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Photographers, remember: you need to make a decision. Shooting weddings, families, pets, bands, sports = jack of all trades, master of none.

(P.S. I'm mostly referring to photographers looking to actually making a LIVING at this. If it's just a hobby, sure, shoot whatever you want!)
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I proved that point to myself just last month. It's less stressful to stay in your comfort zone.
First rule of business, find a niche and fill it.
But... To make a check, sometimes you gotta do what ya gotta do.... I'd love to just shoot one thing or the other but.... That is real... But you are correct, though. 
While I agree completely, when you're trying to survive you're often forced to lead a mercenary lifestyle. Much as it'd be great to be able to "find a niche and fill it," with the market as saturated as it is, sometimes you just have to take what comes along if you wanna make rent this month.
I am a big fan of your work Jeremy. I have followed your Kelby Training videos and your CreativeLIVE session.

With regard to being a jack-of-all-trades, that isn't necessarily bad. Often specialists struggle. Perhaps you don't want to photograph everything but more than one thing or subject isn't wrong.

How would we classify Joe McNally? We certainly can't pigeon hole McNally. His subject matter is diverse. He shoots corporate photos to challenging National Geographic assignments.

I just thought I would throw this comment out there for your consideration.
McNally tends to focus on editorial and corporate work for his paid gigs, while dabbling in a bunch of different areas for personal stuff. Also, he gets a lot of his income from training, writing, and the like, so it frees him up to be a little more spread-out with his photo passions.

All the same, I don't think you'll see him shooting many weddings, events, pets, or the like. Even as a Photo Renaissance Man (of sorts), he still tends to have a theme with his work.
Some markets are saturated.... Niche change or relocate to survive.... Best doesn't always equal good business...
I can't speak for all photographers, but I didn't just arbitrarily pick the niches I work and live in. I focus on them because they are things that speak to me and things I truly enjoy photographing. I can no more up and change my passion overnight than I can up and move to a whole new state just because work is tough to find where I am. And while I focus on my niche and pursue it when I can, if someone comes to me and offers to pay me money to shoot their event/wedding/baby/pet rock, I'm gonna take it because I need to eat.
+Mike Ricca Agree with your comments. Key point is, McNally isn't limited or narrowly focused. Being a generalist doesn't imply you need to shoot weddings, pets, and architectural stuff. Rather, being a generalist allows you to pick and choose that which interests you, just as you have indicated in your second post.
I agree completely, +Jeremy Cowart!

+Mike Ricca I hear that, but you have to be careful, because what that usually ends up meaning is that you're helping yourself out for the day to day or making rent and bills, but you're really hurting you future opportunities for brand recognition, growth and the eventual ability to make a whole lot more than just rent and bills. You need to find the balance of making the present work out while setting yourself up for the best possible future. Being a jack of all trades will almost never lead to specificity, niche brand recognition or expertise in a given realm. It will just lead to more jack of all trades work.

Also, there's a big different between what you shoot and what you market. The bigger problem isn't taking on jobs outside your target niche, it's telling people about them. Even if you have to take on all sorts of work outside you target market, you can still have a very specific and focused marketing effort. I'm an Adventure Sports, Outdoor Lifestyle and Yoga photographer. That's it. I've shot weddings, I've shot random events, I've shot commercial gigs and environmental corporate portraits, you'll just never hear about them of see them on my website. If a good money gig comes along, and I've got the time to do, I'll do it. But it doesn't mean I'm going to water down my brand by blogging it or throwing up a wedding gallery on my website, no matter how good the shots are. Make sense?
True, but again, McNally is at the point in his career where he can afford to be a generalist. When he was starting out he was almost exclusively a news man. I'm all for generalism (I just love shooting, period) but it's true that the best way to succeed in building a career for yourself is to specialize if you can.

Note that the "if" in "if you can" is a huge one. Those of us with bills to pay or dayjobs to slave at often find ourselves limited on money or time and don't always have the luxury of specializing.
Really good point - I am wading trough this right now.
+Mike Ricca When you're employed, you do what the man wants. Not much mystery there. And, as we know, employed news positions are increasingly scarce.

Most photographers are having more challenging times now than they have in the past. Except for those rare photographers who shoot only what they want, when they want.

As far as the best way to succeed, I doubt that there is a best way to succeed. What works for you or McNally won't work for someone else. In a creative field such as photography and in these turbulent economic times, I expect that pathways to success are many and varied.

Even more challenging, I doubt we would agree on the definition of success.
Heh. My definition for success is simple: being able to quit my dayjob and live entirely off of my photography.

One day
+Mike Ricca I hope that you achieve your dreams soon and that being a full-time photographer matches or exceeds your expectations. I wish you luck and success.
My only problem with that is I "knew" I wanted to be a music photog from the start. Then I realized I liked doing portraits. Then I had a blast doing sports photography. I still don't like doing weddings, but that's another story. The thing is that, if I'd never tried these other things, I wouldn't have figured out that I really love doing them. I don't see me being a jack of all trades; I can't see me doing models, or fashion or architecture or pets or..... But I can see some overlap in my future. It's a constant evolution. And it's what I've learned as a music shooter that will make me a good sports shooter, and I can take my connections in both to give me the chance to be a better portrait photographer of musicians and athletes. At least that's how I see it today.
Don't mean to be ignoring the debate here guys. I'm arguing with others on Twitter about this haha. Hard to debate in 2 different places :)
Jill Greenberg. Jim Fiscus. Radiohead. LaChapelle. The Beatles. Leibovitz. Elvis. Antoin Corbin. U2.

They all kind of have "their ONE thing" don't they?
Sure, but most of them had the freedom to explore different things before finding and focusing on their ONE thing. How many Dublin dives did U2 play in the years leading up to their albums? I think it would've been a tad trickier for them if Bono was moonlighting as an accountant and Adam Clayton had a small shop he had to tend to during the day and the only time they had for rehearsing and gigging was on weekends and some evenings.
It's not impossible by any means, but it adds a whole new layer of challenge to building a career when you're a "Weekend Warrior" photographer.
I don't agree with you Jeremy, I don't have to be limited to a "speciality". To explore anything (and having a living of it) is part of what I love about to be a photographer, I don't need to be enclosed in any label in order to be one. Any new side of this profession is a new challenge for me, I don't want to be jack of only one trade, sorry.
I think I fall into the 'hobby' category so thankfully, I just shoot whatever I want on any given day. From a purely viewer based mindset though, I will say that I am typically more drawn to the work of those that do 'specialize' in only one or two things. There's no denying that when you focus on something specific, you will eventually excel at it.
Our culture is more A.D.D. than ever. We have a million things scrolling through our screens a day. Do you think people will remember the 3-5 things that you're pretty good at? Or do you think they'll remember that one thing that you blew their mind with?
+Jeremy Cowart Out of curiosity--and this might be best saved for a separate entry--how did you get to where you are today? Walk us through your career from your switch from design in 2005 to today. What were your big breaks? What got you started? How did you start landing the big jobs, the celebrity portraits, the bill-paying gigs? And a possibly pointed question: if you were a workaday schlub with a passion for photography (but also bills to pay and a family to feed), where would you go? What would you do?
Laryn P
I agree - I've challenged myself to learn diff forms - and I came back to portraits. (why I love following your posts/work) That's where I've made money off of small jobs lately. Other types - not so much. I think that you can master all different forms of lighting - that should be the challenge, test, goal, strength, end results - whatever :) Also, happy to see a succesful photographer lending their time to non-profits.
I've had a hard time with this as I enjoy a lot of different subject matter, but after a few years of shooting, I think I'm finally starting to find my niche.

I think this really is one of the hardest decisions for up-and-coming photographers to make.
+Jeremy Cowart I respectfully disagree. It is quite possible for a pro photographer to be excellent at two or more fields. Sometimes they don't want to be pigeon-holed. Sometimes they work in a small area where the limited number of clients means you'd have to take on a variety of subjects or you'd go broke. I'm based in Queenstown, New Zealand, a beautiful part of the world and one with many photographers, but one where it's hard if not impossible to make a living with just one type of photography. Many of the pros here juggle it very successfully. Take +MILES HOLDEN for example - world class ski sports photographer or top wedding photographer? Or why not both? Or +Stefan Haworth who seems able to turn his hand successfully to any type of photography he tries. (I'd recommend circling both too!) Bottom line, it is possible to be passionate about and commercially successful at more than one type of photography - and for some of us, a necessity, but never a compromise.
+Gordon Laing I have both circled! Thanks for going on the other side of the argument. Personally I got into photography because there's so many different types. I easily get bored of the same thing so photography is my thing. It is also good to be flexible so you can take on different projects. I also admire artists that work with many different styles.
There are a trillion replies. I agree with your post, +Jeremy Cowart , however, I think it takes time to figure that out. You've got to shoot everything and anything to get the experience, and also feel out what they truly enjoy shooting. It's not just shooting- it's also dealing with people. Some people may not have the personality for certain areas but they can't figure that out without the experience. Right?
is a "Jane of all trades" lol.... I'm the typical starving artist :)
I think you should be able to shoot all,
shooting portraits and weddings is also dealing with landscape sometimes. Shooting bands is also like shooting portraits, pets can be too. I think its being good at using the camera and being able to shoot what job comes your way, but being really good or even specializing in one particular area of photography makes you a master of your niche.
+Gordon Laing I appriciate what Jeremy is saying here however some photographers that live in smaller towns end up having to adapt across a variety of subjects.... Saying that not being a specialist will equal mastering none is short sighted. But still a great discussion and to be honest I have always been a believer in what +Jeremy Cowart is saying....However its not best as a pro photographer to list 30 different subjects and say you can shoot them all, that is a sure sign of a newbie..There's my 5 cents...Great question Jeremy!
Thanks +Jeremy Cowart! I needed to hear this... again. And please re-post this in a few weeks as I´ll surely need to hear it again.
Wonder what +Rick Sammon would say to this debate. He always seems to say that he 'specialises in not specialising'. He seems to make a good living at it too!
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