What’s your specialism? Styles and Signposts

Zoe_WhishawZoe Whishaw is a independent commercial photography consultant and mentor. She works with photographers on a one-to-one basis and runs seminars and workshops in and around London.

Aside from being functionally efficient, those looking to commission photography will want a photographer’s website to clearly indicate areas of speciality so they can more easily decide if you’re right for their job.

Are you offering uniqueness based on a specialty (eg adventure travel), access (eg the celebrity world), a skill (eg lighting) or a style/technique/treatment of photography? If possible try to make this brand differentiation based on something that is not easy to replicate. Limiting the scope of what you photograph will help you become more effective at penetrating your markets.

When you start out as a photographer, it often takes time to really work out what you want to express through your work and for your signature style to be evident. In fact your whole life as a photographer could be thought of as a journey spent honing and developing the essence of your visual language. It is this personal vision that demonstrates your love of the medium that ideally you want to be hired to express.

Art Buyers and Photo Editors who are actively commissioning photographers will want to know not just what you can shoot but what you really like to shoot; where your passion and excitement as a photographer lies. They will be looking through dozens of websites every day and if there aren’t clear signposts as to what’s on offer you will be easily overlooked.

In my work it is not uncommon to come across websites that feel muddled and cluttered with too many different image galleries alongside a mixture of styles, treatments and themes. In the end I am left wondering what this photographer’s specialism actually is and, given the confusion, who would want to risk their money hiring them. Today, more than ever, you need to stand out from those who try to be a jack-of-all-trades and show your difference. If you can’t differentiate yourself you’ll be competing on price…and then it’s a race to the bottom.

Ideally you need to show off the work you feel passionate about and aim your marketing towards those who are likely to want to hire you for your style and approach. Here are some thoughts on how to get there:

  1. To define your style, shoot loads and then shoot more. In the early days, don’t stop at a single theme or genre. Experiment with your angles, themes, cameras/lenses, lighting and subject areas. Your preferred area will emerge through this intensive process. Allow for many small mistakes and failures and use them indicate new directions.
  2. Don’t let your website galleries be guided only by what you are being commissioned to shoot especially if much of this isn’t your own personally-motivated speciality area. This can be a big mistake and inadvertently you can mould your offering into something that lacks true passion and self-belief.
  3. Ensure you always have a variety of personal projects on the go at any one time. These may range in scale from very short term almost playful daily explorations to more deeply-researched ideas you feel excited by that last months or even years. Show the best of the work from these projects if you feel it shows a creative progression or successfully demonstrates ideas you have explored.
  4. If you are aiming yourself towards the commercial marketplace give your image galleries clear labels so it is obvious what someone should expect to find (eg Lifestyle, Landscape, Portraits, Travel, etc) and keep the number of galleries to a handful (3 or 4 max). If you are more of a documentary photographer you may choose to show a broad range of tightly edited images from a range of different stories each with their own title accompanied by a short statement explaining the ideas behind each of the projects.
  5. Don’t use your portfolio as a dumping ground for all your work – nobody wants to wade through layers and layers of archive content, not least because of time constraints. Less is more. If you choose to host an archive on your site, make sure it is clearly separate from your portfolio galleries as it has a different purpose. It is still worth ensuring you edit and sequence this older work as you may be judged on its contents also.
  6. Do update your site regularly (2-4 times a year) to showcase strong new personal and commissioned work.

In essence, know what you’re good at; show what you’re good at.

 


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