Photography Career Paths: Which One Is Better For You?

Just like in any other creative profession (or any profession at all) there are a lot of different paths to choose from. And just like in any other profession, you have to pick one of them. With photography it is no different: there are a lot of photography career paths to pick from.

Being a “Jack Of All Trades” means that you will be recognized as someone who is able to do everything but you can do nothing.

Think about that person that someone just calls when everything goes wrong. Being a “Jack Of All Trades” means you won’t be the first option for any gigs people might think of… Unles, it is low paying.

Specialization means more money. Being a generalist means less money.

When starting out, you might feel confused with a lot of different careers paths to choose from. Indeed, photography is an amazing career because it allows you to choose from an enormous range of possibilities, even mixing out already existing careers.

Before we dive into the career paths in itself, let’s talk about the importance of picking your niche, defining your audience and specializing.

Why Specialization Will Save Your Career

I suppose (unless you have lived under a rock till now) you, in your life, might have needed to hire a professional to provide you some service you wanted, right?

And when you wanted a service, what type of professional have you hired? Someone who knew what they were talking about or just some random guy out there?

The thing is: Many people say they want or value a generalist, and they think they do, but when it comes down to it, they pick a specialist every time.

Let’s say you have been accused of murder. Your life is in line and you might end up in prison by the rest of your life if your defense does not do you justice.

You have three options of lawyers to hire:
1- Lawyer
2- Tax Lawyer
3- Law & Criminal Lawyer

Which one would you pick?

Well, unless you’re mentally healthy and don’t want to spend the rest of your days in jail, I would definitely advise you to pick a law and criminal lawyer.

While the analogy might seem a little bit distant since we are talking about law, the same applies to creative professions.

When it comes to jobs, the more specialized you are in something, the more knowledge and perceived value you’ll have.

One of the biggest fears I hear creative artists talking about, is the fear that if they specialize they won’t have enough clients to make a living. The thing is: this is exactly the opposite.

The more specialized you are, the more you’ll be able to charge for your services and more people will actually come searching for you. The logic behind this comes from the fact that you will be a big fish in a small pound and not a small fish in a big pound.

How Can I Specialize In Something?

Specialization often comes from two major factors:

1- Picking a niche
2- Setting your style

Picking a niche means, basically, choosing your career path. And this is exactly what we are going to talk about in this blog post.

Picking a niche means that you’ll need to find a limited (in size and subject) portion of the market to work on. You’ll do different types of job inside that niche, varying from style, but still inside of that range.

Being a photographer is not enough. Just inside of photography there are a lot of different niches for you to pick up from: fashion, editorial, food, wedding, etc.

It does not mean, of course, that you’ll only be able to do that type of work for the rest of your life. However, when it comes to marketing your work, you’ll need to make sure that you’ll be recognized by that particular kind of job. Basically, the purpose of this strategy is to become a reference in the market.

When it comes to style, we are taking things a little bit further.

Let’s take fashion/editorial photography for example. There are tons of editorial/fashion photographers out there. Just by itself, it equals to some kind of specialization.

However, each one of them has its own unique style and this is what differs them from each other. I’m pretty sure you know a lot of photographers who work in the same niche but has complete different styles.

This is the second part of specialization and definitely something you need to work, build and experiment during your whole career.

I once heard that, taking a 40-year career, for example, you’ll have to change your style, at least, 5 times. Trends change, things change so, be aware that your style will not be something set in stone but something totally fluid and adaptable, but still capable of printing who you are as a creative.

Well, enough with the chit-chat. Let’s explore some of the possibilities you’ll have as a photographer. Keep in mind that these are not set in stone and you can blend, modify and mix them as well.

Food Photography

Food photography is definitely one of the funniest markets you could ever get. Imagine that besides of taking photos you could also eat it all… How perfect can it be?

Well, of course we are not talking about the real world here… Well, maybe, who knows? He

Anyway, food photography means that the models for your work will be food.

If you’re considering food photography, you might considering acquiring some equipment. Food usually don’t work so well in natural light, making it a good thing to work with artificial lights, such as strobes or speedlights. A macro lens can also be a good investment if you’re really considering food photography.

Despite all the investments you’ll need to make if you’re considering this career path, you can be sure that you’ll see a good return in all the money you might end up spending.

You can work for a gigantic number of industries, since the people who are in need for a food photographer can range from big/small restaurants to specialized food magazines/websites.

Since this is a specialization of commercial photography, most of your work can still be published in advertisements, magazines, packaging, menus and cookbooks. They key here will be finding and aiming for the right clients.

You’ll also need to make sure that you will not be working alone on this one. Food photography is usually a collaborative process between art directors, cooker, food stylist, prop stylist and, of course, you.

Product Photography

In product photography, you should get ready to take a lot of photos of… Well, products.

This industry is an extensive one and it means that you are going to have a lot of possibilities when it comes to finding jobs.

Basically, every business that sells some kind of product might need a product photographer, which creates a pretty vast market, full of opportunities.

One of the greatest things about this industry is that it has a great rate of turnover. It means that products are constantly entering the market, which needs to be marketed and, consequently, are an opportunity for you.

Products that might caught your attention as a product photographer include: perfumes, wines, clothes, makeup, etc. The higher the attached value of a certain product/industry is, the higher you’ll be able to charge for your services.

But don’t you think that this is just an industry where you’ll go and take some photos of some random products. Product photography walks side by side with marketing, which means that the more creative you are, the higher the chances you’ll have to stand out as a product photographer.

Fashion Photography

Ah, the fashion industry.

So beautiful yet so dangerous. Fashion photographers are often recognized as the rockstars of photography

Although highly rewardable, this can be a pretty difficult career to chase. Mostly because there are a lot of good photographers and, for you to REALLY stand out you’ll need to step up your game and have the right people around you.

At early stages, just like any other career, you might wanna consider working for free. This is kind of normal in the industry, which is something that will make you never complain about weddings again.

One of the factors that come into play when it comes to fashion photography is location. Location is definitely important, since the closest you are from big centers and fashion agencies, the more chances you have of being hired for jobs.

If you’re serious about fashion photography, you should definitely know that you are going to invest, not only in equipments, but also in techniques. Color correction, Photoshop, Lightroom and basic/advanced retouching should be part of your arsenal. Lighting is also a must when it comes to fashion photography.

Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is definitely the easiest path for you to follow as a photographer. It all comes down to the fact that landscapes are one of the easiest of all photographic subjects. Basically, it all comes down to finding a nice view in the right lightning and BAM! Well, if life was that easy…

Although the beginning of this career path can be pretty simple, if you’re really looking into making a career out of this, you’ll find that there is much more to this simple subject than meets the eye.

For instance, one of the things you should be focusing the most is to develop a style that it’s your trademark and is able to capture your viewer’s attention. Those who succeed are always able to offer their services to a wide range of clients.

Landscape photography is definitely a good option when it comes to clients. Big channels such as National Geographic and Discovery Channel are always looking for landscape photographers, while you can also work at a local level, calling and making connections with art galleries, museums, bookstores, etc.

Business Photography

When it comes to business photography, it is said that you’re going to be working mostly for the corporate world.

Here, you can work both for aspiring companies and Fortune 500 ones.The possibilities are endless.

Entrepreneurship is growing year after year and, more and more, people are realizing the dream of owning their own business. As a business photographer it means that you’ll be able to get more jobs more easily.

People in this industry usually need photography services to make their products/facilities more appealing. And this will be exactly your job.

On the more “amateur” level, you can work directly with startups that are trying to make their way into the competitive world of capitalism. Usually, selling “visual identity” packages can do you good, since most of the information that lies on the internet is visual, you can definitely take some good advantage of this.

On the end side of the scale, big companies may also need your services as well. Members of these companies, facilities, events, visual identity… You can also work offering these companies these services.

Services you can offer as a business photographer include:
Business headshots
Facilities photography
Events coverage

Real Estate Photography

Photography has never been more important for Real Estate than it is nowadays. With the market heating up and competition as well, real estate agents need to think outside the box to make their properties more appealing to their clients.

This is when you come in.

As a Real Estate photographer, your job is not only to take pictures of properties, but to tell the story that lives inside each of these properties. People don’t buy houses or condos, they buy the stories they’ll be able to tell within.

Use your creativity, aligned with good techniques in order to make sure you’ll get the best out of each property, making both client and real estate agents happy.

Since this is such a high priced market, there is no need to be afraid to charge higher prices for your services, since money is definitely not a problem in this industry.

The downside of this career path is that most people in real estate don’t think they really need a real estate photographer, but they can just take the pictures themselves. In that case, your job here should be to convince them that your photos will add value to the property, which might add to the property’s ticket price as well.

If you’re considering becoming a real estate photographer, there are a few things you need to pay attention to. Investing in good equipment, especially wide-angle lenses is definitely a must. Besides that, if you can really work along with a 3d software in order to create even more value for your services.

Lifestyle Photography

Have you ever heard of Instagram?

While this question might seem totally unnecessary, it unveils some of the latest trends in today’s society.

It is no doubt that Instagram has become one of the most successful social networks nowadays, especially after being acquired by Facebook. In that case, people have created a new culture around that, and this is what you should be aware of.

Being a lifestyle photographer means you are going to have to take beautiful photos, from beautiful people, in order to fake happiness.

No, I was just kidding. Not too much though, I would say.

In order to succeed doing lifestyle photography you’ll need to be able to understand how Instagram works, what people really want to see in this social network, what people that have huge following are doing and how you can take the best out of your clients to show that they are having the closest to a perfect life possible.

The downside of this career path is that, well… Lifestyle photography is not what you would want for your career in terms of money.

Usually, lifestyle photographers work for a trade. They take photos of famous/almost famous Instagram accounts in trade of visibility. Sometimes, you might end getting some paid gigs, but they won’t have a high ticket price as well.

You should consider lifestyle photography if you want to spread your name and become more famous online. Keep in mind that you’ll might end up needing to close other types of deals to pay your bills. And no, the rhyme was not intentional.

Wildlife Photography

If you’re looking for an adventure, than wildlife photography is definitely for you.

Have you ever wondered how those incredible lion images are made? Well, no one better than a wildlife photographer to do it.

Most people that advance in this field says that they are completely realized, scoring one of the highest happiness rates among the different fields of photography.

The downside of this career path is definitely money. Exclusive wildlife photographers only make an average of $28,000 per year, which can barely cost the basic expenses of a simple lifestyle. If you’re serious about becoming a wildlife photographer, you will definitely consider some side gigs to complement your income

Ad Photography

I decided to make this a separate career path because it is a specialized ramification of different career paths.

Ad photography works side by side with a lot of different photography career paths: fashion, product, editorial, landscape, etc. Basically, whichever types of photography can be made an ad, it will fit as an ad photography.

The main thing about this career path is that photography and marketing need to merge themselves into just one thing. This is not just about photography anymore.

You’ll need to be able to make any product visually appealing and abuse of every mental triggers to make your ads successful. Besides photography, marketing is definitely a skill you should be improving in order to make the most out of ad photography.

Since we are talking about ads we are talking about money. You can definitely charge high prices if you become a renowned ad photographer, especially if you are able to offer packages which include more than just photos itself.

Wedding Photography

Wedding photography is definitely one of the most common and popular types of photography you can possibly think of. This is definitely one of the first career paths newbie photographers stumble when they are looking for which career path to follow.

One thing is definitely true: you won’t run out of gigs if you become a wedding photographer. People make wedding parties all the time and they usually want it all captured so that they can remember it for their lives.

This is one of the reasons why many photographers do wedding photography in between jobs. It is definitely an “easy” gold mine.

It is also relatively easy to get into this market. Everyone knows, at least, someone who is getting married, so you won’t find it too difficult to start in the market. However, it might take you a while if you’re aiming for the big fish.

However, wedding photography still has its downsides.

With the great amount of opportunities, still comes competition. We are definitely talking in our side of the equation, as photographers… But we cannot forget our client’s side as well. Clients in this industry will definitely look for the cheapest photographer who will be able to offer the best value. So, do expect for some low-pricing war.

Besides that, when it comes to wedding parties, people want to cut costs. And photography is definitely one of them. One of your biggest challenges for you, as a photographer, will be to find a way to reframe your client’s mind and make them perceive your services, not as costs, but as an investment.

Another downside to this career path is that it has an average ticket price. While some people might throw some big wedding parties, others might be on a budget. You’ll definitely need to watch out to not being stuck on the low paying ending of the line.

Events Photography

This is also a very popular photography career path due to the fact that it is quite easy for new photographers to start at.

The world of event photography is huge: It covers concerts, dance festivals, conferences and much more! Since the entertainment industry is pretty huge nowadays and growing day after day, you’ll have plenty of field to work on.

Just as any other industry, the more money it runs in a certain circuit, the more you’ll be able to charge for your services.

This is a pretty easy industry to get into, since you’ll be able to shoot for small parties, birthdays, local concerts and other stuff, as a way to get experience. However, at this point in your career you won’t be able to charge much for your services, and this is where most photographer that opt for this career path give up.

As you grind and continue to climb up your career ladder, you’ll find more opportunities and you’ll be able to cover more events. However, to quote Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility”. You’ll definitely need to invest in specialized gear, such as telephoto lenses, for example, if you’re considering concert photography.

Sports Photography

Sports Photography is an incredibly huge and vast market and still something that few people talk about, due to not being so popular among photographers.

If you’re considering to take sports photography as a career path you should definitely be passionate about sports. You’ll need to specialize in a lot of different types of sports events.

Two different sports will never be the same to shoot. Take for example F1 and football. You’ll have to make use of completely different techniques in order to really capture the feeling of these sports.

If you’re still questioning yourself about how huge the sports industry can be, just take your time and observe how many sports events there are, just in television, right now. Chances are that you’ll find almost 24 hours or sports content, ranging from all types of different modalities.

However, if money is your first choice, you might want to re-consider becoming a sports photographer.

Unfortunately, if you’re starting out, the only media company you’ll have by your side will be local newspapers and magazines which are basically small and won’t have much money to pay for staff, which means that you’ll basically work on a volunteer basis. This is a great way to begin your professional career though.

If you’re aiming for the big boys, like ESPN and Sports Illustrated, you can get $2,000 for the front cover, which will take effort, contacts in the industry and a huge dose of impact.

What Will Dictate Your Earnings?

Basically, the more money a certain industry has the more you’ll be able to charge for your services. This is basic economy that most photographers don’t even know it exists.

For example, let’s take two different types of industry: Real Estate & Photojournalism.

In one hand we have Real Estate Photography. How much does a property costs? Exactly, the base value for all products in this industry is pretty high and you can take that to your advantage. Due to its high prices, you can charge higher values because they’ll be able to pay themselves and your services will be a good way to add value to their industry.

On the other hand, we have photojournalism. Print media is pretty much dead by now and most media channels have migrated to online platforms, offering their articles for free, solely relying on subscription or ad-monetization. In this case, you won’t be able to charge too much for your services because well, the industry is pretty much drowning.

While there are other variants to this case, this is a good base start and might be a good help when it comes to assisting you in which career to pick.

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