What Kind of Photographer Are You?

People often ask me, “What type of photographer are you?” I offer a little glib reply, something like, “I shoot whatever I find interesting.”

I resist labeling myself because labels carry inherent dangers. Once a photographer becomes classified, people have a hard time reconciling variances beyond that genre.

As a semi-pro (I shoot for pay part-time, but photography makes up a minority portion of my income),  businesses and individuals approach me to perform all sorts of works. Consider some of the types of photo projects I  performed in the recent past; events, lifestyle, photojournalism, portraiture, wedding, architecture, and advertising.  I post many, many landscapes and street shots for myself.

You can see that one size does not fit all. Putting myself in a box would deny the creative meandering my soul takes with a camera. Plus, I enjoy meeting new challenges with the lens. That often means variances in style and genre.

The Art of Photography

If I was a full-time photographer or building a  studio, I might choose to brand my photography by genre. Branding creates a promise to photography customers that I fulfill a particular type of work with an individual style.  Branding would also effectively limit my ability to share other types of works with the public.

An artistic zen ethos fuels my photography. Wherever I am both externally (NYC, hello street!) and internally, there I am. I shoot what I see and feel. For me, creative photography helps me stay present in the world, and with myself.

Photography is art for me. Sometimes, it offers a mirror, showing me pain and lack of focus. The outcome reveals more than just a picture to me.

Personal interest in photography wanes when I try to focus specifically on one genre for extended periods of time. The reasons vary, either to build more business or, worse, to meet the expectations of others. Within a couple of months, I begin hating that type of photography. The work of the business kills my creative drive.

Photography Types Function as Personal Brand

Personal branding has become part of the workforce lexicon. When it became a hot workforce trend in the social media marketing world, I voiced extreme opposition to it. Even 10+ years after this trend began and as I built businesses using my name, I still feel uneasy about personal branding.

My prior objections remain the same. A brand is a promise that a company or business markets to its customers. When a person adopts a brand they to commit to a specific experience.

Most humans evolve. If a human too closely affiliates itself with a brand promise or a type of service, they box themselves in. Their customers and friends only associate them with that promise. If they evolve, the individual betrays their brand. People are not only confused, but they also trust you less.

Consider that 15 years ago, if I had created a social media-centric influencer brand — a path that was available to me — I would have limited my potential. I would never have evolved to become a photographer or develop a unique visual content marketing offering. I could not have advanced my digital marketing skills to become a CMO. Nor could I have moved towards serving a government customer with communications and project management, which I currently do.

All of these things have happened because I specifically refused to personal brand, and allowed myself to evolve.

We Like Boxes

Personal branding works because individuals have a hard time remembering that a person can do multiple things. Labels are applied. People are put into boxes, much like a book is put into a category. It becomes easier to find.

The people who love personal branding are HR people and hiring managers, and consumers who are looking for a specific service (I need an electrician, not a general contractor). They love identifying a person as X. It creates an easy yes or no proposition for them.

They want a widget and only a widget. When they see Joe the widget, they cry, “Eureka! We have a fit!”

Someone with multiple skillsets or styles becomes a “Jack of All Trades”. They think this won’t work in my office (substitute assembly line, if you prefer). They want role players only, and that’s why personal brands are so attractive to them.

Much has been said about diversity in the workforce. I believe a diverse skillset is also needed for an organization. It’s one of the biggest reasons I think HR or talent management continues to hold organizations back rather than helping them advance and win.

Back to photography, if you want to attract lots of customers, label yourself, and demonstrate a definitive style. You will create a personal brand for your photography, and yes, for yourself. People will identify your type of service easily and feel comfortable.

But if photography fulfills an artistic drive, beware. You may find your creativity shackled in a prison of your own making.