I recently wrote a post titled “Should You Start A Career In Photography Now?” where I explored the need to specialize in one type of photography in order to become a successful professional photographer. I want to clarify that what I blogged about previously pertains to making a career out of photography. But we don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves into being able to only produce one type of photographic subject matter. We still want to be versatile by mastering a wider range of photographic skills.

I look at the styles of many different photographers and I have begun to realize just how polarized to a narrow scope of imagery that many shooters have become. For example, a landscape photographer will rarely have too much of an interest in fashion photography nor will people who are interested in fashion photography give the landscape photographer’s work much of a second glance. That means the landscape photographer is not only limiting his skill set to just one genre, but he is only able to reach a limited audience with his/her one and only style. It also narrows one’s skill set to a commonly used range of photographic and post processing techniques.

Tom Yum Kung – ©Marc Schultz

Each field of photography will possess its own nuances, but I’m not saying you need to entirely master each one. Simply by trying out different types of photography approaches though we can become more creative, knowledgeable, and diverse as a photographer.

Personally, I started out mainly as a travel photographer shooting with just available light and the occasional reflector. Then I delved into studio lighting, and eventually into doing all kinds of commercial photography with a focus on many different things including food, architecture, people, objects, and anything else that requires a combination of different styles of lighting. Doing this taught me to explore many more types of picture taking and a lot of it ended up feeling more like recreation than work because of the diversity and newness of every shoot. Yet, I get to continuously improve my skills, and more importantly my array of knowledge both as a photographer and as a post processor through the wide range of subjects I cover.

Even though there are many different types of photography out there, let’s focus this discussion on a few particular ones and cover what we can learn from them. In this article I am going to talk specifically about the likenesses and dissimilarities of landscape, product, architectural, and fashion photography.

First off, as a landscape photographer you become a master of your shutter box. You have to as you figure out how to extract beauty from natural conditions which can’t be controlled in terms of lighting, nor the ability to physically reposition your subjects. The normal commercial tools like reflectors, strobes, and scrims all become useless because of the scale of the scene you are trying to capture. This forces you to rely on filters, but mainly advanced post processing techniques like exposure blending to help overcome the challenges of uncontrollable light. You also become experienced with recognizing unique compositions and framing natural elements, while often racing against time with quickly changing, and sometimes disappearing, light.

This type of shooting helps you to develop skills in planning how you are going to execute the shoot long before you even shoot the first frame. You then learn how light interacts with various atmospheric conditions and how it creates different types of colors at varying exposure lengths. All of these are valuable skills for any type of photographer and are often not learned by portrait or product photographers if they don’t ever get out of the studio to shoot in other environs.

Martini Splash
Martini Splash – ©Marc Schultz

Things like using neutral density filters and blending multiple raw conversions with luminosity masks in Photoshop are standard workflow techniques for any landscape photographer. Yet many shooters are unaware of their applications if they just shoot people or objects. While one may not need to implement these exact same techniques for photographing other things, it will help develop one’s thought process in knowing more about what is possible both within the camera and in post.

Product photography is another unique genre in itself and one of the least explored, yet it offers many interesting new techniques of its own. In product photography it all comes down to the fine details and possible imperfections of an object which become more noticeable when photographing subjects up close. Plus every highlight and shadow can either make or break the image. In more complex and theatrical type product shots, it is more about telling a story and conveying an emotion via the use of light and styling through an often ordinary and static looking object. You will learn how light from different angles, and shaped using different light modifiers, interacts with various types of surfaces. It teaches you how to become more methodical and scientific in your approach, how to better organize your workflow, problem solve, and eventually develop an actual process you follow regularly to achieve the type of shots you are aiming for.

Post processing in product photography is very different though from most other types of photography. It’s tedious, requires more precision, masking skills, and a lot more time. But it will also force you to master some of the basic tools and adjustment layers in Photoshop, all of which can be very useful later for other workflows, and far beyond the uses in product photography alone. When you start to do any sort of photography of small objects you will immediately recognize that lighting has to be well controlled in order to deal with either the reflectivity or non-reflectivity of different surfaces, texture, and the optical issues of shooting smaller scale subjects as compared to the greater ease in shooting larger subjects, like people for example.

Office Interior – ©Marc Schultz

Shooting architecture is a bit like shooting products but at a different scale. It also blends many of the lighting theories that go into landscape photography plus the close attention to detail that goes into shooting products. You’ll be confronted with new issues though like lighting large areas and dealing with extreme differences in exposure throughout the same frame. You may have to overcome the challenges of balancing up to 3 different light sources within one shot when shooting architectural interiors for example. You always will have your ambient light within the interior, then you have whatever lighting of your own you might be adding in to fill in darker areas or to simply raise up the look of the ambient light, plus you may also have some natural light from outdoors coming in through the windows which all have to be balanced together within one frame. Multiple types of light also pose the challenge of white balancing the exposure correctly when you have various different lighting temperatures throughout the frame. You then learn to dissect larger spaces, which are your subjects in architectural photography, into smaller and more interesting compositions.

Lastly, where product photography can be a slower process of execution and attention to minor details, shooting fashion and portraiture is often about speed, agility, and capturing an expressive, fleeting human emotion before it is gone. You end up having to be more impromptu and having to develop the look and styling of the photos you are creating as you go. Time is often more constrained because your subject is a person who won’t be able to sit as long in front of the camera as a lifeless object. It also puts you in a position where you may need to create different looks from the same shoot, but while maintaining a continuity and interlinked story between layouts so the resulting shots can be used later as a continuous group of imagery. The overall look of your images will generally be controlled through lighting, composition, style of clothing and makeup, plus the background. Most importantly, you will develop your skills in interacting with people and become more able to quickly spot those magical moments of a unique gesture that evokes emotional responses through photographs. All of these facets can be extremely subtle, but extremely important to the success of your images. The post processing aspects of fashion and portraiture will again be different than other genres. Techniques like dodging and burning, removing skin imperfections, adjusting tones, saturation, and reducing or adding sharpness are things you will learn from the process that will later become useful across a wide range of other types of picture taking.

To sum things up, I’m not suggesting one becomes an expert in all the fields of photography out in the world. There is good reason to focus on mastering a particular type of photography alone and it should stay that way. Your focus should remain targeted towards what you either like and/or have learned to do best with your camera, but you can still open your mind to other styles and genres. I encourage you to take a departure from your usual style of photography from time to time, try something different and new, and then think about what lessons you have learned which can be carried over to your existing skill set as a master light chaser. For example, take a funky product from around your house and spend an afternoon trying to light and photograph it in an atmospheric way. Maybe even experiment with photographing a vintage object. Going on a trip? Why not try and capture some cool landscapes during times of the day when the natural lighting will be more spectacular and challenging to expose correctly?

There is a good chance that your first attempts at new subjects might not be so rewarding in terms of your actual results, but you could end up with some happy accidents along the way and surely you will learn something new thus, taking you another step further away from being just a one trick pony.