When I first left the bank and started pursuing photography, industry professionals would ask what I wanted to specialize in. They would tell me that I needed a style and specialization in order to succeed as a professional photographer. I didn’t want to believe them. I thought I had learned a lesson in my investment banking career. All throughout college I wanted to be an investment analyst. This was in the mid 90s and the stock market was on fire. Analysts were on CNBC making calls that made people and institutions money. I wanted to be that guy. I didn’t know what the day to day activities of a sell-side analyst were yet I had picked that as my dream job. When I achieved my goal I became disillusioned. It wasn’t all glamour and praise for making people money. It was research and sales. And in many cases it involved me learning (or trying to learn) technical information that I cared nothing about. My goal with photography would take a different path. I would shoot everything and let the work guide me to where I should be. That method has worked but I wonder if I had figured out what I wanted to specialize in ten years ago would I be in a different place today?
Why specialize? Because photo buyers, editors, creative directors, etc… want to know that you are their guy when they need to color in a certain box. If they need a gritty, black and white fashion photographer they can call X, if they need a beauty portrait photographer that specialized in women of color they can call Y. I write about this today because I heard from a friend that someone didn’t want to hire me because they had looked at my work and decided that my work didn’t suit what they were looking for. At first I was defensive because I know what they are looking for and I wanted to show them that I can shoot that type of look and that I have done it before. But then I remembered they were looking for a specific color crayon and I wasn’t it.
As I progress with my career the path gets narrower. Although I am constantly trying to keep my work fresh and updated my style and personalization continue to guide me. I can’t be all things to all people. I just need to be the right photographer for the right people.
Case in point. I love music. I love shooting bands. The most recent photo book I bought was Danny Clinch’s Still Moving. I love looking at those iconic photographs and wishing it was me that made them. As much as I am capable and have a love of music there are people better at it than I am. These people live and breathe music. They want to start their day at 10 PM, sleep in the tour bus and don’t mind shooting countless shows in venues with horrible sound and worse lighting. That is not me. And that is OK.