tonia johnston photography | finding your specialty

finding your specialty

February 25, 2014

I mentioned in my last post that most photographers specialize in something(s). I know that for a new photographer this can be slightly confusing - or at least it was for me. The more I read, the more confused I became. How the heck was I going to find something to specialize in? How was this supposed to be done and make money. I just wanted to shoot - everything!

For me it was a process. I found it hard to narrow down what I thought I WANTED to shoot VS what I thought I NEEDED to shoot. It was a game of "I can't turn down this potential job because I need to make some money and get my name out there but I really am not feeling this." And I found out, I don't enjoy shooting everything! I would go on sessions and then come home and feel miserable. I didn't want to load the images because I had that sinking feeling that every single one of them would be horrible and I just didn't want to see it. The images would always come out fine. People were happy. But I hated turning them over.

I finally sat myself down and had a nice long talk myself. I made the decision that this is MY business and I will run it the way I want to and that meant accepting or rejecting jobs based on certain criteria. I did not want to wake up 5 years down the road still trying to find my niche, shooting things I didn't enjoy shooting and ultimately loosing my love of photography. I finally took the time to figure out how to find what to specialize in and boy, did I feel stupid because it was so simple. Shoot what gives me joy. Shoot what I love. That just happens to be High School Seniors and Sports.

One of the biggest benefits I have found in specializing is that marketing is so much easier. Don't get me wrong..I don't have it all figured out yet and don't think I ever will since things are constantly changing but I am shooting my target market more and more and I love it! I am excited to get to my sessions and I am excited when I come home.

Does this mean that I don't shoot anything else? No, I still do. I just make sure that I don't "practice" on someone else's dime. I had to give myself permission to say no if and when I needed to and I make sure it fits in my wheelhouse (I've already practiced and feel comfortable shooting it). And I don't just say no and walk away. If I can direct them to another photographer who I know shoots what they want and do it well, I have no problem referring people. It's been a while now since I've gone out on a shoot and come home feeling like I've failed.

True story - when I started seriously shooting, I'd go in my backyard and shoot these pink flowers. I'd go out a few times a day and shoot under different light conditions several times a week. This went on for about a month or so and it got to the point where I was cursing the pink flower bush before, during and after shooting but I would not give up until I felt like I had 20 technically good images in a row. Of course, I never felt that way because of the whole "perfectionist" issue. Those flowers made me angry, made me frustrated, made me cry, made me shake my fist and stamp my feet. I was  out there with the bugs, in the water, in the heat and in the drizzle. I'm positive my husband was tired of any conversation that started with "those &%^*$^% flowers! If I have to shoot them one more day...." I shot until I felt like I could move onto something else. I went from flowers to shoes to jewelry - anything I could get my hands on.

When I started, I knew I wanted to shoot people! ONLY people! but those dang flowers...Now when I see them I'm kinda grateful because without those things, I wouldn't have found out that I also love shooting product.

So while I've narrowed down what I love to shoot, I keep an open mind. Just because today I shoot one thing doesn't mean that 5 years from now things won't change.

Keep plugging away, keep shooting what you love and challenging yourself and you'll have your aha moment.

with love,