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Freelance Photography — Should you specialise?

Do you specialise in your freelancing? I’ve been giving this subject a bit of thought lately as these days I seem to be specialising in landscapes. It wasn’t a deliberate choice; it has just happened. Admittedly, I like it.

When I started freelancing I specialised in pictures of kids doing things but that was just because I had the subjects on hand and a camera always ready. I was fairly successful with black and white prints that were sold regularly to Nursery World and Child Education among others. I invited these magazines to hold prints on file if they wished and I often had pictures published some years after I had submitted them — I think the record was something like eight years. As a bonus, several pictures were used twice, several years apart with the added cheque out of the blue being very welcome. That sort of specialisation was, I suppose, specialisation of opportunity.

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One of my black and white pictures used to illustrate an item in Junior Education (UK)

Most of us have these, whether they be at work or at home. If you have a craft hobby, you probably know others with a similar hobby who could provide photo opportunities and, as most hobbies have some sort of publication allied to them, there are market opportunities, too.

Then there is the specialisation that relies on you having a particular interest in the subject such as nature, landscapes, science, cars, bicycles, nudes, and so on. All of these have their own press and the obvious advantage in specialising in any of them is that your name will become known by the specialist publications you are targeting. I have not mentioned the photographic press as I have assumed that, like most freelance photographers, that has been your first port of call.

I seem to have fallen into my current specialisation of landscapes by default but that does not preclude me from shooting potentially saleable subjects either when found by chance or being sought out because I have recognised their sales potential.

To that end, I have recently been shooting indoors some generic type close up shots that could be used to illustrate a variety of subjects. Winter might be an ideal time for you to experiment with this approach, too. It can be done with fairly simple equipment and often with window light. If you don’t have a macro lens then extension tubes or close-up lenses are useful and a tripod is essential because of the very close focusing.

My research about specialisation shows that there seem to be as many varied views on it as there are on many things photographic. Lee Frost in his popular book, Photos That Sell, (David and Charles, 2001, ISBN 0 7153 1115 8) recommends that you diversify as much as you can even if some of your non-specialist subjects are only covered in a small way. But Charlie Waite, one of Britain’s leading landscape photographers, told me, “Somebody gave me a tip many years ago. It was the old adage of not being a jack of all trades and a master of none. ‘Specialise and be memorable for your speciality and don’t do anything else’ I was advised.” Charlie, however, did add a rider, “I am not necessarily sure that it is the right tip for everybody.”

Which advice you follow is a personal choice and much depends upon the size of the market for your type of specialisation and the time you have available. And also whether you have a desire to picture anything and everything or are more focused on a subject that fascinates you.

I suggest that, for your own development and income, you always keep an open mind about subjects to put into your portfolio and be aware of all possibilities.

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