When it comes to photography, there’s no such thing as “one size fits all.” From cameras to lenses, methods, styles, and the like, no two journeys or experiences will ever be quite the same. And that’s one of the most beautiful things about photography — it is literally brimming with unlimited potential and opportunities! The problem is that sometimes, especially when we’re first starting out, it can be hard to figure out which way is up, which direction is our direction, which style-lens-camera-method will help us reach our goals-dreams-aspirations. But I have some good news for you: this isn’t actually a problem at all. These opportunities and options that you find yourself with early on can actually be totally freeing and be an amazing way to start exploring and experimenting with the different paths your career could take you down. And here’s how.
Chances are if you’re thinking about becoming a photographer, you freaking LOVE taking photographs. And by “love,” I mean you spend every waking moment creating the photographs you’ve been dreaming up and can literally feel their energy flowing through you as they come to life before your eyes. How amazing is that?! The thing is, at one point or another, if you want to make a career out of photography, you’ll have to choose a direction. You’ll have to find a specialty or style of photography to focus on so that you can start to market yourself to the world and create a reliable income. But choosing one style of photography to focus your attention on can be super intimidating and, when we’re first starting out, feel almost risky or limiting. But I promise you, it’s actually the exact opposite.
There are a ton of different styles of photography that you could choose to focus on — way more than I could ever try to talk about in a single blog post much less an entire book. The important thing is to find one that really makes your heart sing, one that speaks to you on a super personal level and makes you feel excited to start shooting every day. And it’s important to take the time to think about this, especially when you’re first starting out. Start taking note of the things you love shooting the most, the things you don’t like so much, and how you like to present your work to others. Maybe you love shooting portraits of people, or maybe you love taking landscape shots — no matter where your lens guides you, as long as you have the passion and dedication there is a way you can make money from it.
So, for the sake of brevity (and, well, our sanity), I’ve pulled together a list of the 14 most common and most profitable styles of photography that you can focus your career around. And, I added some of images to reference from some of my favorite photographers in each of these genres, to give you an idea of what being a photographer in that field would look like. But wait! As you read these, make sure to ask yourself: does this make my heart skip? And when the answer is yes, listen closely to your heart and let it guide you. Because this is one of the most important steps to becoming a successful photographer — identifying your passion.
What better style is there to start with than lifestyle?! This photography style literally embodies everything beautiful, real, and sincere about our world and how we exist within it. It’s a lifestyle photographer’s job to take photos that mimic real life in a way that is both artistic and realistic, which can be a harder balance to strike than it sounds. Lifestyle photography basically asks the photographer to capture portraits of people in natural, real-life scenarios in a way that creates real feelings and emotions in the viewer. As a lifestyle photographer, you’re trying to tell a story with each photo you take, not by being a fly on the wall but by using your creativity to help stage real moments that communicate the beauty of the story that wouldn’t otherwise be easy to see. For example, if you’re a lifestyle photographer telling the story of a baker, you’d want to create an entire shoot day around the daily life of the baker: how they set up their shop, how they prep their cookie batter, how they greet customers, etc. You want the viewer to be able to feel what it’s like to live that life simply by viewing your pictures.
Advertising photography encompasses a little bit of everything. It can mean a super high-budget shoot or a super minimalistic low-budget project — it ultimately all comes down to the job itself. When you’re shooting for advertising, your images can be used for movie posters, print ads in magazines or newspapers, or even digital ads. The trick here is having a super specific, notable style to your work because typically that’s what you’re going to be hired for. Advertising campaigns tend to have a lot of creative direction associated with them with a very specific theme in mind. Usually a client will come to you with a concept in mind and then it’s your job to bring that concept to life! One of the biggest challenges that come along with advertising photography is that all your work ultimately comes down to one perfect image. In editorial pieces you can use five to ten pictures to tell a story, but with advertising you have to be able to tell that same story with the same amount of emotion with only one image.
Fashion photography is just what it sounds like — it focuses on capturing the fashion element of whatever is within the camera frame. This overlaps a bit with advertising photography, but is a bit more specific to clothing, style, and timely trends. And instead of working with advertising agencies, you’ll be working directly with brands. So, if you find yourself drooling over magazines and skimming through fashion blogs, this might be just the thing for you. Because to be a fashion photographer means bridging the gap between lifestyle and advertising in a way that allows your photos to be presented in a magazine editorial, where there is a story in the background but the focus stays on the fashion so the viewer can feel what it would be like to have the products or style in their own life.
Editorial photographers usually work pretty closely with magazines or publishers with the goal of telling a particular story often accompanied by a written piece. If you happen to have a relationship with a magazine or publisher, they’ll often give you a theme or story to go shoot, but when you’re starting out you’ll probably have to come up with the theme on your own and shoot it in the hopes of it getting picked up by a magazine through a pitching process. While it may sound like a tough route to take when you’re just getting started, it’s also so full of opportunity because there are tons of magazine and digital publishers out there looking for stories, you just have to find the right one!
© Matthew Williams
Commercial photography, which is often mistakenly referred to as brand photography, is a genre that focuses on crafting creative and fun images that help to sell a specific product or service. To do this, you’ll usually work super closely with a brand or business and your images could be used for anything from product packaging to advertising, Instagram promotion, etc. It’s a super diverse path to take and allows you to work with tons of different products and businesses.
© Mario Testino
Portraiture photography is just what it sounds like: taking portraits of people. But it’s also a super fun and creative career path to take. The ultimate goal of portrait photography is to take a simple but expressive photograph of a person in a way that really showcases who they are in a unique way. Sometimes this takes the form of senior portraits for students, portraits of newborns, maternity photos, corporate ID photos, headshots, or even celebrity portraits for magazine covers (the dream, right?). But portraits are more than just capturing someone’s face in good lighting — they’re about really capturing the essence of the person in the frame.
Wedding photography is super popular for a reason — what’s more fun than helping people remember one of the biggest moments of their life while people are laughing and dancing at every turn? But there’s so much more to wedding photography than just capturing the party. For example, you could take the Elizabeth Messina route (one of the most famous wedding photographers in the world) and work also with wedding magazines, bridal companies, etc. Or you could choose to specialize in different aspects of the wedding like engagement shoots or elopements.
© Lucy Laucht
If you find yourself with a constant craving for travel and love exploring new places, travel photography might be the perfect fit for you. Travel photographers literally get paid to travel and document the world around us. It has elements of lifestyle photography but with a global lens, which makes it a super fun option for people who can’t seem to put their cameras down when they visit a new place because they’re just obsessed with capturing the culture and lifestyle of the environment around them.
Documentary (aka Photojournalism)
© Sebastiao Salgado
At first glance, you might think that documentary photography (or photojournalism) is pretty similar to travel photography, but at their core they’re super different. Documentary photography focuses on capturing the real, raw truth of a place — no editing and no modifications. It’s all about keeping things natural and sincere to the environment or situation being captured.
Are you one of those people who just can’t resist taking a photograph of a gorgeous plate of food? Or a beautiful arrangement of fruits and veggies fresh from the farmer’s market? Then food photography might be right up your alley. When you’re a food photographer, your work can take you in all kinds of different directions. You could work with local restaurants, farms, or big-brand producers to help them show the world their products. Or you could even work with magazines to create editorials on specific brands, chefs, or producers. With food photography, the world is literally your oyster (sorry, I just couldn’t help myself!).
Product photographers photograph any type of product, be it stylized in photoshoots or in flats for e-commerce. Oftentimes this work will be done for new-product campaign launches for social media, advertising, or even just website product shots.
Blogger / Influencer
© Miren Alós
While this avenue may feel a little bit new, blog- or influencer-style photography is a super popular and approachable option for people who are also good at marketing themselves. If you love talking to people about the amazing new products you discover, or thrive off a strong sense of community, this might be the perfect way for you to find a successful career path as a photographer while also maintaining creative control over your work. This work can take a lot of forms, from traveling the world to lifestyle shots and flat-lays of sponsored products from brands that you talk about on your blog or social media accounts.
Beauty photography is ALL about (surprise!)…beauty! With an emphasis on selling makeup, skincare, hair products and jewelry, beauty photography encompasses a little bit of everything from advertising, to portraiture and editorial beauty photography tends to tell a story and feeling with each of its images.
Most people would think that architectural photography is as simple photographing buildings, but there’s so much beauty and art to it than that. Architectural photographers aim to capture an image that is beautiful but also an accurate depiction of the architecture and design of a space or building. An architectural photographer creates art from things people often overlook, a doorway, a rooftop, the front of a restaurant, a kitchen sink. An architectural photographer can bring any space to life and turn it into a work art.
Last but not least, there’s fine art photography. Fine art photography tends to focus more on conveying an idea, message, emotion, or even social commentary. It’s more of a medium for creative expression than it is a medium for selling a product, lifestyle, or idea. In many ways it’s defined by its indefinability — art is everything and anything, and if your photography focuses more on the conceptual or emotional, the fine art photography might be for you.
The most important thing to remember when you’re trying to discover which style of photography is for you, is that you don’t have to choose just one. The beautiful thing about photography is that it is so dynamic and ever-changing. Many of these styles that we just went over complement and overlap with one another in a way that makes it possible for you to be both a wedding photographer and a fashion photographer, or to be a travel photographer who focuses on documentary style photography. Choose a few of the options above that excited you and try to imagine how they might fit together, and how they might push and shape your style moving forward. This is not only how you’ll create a career in photography, but it’s what will really help you stand out and shape your unique identity as a photographer in the future.
AND If you feel like connecting with other female photographers who are on this journey with you, join our Private Facebook Community Group where you’ll be welcomed with open arms. It’s a place where you can share your work, find inspiration, and ask for advice from all of our amazing members. Click Here to join!