I remember the moment, early on in my photography journey, when I toyed with the idea of my passion for photography, providing the opportunity to generate some income. As I researched, online, in literature and by talking to people, the overarching question that seemed to come up over and over was, ‘what kind of a photographer do you want to be?’
While at school, art college and then university, I was always keen to narrow my studies to specific areas of interest, I couldn’t wait to become a specialist. At university I studied art history and niched down into the study of non-western art and anthropology, specializing in the Andes.
Fast forward a year or two and I was working for Europe’s largest conservation charity on an island nature reserve. It was at this point that I picked up the camera I was given for my 18th birthday, and I began to record my experiences on my island home.
The landscape that changed in different weather conditions, in different light and seasons, my daughter as she was growing and exploring the island with me, our dog as he joined us on our jaunts around the island pathways, the red squirrels that visited our bird feeders, the mug of coffee that steamed, backlit against the morning sunlight as it glanced into our cottage through old glass windows from the 1850s.
Photography opened my eyes to the incredible beauty around me, from mundane moments around the home to epic sunsets!
So back to the question of what kind of photographer I wanted to be! I don’t really like labels and my broad interest in so many different photographic subjects made it hard for me to feel that I could become a specialist, or even describe my style (if I had one at all). In 2007 our little family moved to Canada, to a small town in British Columbia. I continued to photograph all the things that inspired me and shared my images across social media (something I had started to do while living on the island because of our relative isolation, with no real opportunity to join a club or find like-minded people to shoot with). Gradually I was offered payment for family shoots, graduations, pet photos, weddings, landscape and nature prints and my business took off. I don’t know whether things would have been different if I had lived in a big city. Might I have had to become a specialist in that situation?
I learned that the cross pollination of my skills could assist me across varied photography fields.
Despite all the advice I’d been given, instead of choosing to settle into a small niche and become a specialist, I began to make something of a name for myself for the breadth of the photographic genres that I captured. I learned that the cross pollination of my skills could assist me across varied photography fields. I could apply techniques, editing and thought processes I’d learned whilst shooting landscape subjects to my portrait, wedding, or pet photography work and vice versa.
I recently read ‘Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World’ by David Epstein and found it extremely enlightening. Sharing a quote from the book by Reshma Saujani: ‘Being a generalist allows you to raise your hand when you don't know exactly what you are doing because you have built this base of skill set that gives you the confidence to know that you can get in it and try to figure it out.’
I was extremely grateful for the breadth of my photographic knowledge and the broad base of my income when Covid hit, fortunately the variety of my work allowed me to stay busy when many businesses were struggling. Photography for me has always been first and foremost a passion, the ability to create a business has been a wonderful additional bonus.
I used to feel slightly uncomfortable being unable to label my photographic style, however, I’ve come to believe that we don’t need to have a definitive answer to that question. There is room for both specialists and multi genre photographers in this world.
What kind of a photographer are you?