in my field but couldn't fully do that realistically for all that I wanted to offer and thought I would just try to offer it all!.
The list went on and on. Families, Weddings, Newborns, Children, Senior Pictures, Headshot photography, Acting Headshots, Modeling Headshots, Corporate Events, Family Reunions, Birthday Parties, Indoor Photography, Outdoor Photography, Night Photography, Boutique Photography, Product Photography... you get the picture.
I think that I felt I would be impressive if I confidently proclaimed, "I can do it all! Trust me!"
But in reality, how pro and prepared can any specialty be if we spread ourselves too thin?
I challenge you to ask yourself:
Am I coming off desperate to my clients by spreading myself too thin?
One example of this is newborn photography. This is such an art. And has taken me years of practice, learning specific techniques, poses, how to apply the best natural light in the indoor situations and more.
I can still remember one of my first newborn sessions. I had asked a friend if I could come to photograph her baby to build my portfolio. "I got this," I thought. How hard can posing a newborn baby really be?
My friend was happy to have me come to photograph her baby. I got there and did my best to pose and work with her little one. And she stayed asleep most of the time. But regardless I still had no clue what I was doing. I quickly realized it was much harder than it looked and there was really so much more to posing a baby. Floppy limbs that needed to be swaddled and safety to keep in mind. The right temperature to keep the baby comfortable. The list goes on and on.
Then I did it again with another friend and another as I built my portfolio of babies. Sounds funny, doesn't it.
Anyway. Feeling a little more confident, I added my collection of portfolio images to my website and added this as a service. And even during those first few sessions, I struggled. But each time I pushed myself in such a way to the edge of what I knew how to do, to something new to grow. Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours concept in the book Outliers covers this.
At the time I started to do newborn photography though, 99% of my clients came from engaged couples, seniors, and young families. Rarely did I get around to doing newborns. It was my burrito drawer.
It wasn't until I had my daughter in 2012, where I really took a lot of pictures with her and had an opportunity to get a lot of practice. And in general became comfortable with babies.
Well here is the thing that worked well for me you guys... And perhaps you can think of how you will create it in a way that works for you.
What I did was create a sandwich effect.
Seniors become brides. Brides have babies. Babies grow up. Families Grow.
By the time my slew of many many brides got older and became mamas, they came back. If I did not have my newborn portfolio, they would have moved on. This is fine. I could always just stick to one type of portraiture. For some that works great. They would refer their friends and I would continue doing that one type of portraiture but would need to focus my energy on constantly attaching new clients through referrals, advertising etc... while I no longer attempt it all. I do have my PB and J. For me, that works. because I have just enough specialities to keep my families coming back for more. I love to build relationships and work with the same groups again and again.
Honestly, doing one type of portraiture ALL the time just isn't for me. Do I love the idea of being a travel photographer that only photographs romantic down to earth couples in exotic locations? Well yeah! And do I do that once in a while? Yes. But the reality is, I am a mama of 3 kids and cannot travel about as often as I use to. So studio sessions without all the travel are what works great for me for now.
Ultimately, your specialty should focus in on what you are special at. And what you are capable of providing at a professional level with your skill set. Like any job, this may get redundant to you at times, but redundancy speaks to experience and will give your clients confidence on what they will get for their hard earned money. In this way being more defined in what you offer sells.
One example I have of specializing is, when I was in North Carolina, I did in-home studio work at my townhouse for about 35% or more of my sessions. We did a lot of the same in front of the window posing for small families and newborns. I had to work within the same "box" so to speak, a LOT and push myself to creatively work in that space again and again. And you know what? It FORCED me to slow down in a way and create the best possible result with what I had to work with. And I would share these sessions. Well, you know what. Even though I did not have a huge studio with fancy gimmicks to offer my clients. I consistently and professionally offered what I did have and they came seeing and feeling confident about what they would get as their end result. It was simple. It was sweet. Delicate light. Posing done right. Down to earth but not sloppy. Natural and beautiful pictures.
In general, you need to consider your strength. What do your clients compliment you on? This is a great place to start. For me, my grand nature shots are a specialty. And knowing my locations is a strength of mine.
So let's recap. How small should your specialty be? Ask yourself honestly
- How far do my skillsets and current resources stretch
- How far do I want my net to fall without spreading myself too thin and losing clients
- Is the current amount of services that I am offering a turn off to potential clients or an asset in my favor
- Is your current cast net of specialty work for your current lifestyle?
After answering these questions I hope you will have a better idea to narrow your specialty should be!