As photographers, we often want to squeeze ourselves into a box. We want to know how to define ourselves so our clients understand what we do better.

While this might be a good idea in some instances, for the most part, it impacts you negatively. By limiting what you do, you’re effectively saying no to anything else that comes along … without actually verbalizing it.

Specializing is good, but don’t limit what you do

Specializing in specific photography genres is a great thing. But that shouldn’t mean you should just label yourself as a food photographer, corporate headshot photographer or wedding photographer.

What if something similar to these genres comes along, like product photography, portraits or corporate events? Will you say no to those?

On the contrary, just calling yourself a “photographer” will not make you stand out, either. You have to find that happy medium, where you talk about what you do, but don’t limit yourself so much that you squeeze yourself out of other opportunities.

Benefits of being open to new opportunities

There’s a ton of benefits to photographers who think outside the box they define for themselves.  For one, it allows you to experiment and be more creative. You might photograph a low portrait from the ground, but never do this with corporate headshots. But when that magazine comes calling for a unique view of a local entrepreneur … you’ll be ready.

Two, it lets you try new techniques and equipment. You might have never thought about using a polarizer for landscape photography, but putting it on for a reflection-heavy water surface makes a ton of sense. You can try out new lighting techniques, by playing around with things like rear curtain flash.

And three, it lets you learn. Not only from your experiences, but by what others around you are doing. Go out with fellow photographers regularly. See how they “see” the subject you’re photographing. Exchange ideas with each other, and learn why they shoot the way they do.

By staying active and trying different things, it can benefit you with your work in ways you might not think was possible.

My knowledge of long exposures helped to facilitate this multi-bracketed photograph for even lighting.

How to effectively identify yourself as a photographer

Still, it’s important to be able to tell your clients what you do. You need to have an elevator pitch that describes your work in a nutshell.

Don’t just say you’re a portrait photographer. Say that you’re a portrait photographer who integrates exciting environments in your photos.

Don’t just say you’re an event photographer. Say that you’re an event photographer that loves shooting candid moments.

Don’t just say you’re a product photographer. Say that you’re a photographer who shoots lifestyle moments to better market products.

But if you have time, mention the other things you enjoy photographing. For example, you’re a corporate lifestyle photographer who loves capturing events, headshots and a beautiful scoop of ice cream. Generalize, but also have some fun with it.

For much of the Covid-19 pandemic, photographers have been forced to move photoshoots outside. Here, I used my experience with capturing outdoor events to get the perfect lighting for this portrait.

Know your limits, but don’t be immediately dismissive

Here’s where you get to practice saying “no.” You might despise photographing weddings. That’s OK — but do it in a way that can still bring you business in the future.

“Ya know, weddings really aren’t something I specialize in. I can help you find someone who’s great at them though, and as your family grows, I’d love to photograph your family’s story!”

Here, you’re offering to refer the wedding photoshoot to someone you trust, but also remind them that you might shoot family portraits. And in two years when they have a toddler running around, you might just get that phone call.