One of the best pieces of advice I've gotten (from many photographers I know and respect) is "find your niche". When you find your style or the type of photography that really brings you joy, one day you just say "yes, this is IT" and you'll be well on your way to a solid career in photography. I say that with a little tongue in cheek of course, because a lot of things contribute to a successful business, but all other things being equal, it's an important part of satisfaction and success.
If you're now asking "Ok, now how do I figure that out?"... you're not alone. It might come down to asking yourself two questions: "What do I love?" and "What do I do really well?". If there is one or two types that overlap in your responses, that's where you should lean. It doesn't mean you have to *only* do that type of photography. As a matter of fact, if you're just starting out take every opportunity offered to you. The amazing Seattle-based portrait photographer John Keatley confirmed for me at a recent workshop that you need to focus your energies to what you love most. If your personal work reflects what you love, clients will start hiring you to do that work. Then, work won't feel so much like... work, but more like a fun personal project you get paid for. Now that's the dream.
It took me a while to realize where I wanted to go... I thought everyone telling me to fixate on one or two categories was crazy. Why would I limit the jobs that I'll take or work I do? Doesn't that seem counter-intuitive? In a general sense, it might seem that way but when you start to focus, you'll build a beautiful portfolio and expertise in that style so when someone asks "Who is a great _______ photographer?" then your name will come up without hesitation. It takes time, no two ways about it; we're talking at least a year or two if not more to build up that reputation, but it's worth it. We got in this business because we love it. Art is not necessarily a money-making business, but it can be. You can be successful and happy, no really it's true. It just takes drive and a desire to share with the world and capture the beauty in what's around you whether it's people, hidden mysteries, or the most amazing plate of gnocchi you've ever seen. It sounds so very cheesy, but find your happiness and success will find you. Have patience and tenacity; it will find you.
John Keatley is an amazing speaker and started a 3-day workshop that is more than worth splurging on. He's also a great human, I recommend getting to know him and his work.
Last week I worked with the Seattle-based distillery 2bar Spirits to update a few of their product shots. I was really excited to work with them; shooting glass bottles is a challenge, but I was totally up for it!
Despite the fact I shoot a lot of food and restaurant photography, product photography is more than a small hop from this work. It's a whole other beast. I love environmental shots (cookies on a plate in a kitchen, a dish being served in a restaurant, etc), it feels more authentic to the viewer, especially when being used for a website or marketing materials. However, sometimes you need product shots, plain and simple: white background, no distractions. Lighting is even more important in this situation, no shadows, a beautiful diffused line defining the edges, the label or logo bright and up front (unless subtlety is requested). I had a great time working through the issues that arose and getting the images just like they wanted them. I included a few of my favorites below; can't wait to work on more shots like this in the future.
Working with darker liquid in a clear bottle is especially difficult if your lighting is off, the darker alcohols show off shadows far more intensely.
Differences in bottles show up too, you can see the slight change in look and feel of the vodka bottle versus the moonshine. I really like those small differences but with higher-end clients, they want things to look exactly the same across products. It really all depends on personal preference.
I played around with closeups of the label too even though it wasn't requested. I love this kind of shot for background images on websites. The simpler they are with the logo or product prominently placed, the better.
They say the best camera you own is the one you have with you. I put that to the test today... I headed out on yet another unseasonably beautiful spring-ish day. I was sitting inside as the sun streamed through the window and I realized the day was passing me by and it is absolutely ridiculous if I didn't take advantage. Threw together my must-have quickie kit (D600 camera, 24-70mm and 70-200mm lens... then threw in a 35mm for funsies). I tend to favor zoom lenses because I started out as a music photographer, I've started contemplating forcing myself to use fixed lenses... soon, but not today. As a matter of fact, I remembered everything but an sd card. What does that mean? No taking photos. The worst time to realize this is when you've picked your spot, gotten out of your car and get ready to take that first photo (which is exactly when I realized I'd forgotten my card).
I thought about it and figured I had three options. 1) Go home and stay there, no photos to show for it. 2) Go home, grab my card(s) and go back out braving the horrible end-of-day traffic or 3) Use my iPhone instead. Option number three has always made me cringe in the past and this time was no exception. That being said, the quote at the beginning of this post popped into my head and I decided to lean into my mistake and actually try to do a legitimate set of photos with my iPhone... just to see how i felt about it. After all, "don't knock it till you've tried it" right?
I learned a couple things from this experience. The first one: if you're shooting images of people they are far less self-conscious and possibly couldn't care less if you're taking their photo with your phone. Where as if you're pointing a legitimate lens at them, they turn away, look down and generally look uncomfortable. In other words, you're far more incognito... so that's a plus one for iPhone. The second: I'm far less likely to compose an image properly when using my phone thinking I'll edit later and I feel more self-conscious taking images this way... or should I say a bit more embarrassed that I'm taking images with my phone instead of my camera; so i end up taking less care when hitting actuation for the image. The third: if you zoom in at all, the quality of the image goes to crap on my iPhone (4s). This may be a little less the case with newer versions of the phone, but mine is all I've got to go on. The fourth and final thing I learned: the phone doesn't handle extreme lighting situations. Bright sun can't be dimmed nearly enough and super dark situations have really poor resolution.
All that being said, if you can manage to take images in the right circumstances, they can come out absolutely lovely, which is the case with the very first image in the set below. After that, I got varying degrees of ok to horrible. I left out the really horrible ones but here they are. It was an interesting experience, but I'd much rather (by about a mile) shoot with my pro camera. I love my Nikon and I still believe it's the best one I own, despite being unable to use it today out in the field.