We’ve all heard the saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” In fact, it’s probably one of the very first things that pops into your head when the subject of specializing arises. Well, it may be a cliche, but it’s also a truth. Now there are those annoyingly perfect photographers out there who seem to be god-given with both hands and produce magnificent results in everything they photograph: newborns, weddings, families, retirement parties, butterflies, cupcakes, and everything in between. Ignore them.
For the rest of us mere mortals, more often than not, we are great in one or two aspects of photography, and “fine” in the rest. That’s where your specialty comes into play. However, deciding on a specialty can be a headache in and of itself, especially if you honestly enjoy multiple genres. In order to narrow your choices down, try answering these questions:
What type of sessions do you enjoy the most? Close your eyes and imagine the session you’ve had the most fun with. Were you photographing a country club wedding where the bride wore a stunning Vera Wang dress? Or perhaps you were in a grungy back alley photographing a senior that will soon take this world by storm. Maybe you were curled on the floor with a newborn in your arms, softly singing a lullaby. Who is your ideal client? Is your idea of the perfect client a young soccer mom with a disposable income that’s just begging to be spent on your stunning portraits? Or perhaps it’s the student class president, or the young “golden” couple that are adorably in love. In order to find your niche, you first need to discover what you love to do.
Do you prefer shooting on-location, at a client’s home, or in a studio? For some, the idea of being cramped inside a studio is second only to Chinese water torture. For others, a beautiful natural-light studio is heaven on earth. Where you operate your business can be just as important as how you operate your business because it plays a vital role in marketing to your niche. To beginning photographers, the idea of having your own studio can be that status symbol that certifies you as a “real” professional. However, working on-location can be your greatest strength as you are able to market yourself as catering to the client and being oh-so-convenient. Likewise, having a studio can also be a huge asset as it allows consistency in your images and gives you the ability to pamper your clients, which is a vital part of boutique photography (more on that in Part 8!)
When you specialize in a certain type of photography, it doesn’t necessarily have to be just weddings and engagements or just birth photography or just maternity and newborns or just seniors. It can be that specific, and many times that is a simple and natural resolution to the problem of “what on earth do I specialize in?” But it can also be as simple as specializing in lifestyle photography or classic portraiture. How you photograph can be a niche, just like who you photograph. It’s all up to you.
Your local community can also play a role in determining your specialty. If you are in a small town where the nearest city is over an hour away, then you are more limited in what you can do, as your market is more narrow. If the local high school’s graduating class is only 30 students, then you will need to do something more than just seniors, as there will not be enough clientele to keep your schedule fully booked. In this case, some photographers choose to specialize in newborns and seniors, for example, with taglines such as “from the moment they come home to the moment they leave home.” This is an example of diversifying your specialty, which often is necessary if you don’t have a large population to draw from or if there is a surplus of a certain type of photographer in your area.
Now just because you may live in a small town doesn’t mean that you are handicapped or limited in your marketing. You can still advertise in the larger cities nearby, especially if you shoot on-location and are willing to drive. If you shoot in a studio, then the opposite is true. If your client loves you and your work enough, they will move mountains (or at least drive around them!) to have you photograph them, either by arranging for their session to coincide with a trip, or by simply making the drive… because you are worth it. Never allow your circumstances to limit your potential.
If you are in or near a larger city, then you have a bit more leeway for available markets, but also usually more competition. If anything, this is where the boutique mentality is most valuable as your differences and uniqueness will be the deciding factor. When you find that special niche you are essentially establishing yourself as an expert in your field. While one-stop shops are great for grocery shopping and finding the cheapest laundry detergent, when it comes to specialized services, like getting your hair cut, you may think twice about going to the place that offers $10 haircuts along with a free shampoo and cut for your poodle. The truth of the matter is that as consumers, we are willing to pay a bit more in order to feel secure in our purchase decision. If a client is looking at investing in photography, whether that be $200 or $2,000, they want to feel confident that they are making the right decision with the right person. Specializing in a niche allows you to assure that decision is the right one. Aside from the confidence that you relay to clients, finding that niche has a two-fold benefit as it takes your competition from dozens of photographers, to just a handful.
Christina Greve of Diva and Dreams said that when you find your niche “you are now no longer competing with everyone on the market, instead you are now competing with other specialists in your field.”
Here’s some homework for you. Open up a new tab and type in “(insert the name of the nearest large city here) (insert your potential specialty here) photographer.” In my case, this would be “Anchorage Baby Photographer” and as of two seconds ago, I was number #1 on the list of search results. Number four out of 196,000 results.
Pretty good numbers, if I do say so myself, but it’s taken two years to get to that point. Now, if I were a potential client, I would most likely look at only the first page, MAYBE the second page if I didn’t like any of the other photographers. According to a recent Google results case study, 36.4% of users clicked on the first link, 12.5% on the second link, 9.5% on the third link, and 7.9% on the fourth link.. So while third or fourth place may seem great and all, it still leaves the majority of potential clients unreached. Of course, that is still better than the second page which only gets an average click through rate of 1.1%. If you do currently rank lower on the list, then start researching SEO tips and generate traffic to your blog and website. I recommend Zach Prez with the Photography Web Marketing Guide. Pure genius.
All these numbers and statistics can seem discouraging, but it’s worthwhile to know who you will be sharing the market with. Not all those 196,000 results are my competition. In fact, not everyone on the first page is my competition as only a few specialize in maternity and newborn photography. Sometimes that’s what clients are looking for, sometimes it’s not. But the clients that do book with me really pre-qualify themselves because I’ve specialized and branded myself into a very specific niche and the people who choose me love my style, which is unique in my area.
Referring back to that results list, I’m personally friends with several of the photographers there and it’s a beautiful thing because we support each other in our businesses. They aren’t my competition. They are my colleagues. Our differing styles and specialties allow us to market to different clientele, because honestly, the people who love my style won’t love theirs and visa versa. That right there was a startling truth to realize, that not every potential client will be the right fit. Sure, there may be 100 people looking for a baby photographer, but if they are looking for something that I simply don’t offer, then what’s the point? I’d rather concentrate on that 36.4% percent that fell in love the moment they opened my website than futilely market to the 63.6% that don’t like me or my style. You don’t have to win every person, just concentrate on winning over those that truly love you. You don’t have to be the best or the most popular or even hold that coveted first place in Google ranking. You just have to do what you love and love who are.
If you truly find that happy place with your business and yourself, then the success will come. Just remember that you are not limiting yourself by finding your niche, but instead allowing yourself the permission to excel.