Should a photographer focus on one type of photography and attempt to create a recognizable brand/style or should he/she continually venture into new and different areas? I have read several opinions arguing both sides of the topic. I think there are pros and cons to both arguments. In the end however, I think a photographer is best served by following their own creative vision, which may be a single style or may be several.
Some photographers are very well branded because of their style and/or subject matter; Ansel Adams and Annie Leibovitz just to name a couple. I probably spend more time looking at other photographers’ images than I should, but I find that I can often identify the photographer by the image itself, especially for genre specific photographers. I’m not always 100% accurate, but more so than not. For example, Michael Goh of Astrophotobear is very recognizable for both his style and subject matter. There are a lot of very good astrophotographers out there but his works stands out to me. But even then, he will occasionally posts images that have nothing to do with astrophotography – and they are just as stunning.
An example of a phenomenal portrait photographer I follow is Kelly Schneider of Captured Journeys Photography. He too has a very recognizable style for most of his images, especially his female portraits. Again, when I am quickly scrolling through my photography feeds on my phone or desktop, I can spot his images almost immediately. Only rarely have I seen one of his images without a person in it – usually some sort of wedding ceremony. Whether on purpose or just a result of his work over time, his work definitely has a recognizable style. His work is gorgeous and stunning. I only wish I could get portraits as great as his. I can only assume he loves doing this type of photography. As a result of his style, he has quite a few followers and I’m sure a good clientele base as well.
Then there are the photographers that are all over the map in terms of subject matter and style. One of my personal favorites is Bernhard Beser. He simply has some amazing images that include portraits, landscapes, nudes, abstracts, to just about anything else you can think of. Because he delves into so many different areas and ideas, I have a very difficult time recognizing his work immediately. I will simply notice an image I like only to find out he was the photographer. This has happened so many times that I follow his work specifically to see what he comes up with next. In some aspects I anticipate looking at his work more so than other photographers. I know what I will get with Kelly Schneider (amazing portraits) and Michael Goh (breathtaking astrophotography) but Bernhard Beser keeps me guessing. I must admit, I enjoy the diversity.
The benefits of creating a ‘brand look’ are obvious. You create a fan base of followers and a clientele base that will seek you out for your style. You tend to become excellent and proficient at that style - the proverbial 'master'. One of the drawbacks is that you may start to get pigeon-holed in the type of work people start to expect from you. This may not be a drawback if your particular ‘style’ is something you love to do with no intention of doing anything else, but if you get tired of the genre and want to branch out, you may receive some blowback from diehard followers. I also think repeating the same style can become less challenging. Although your skills are more finely honed each time you repeat the style, I also feel you are less challenged as you have already discovered what works and what doesn’t, more or less. Again, this could be a benefit or a curse depending on your specific personal goals as a photographer.
At this point in my photographic journey, I am not looking to brand myself. I am looking to grow my skills, techniques, and talents. I love being the jack of all trades. My photographic work shifts over time; sometimes returning to themes I’ve already explored. Sometimes I find myself more interested in portraiture or people pics. Other times I find myself drawn to macro or abstract photography. Yet other times I find myself yearning to aim my gear at a dark star-filled sky. Photography is one of the few areas in my life that I have complete control over. I can do what I want, when I want to. Since photography is not my main source of income, I feel that I am not constrained by trying to always please the customer. I engage in photography because I enjoy it, period. I share my work because I want to, not because I have to. Some people like my work and others couldn’t care less. To each their own.
If you are a photographer looking to find your ‘style’ or ‘brand’, just keep snapping away and you will probably discover it along the way. If you are a photographer stuck in a certain genre either because of your prior work or because that’s simply what you’ve always done, keep in mind you probably got into photography because it can be immensely creative and fresh. Don’t be afraid to break away from what you are used to doing and try something different – even if this means keeping a private portfolio your normal followers and clientele do not see. If you’re a photographer and you’re put off by the whole notion of limiting yourself to certain subjects or styles, that’s completely fine too. I am a firm believer that once you start to bend your creative vision to what others expect from you, the joy of photography quickly fades and it becomes work and a burden. Do what you like, and if that changes over time, go with the change. I would rather have my photography be all over the map enjoying every minute of it than being forced into a style to make a living regretting every minute of it.
Keep the interesting parts of life in focus.