Specialize, Do Not Generalize
Early on, when I was still shooting B&W film, I wanted to be like Ansel Adams and shoot nothing but beautiful landscapes. Then I came to the realization that I lived downtown in a major city with very little cash, so it was nearly impossible for me to travel to exotic locations. So being a landscape photographer was a no-go. Then I turned my attention to sports photography, mostly because I wanted access to all the big games. But then I ended up standing side-by-side with 20 other photographers with the same camera, the same gear, and the same cotton-blend cargo shorts; not to mention that all the sports photographers boast the same amount of experience, if not decades more! And BTW, sports photography is a lot harder than it looks. It requires lots of planning and thorough analysis of the game/teams that you are planning on shooting. So, then I wanted to be the “everything” photographer – the guy that can maneuver from fashion, to catalog, to product, to weddings, to everything under the sun without breaking a sweat. In other words, I wanted to be the MacGyver of photographers.
But, the reality check for me was that people love MacGyver types in the world of secret agents and life-or-death scenarios…NOT photography. In the world of lens, light, and shutter speed, I was a generalist. And, I quickly found out that no one likes a generalist.
We all want specialists. A German car owner wouldn’t take his vehicle to a Toyota mechanic. Actually these days, even a Toyota owner wouldn’t take their car to a Toyota mechanic! Wink Wink Jab Jab (Insert live audience laughter sound bit here). The same goes for photography. You have to specialize. My good friend Jamie Conlan, who I’ve assisted a number of times, helped me to come to this realization as he went through a similar process himself a number of years ago.
I’m not going to lie, it’s a (painstaking) process and you’re not going to figure it out overnight. Sure we all want to hit the big time gigs, but you first have to determine what kind of photos you want to take. And that’s an internal exploration.
I’m still trying to figure it out myself, to a limited extent. I have much more clarity, now than when I first picked up a camera.
From a goal perspective, who do you want to shoot for? Or what kind of images will you enjoy and never grow weary of even when exposed to on a daily basis? When the answers become apparent to you, start tailoring your portfolio to match your goals. It may take years, but the exploration will only make you stronger.