As a freelance writer I must have heard a thousand times. “Write what you know.” But I would expand that phrase to “Write what you know and love.”
The second command is fairly easy to follow. We all gravitate towards what we know and love, and if you’re a writer, you know that no one else can write the way you do.
Not necessarily so with picture-taking. When I entered the photography market I held a spanking new SLR camera, just like all the other professionals were using, and wondered how my picture of a landscape could ever be different from anyone else’s.
Sure I could twist and lie on the ground and wildly change perspectives, but in the end how is my shot really all that different? How could I create a niche for myself that no one else could fit into, or a style that was all my own?
For me it went something like this:
Niche + Style = Photographic Career
My Niche: I live in the beautiful foothills of the San Pedro Wilderness, with access to stunning landscapes and crumbling Southwest architecture. I moved here because physically and spiritually I was drawn to the land and its beauty.
Viola—this is my niche.
My Style: Finding my style was harder. One day as I was shooting a sunset over a small mountain lake, I turned around and discovered that the landscape behind me was lit as if the sun were a black light from a 70s hippie pad.
I took the shot, and upon downloading my days work that was my favorite photo—but it still looked bland and almost colorless compared to what my eyes had beheld in person. At first I thought my camera was defective. I began to play with Photoshop until the scene emerged as I remembered it. . . a veritable fairy tale path.
That was when I had my light bulb experience. As I looked at that wonderland which I had created with just an SLR and Photoshop, I remembered my ex-husband telling me that I was living in a fairy tale and that life isn’t a fairy tale.
I studied my dreamy, beautiful photo of a dirt road leading to my cabin, and thought, “If I live in a fairy tale, and this is the path leading to me, then this must be a Fairy Trail.”
With that, my artistic style was born. I named my gallery of photography, “Fairy Trails Gallery; Portals to Paradise” and ever after I’ve manipulated my landscape photos in post-production to fit my style.
Your Niche is What You Know
Finding your niche may take some time. . . but spend that time; it’s not wasted. After all, with every photo you take (or painting you make, if you’re a painter) you’ll learn something about your craft.
Go out regularly, taking photos. Don’t overthink it, just shoot what you enjoy. Soon you’ll begin to realize what your favorite subjects are, and what your niche might be—it’s what you photograph most often.
Think about where you live. Do you live there by birth or choice? Did you relocate there? Do you love your area, inspired by its beauty? If so, you may be a natural landscape photographer, not a portrait photographer cooped up in a studio all day.
Conversely, if you are captivated by people’s expressions and individual beauty, you may very well be a portrait photographer. You may live in a city where you don’t even like to go outside.
You might also find beauty in a fallen leaf floating in the oil-slick of a city puddle and count yourself among the street photographers documenting city life.
There are innumerable niches between these three extremes.
Your Style is What You Love
Everyone has preferences in art. Take time to peruse the internet, read articles and tutorials, and discover what you like. Just don’t bog yourself down with information.
You’ll find that reading just one article or looking at one portfolio will inspire several ideas and urges. Act on them. Write them down in one place. One day you will see the common thread among them.
Is there something that people have accused you of all your life, like me living in a fairy tale? Often times those criticisms are our strengths being misinterpreted by others. Think about it. Is there a connection between those accusations and the subjects you love to shoot and/or the way you choose to edit your photos?
Are you adept at interpreting subtle nuances? Do you prefer things sliced and clean as a minimalist? The fact is, whatever you are, that is your style—simple as that.
Keep shooting. In time your niche and style will be exposed as surely and as inevitably as a camera exposes film.
Aggie Villanueva uses computer-manipulated photography to share her unique view of the world. Explore her art at CielosRojos.com.