I don’t know if this is the golden age of photography. But, I know that there are more photos than ever, popping up from everywhere. Social media, billboards, and marketing campaigns are flooded with images of all kinds and types. It is quite difficult for aspiring photographers to choose a type of photography to master. On the other hand, more experienced fellow photographers will always tell you that you need to find your own style. While this is true, I don’t think it’s good advice. You can’t just choose your style. Finding your distinguished style is more of a process. If you work hard to master techniques and try to improve every day, your style will find you.
But, it’s true that you can choose your niche during the early stages of your career in photography. Actually, it is recommendable because no one can be a master of all types of photography.
Nothing is carved in stone, though. You can experiment with several genres to find out where your passion lies. Your passion will be your driving force to allow you to improve and excel.
Types of Photography
Actually, there’s no such thing as an official division of photography genres. There are many ways to divide and categorize photography. You can find divisions such as amateur vs professional, people vs nature, commercial vs art photography, and so on. When you try to go deeper you will find dozens of categories and even more subcategories. In reality, similar genres are overlapping and it’s impossible to draw strict lines between them. So, it would be a book and not an article if I tried to cover all known types of photography. But I’ll do my best to present the most popular and most pursued genres.
Portrait photography is probably the broadest genre. It is also pursued by a large number of photographers. It is all about capturing expressions and moods. Since it’s a broad genre you can take all kinds of different approaches. With or without extra lighting, candid or staged, there are no uniform rules. Just remember, your photo is about a person and not about the looks. You want to show emotions, feelings, and attitudes. The technique, camera setup, and lighting can change your image dramatically, so use it to tell a story.
Portrait photography is a good choice for novices as it offers several different paths in the future. It can lead to a number of careers from weddings and family portraits, to fashion or even fine art photography.
“All the planning, intuition, technical prowess, and knowledge, as well as the trust and rapport you have (or haven’t) established, will show up in the picture, frozen forever.” – Gregory Heisler
It is also a broad genre. Documentary photography must be authentic. It can cover anything from everyday life to historical events. This is a type of photography where you can’t manipulate your subject. The idea is to capture the best possible image to convey a real story. It was a very popular and important niche in the 20th century. Lately, it is leaning towards art photography.
The most successful documentary photographers of today, regularly exhibit their works in galleries and museums. Photojournalism is a branch of documentary photography.
Fashion photography is the most glamorous and desired niche in photography. However, it started as mere clothes advertising. Today it can use elements of both documentary and portrait photography. There are several different types of fashion photography styles but they all include teamwork. Unlike documentary photography which is all about true image, fashion photography is imaginative and staged. If you want to learn more about fashion photography read our comprehensive article about it.
Event photography is a dynamic genre that requires a lot of improvising. It covers a wide variety of events from weddings to concerts and corporate events. It is challenging as you can’t control your environment, from lighting to your subjects. So, it’s a candid genre mixed with social skills and resourcefulness. You should try to be in the middle of the action without disrupting or bothering your subjects. Successful event photography conveys the mood and the atmosphere of the event.
Architecture photography is a narrow but popular niche. Capturing the essence of a building or accentuating shapes and forms requires creativity and technical knowledge. It is all about perspective control and the use of leading lines. It can be challenging to avoid distortion and you can’t control lighting conditions.
Once you master the secrets of views, perspective, and proper lens use, you can use it for many different projects. It covers everything from artistic images to real estate photography.
Sports photography covers sports (go figure!). It is a branch of photojournalism. But, it requires a lot more skill than it appears. After all, some of the most iconic images belong to the sports genre. It requires excellent focusing skills and good timing. While you may need different equipment for different events you will need a fast camera and long lenses. Capturing the drama of the triumph and loss, or just the thrill of the moment is an essence of great sports photography.
Apart from capturing the moment it can be used for editorial and advertising purposes.
“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” – Ansel Adams
Street photography is one of the most popular types of photography. With modern smartphones and affordable entry-level cameras, everyone is on the quest of capturing the pulse of the streets. However, it is not easy to get it right. This is an interesting niche where you have to develop an eye for small nuances. It is all about poignant and precious moments. You can’t plan these images, well at least not precisely. All you can do is choosing a location and waiting for a moment of magic. Framing and focusing are crucial for success.
Street, documentary, and candid photography overlap quite often.
Unlike street photography where you have to be alert to capture the moment instantly, you can take your time when you shoot landscape images. It is another very popular genre. You can enjoy beautiful landscapes while taking photos. The composition is the key to amazing landscape shots. Changing your position, angles, and perspective will allow you to find a perfect frame. A wide-angle lens is not the only one you will use, but it’s a must.
Check out our Guide to Making Great Landscape Photography article to find out more about this enthralling genre.
Watching wildlife in their natural habitats is an exciting experience. Capturing it with your camera is challenging. Basically, you need to be quick with camera settings and use a telephoto lens. This niche requires a lot of patience as well. The more you know about animal behavior, the better chance you have to get some great shots. So, this is not the broadest genre but you need a wide set of skills to improve your efficiency.
Fine Art Photography
Fine art photography evokes emotions and conveys a message. It is a personal vision of a photographer. This genre can overlap with most other genres. Fine art photography doesn’t follow any rules, because you can’t confine the vision. And everything can be a subject of artistic expression. In a way, it is the same as other fine arts: the artist uses his camera to express personal ideas and aesthetics.
There are dozens of categories, subcategories, and second or third-tier subcategories that I didn’t mention. It would just take forever. Still, these are some of the most common types of photography. The whole idea is to show you the different opportunities that each category offers.
I still believe that it’s okay to experiment with many genres. It will help you to hone your skills and develop an eye for different things. However, you can’t be great in all genres. You can be solid. but to achieve anything more than that you need to excel in one or several closely connected fields. Ultimately, the choice is yours.