What's Your Specialty?

Mara Serdans Posted by Mara Serdans on Aug. 7, 2013

You’ve heard the phrase, “jack of all trades, master of none,” right? Repeat that mantra to yourself next time you think of telling an art producer that you can shoot everything. Photographers may think they have an edge in getting hired if they can shoot everything but that’s not the case. Here’s why.

Let’s compare your situation to that of an athlete. Olympians and professional athletes rarely specialize in more than one sport. OK, Michael Jordan dabbled in golf but he realized soon enough that basketball was his forte. You should think of your career as a photographer the same way. Olympians spend hours each day honing their talent and skills so that they can be the best in a single sport. Yes, most of them are born with a certain amount of talent. But rarely do they get to compete as such a level without putting in years of blood, sweat and tears.

Having a specialty will only help your career as a photographer. It’s a lot easier to identify and target your market. In turn, it’s easier for art producers to pick you out of a large pool of your competitors. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I hired a photographer because he/she could shoot everything well. It’s confusing and in a strange way, you become less memorable.

So how do you pick your specialty? Think like an Olympian. Focus on your strengths and choose the specialty that you really love. Don’t try to force yourself into a wrong fit and don’t pick a specialty just for the money. Art producers can usually sniff this out. An Olympian has a coach and a team of people who tweak their diets and devise optimal fitness sessions based on the his/her strengths and weaknesses. Be your own coach and carve out a training program to highlight your talent. Do some test shoots or assign yourself a personal project to figure out your forte. Ask someone to review your work to help identify your strengths and weaknesses.

That said, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to have a couple specialties that relate to one another. I know what you’re thinking. Before you tell me I’m a hypocrite, here’s an example. Let’s say you’re a travel photographer who just got hired to shoot a campaign for The Canadian Tourism Commission. The client wants someone who can shoot different places, and capture the culture and spirit of Canada. This may require the photographer to shoot beautiful environments, people and food. In this case, the specialties are relatable so it makes sense. If you’re shooting food, it’s probably at a restaurant (not a studio) and the people you’re shooting are not going to be photographed on an elaborate set — they’re going to be shot in the environment. Makes sense, right?

Naturally, it takes time to figure out your specialty. So just remember to think like an Olympian — keep it focused and you’ll finish first.

Image Credit: John Goode