There are four types of photographer - which type are you?

There are thousands of different photography styles out there. You may be taking photographs of any number of things, be it portraits, weddings, landscapes, concerts, your travels, or anything else. Those aren't types - those are genres. And the interesting thing is, it's relatively easy to switch from one genre to another. Sure, you may need to pick up some extra equipment, or you may need to learn some new skills, but ultimately, if you're a decent photographer, you shouldn't have a huge problem to make any of the changes you like. 

There's another thing that separates the men from the boys, and the women from the girls, however: The focus of how you approach your work - the core of what drives you to take photographs. 

I've spent the past ten years of my life talking to photographers, and it strikes me that the vast majority of photographers fall remarkably neatly into one of two categories. 

Category 1: The Technical Perfectionist

If your photography is primarily documentary - for example if you're a forensic or scientific photographer - it's likely that you need more technical skills than creative skills

If your photography is primarily documentary - for example if you're a forensic or scientific photographer - it's likely that you need more technical skills than creative skills

f you're tech-centric, you're probably a gadget-o-phile. You'll probably know the technical specs for a large number of cameras by heart, but most importantly, you'll probably get every photo to a high degree of technical quality: Your photos tend to be in perfect focus. Your exposures are so good that your images are useable straight out of the camera. Your horizons are perfectly straight, and your colour balance is dead-on. 

If you are primarily a technical photographer; try to experiment with breaking the rules!

If you are primarily a technical photographer; try to experiment with breaking the rules!

Technical photographers typically end up in photography via engineering. Perhaps you're a computer programmer, a craftsman, or academically inclined. Maybe you are 'into technology' in general, and photography becomes a visual / creative outlet for your love of tech. 

I'll be honest: I'm usually an extraordinarily harsh critic of technical photographers - because this is my origin story, too: I was always more interested in photography as an intersection between creativity and technology than anything else, and the creative eye was a hard-won skill for me. 

So, does that sound like you? Excellent. We can be friends. It's likely that your weaknesses are on the creative side, though - and to become a better photographer, try to start breaking some of the rules (Hey, this was why I wrote the Rules of Photography and When to Break Them). 


Category 2: The Artist

If your photography is predominantly creative or artistic, you may get away with less technical skills. But, as we'll see in a minute, probably not. 

If your photography is predominantly creative or artistic, you may get away with less technical skills. But, as we'll see in a minute, probably not. 

If you're creatively focussed, you're likely to have an amazing eye for composition. You'll see how light, colours, and textures come together, and you're using your camera to document and create the interplay between emotions and visual stimuli. You can turn words into images, and images into words. Your photographs tell a story. 

Artists traditionally ended up in photography as a means of expressing themselves in new visual media. Many artists end up using photography to document art they have created in other media - painting, sculpture, sketching, jewellery, etc - and then take up photography as an art form in itself. These days, I think that is changing, not least because picking up a camera is no longer a conscious decision. Whenever you pick up a tablet, smartphone, or even a laptop, it contains a camera, and the barrier to entry into photography is lower than ever. The new generations of artistic photographers, I think, come from the people who realise that the phones built into their cameras can be a means of creative expression: Those colours and textures they notice? They can't help but reach for a camera to document them. 

My Introduction to Photography is a great way to get started on your mission to improve technically

My Introduction to Photography is a great way to get started on your mission to improve technically

You'll be unsurprised that artists tend to struggle more with the technical side of things: They know what they want to show, but don't necessarily have the technical skills to fully bring their vision to life or - worse - don't realise that their vision could be more clearly realised and more visually appealing if the photos had fewer technical flaws. 

Having said all of that - Artists have a huge advantage in photography: As an artist, learning the technical skills is a lot easier as a self-teaching exercise.

For a technical photographer to 'teach themselves to see' is a challenge of a seriously beefy calibre. And given that I'm plugging books here anyway - try Introduction to Photography. Or any other of the many great introduction to photography books out there. 


The Customer centric vs. self-centric axis

I like to think of this one as the 'who is it for' axis. On the one hand, photographers who are just starting out tend to take photos largely to fulfil their own creative desires: Exploratory deep dives into creative visual crevices. This isn't a bad thing - some of the most amazing photography happens when you push yourself to the limits of what your creativity and your technical ability can muster. 

The truth is, however, when you go deep into experimental mode, you have to be a truly exceptional photographer to also deliver work that is also commercially acceptable. In my experience, when I'm working experimentally, I'm creating my best photography, but I'd be lucky if 1% of my photographs come out well. This is fine if I'm shooting for myself: If I walk away from a full day worth of shooting with two or three shots that I'm truly happy with, that's a win. If I'm shooting for a fashion client, however, that isn't going to fly: They're going to need ten, twenty, fifty photos that can be used. To me, this turned out to be the first nail in the coffin of my photographic career: Yes, I was able to shoot 'safe' photos and get 20-30% photos that are 'good enough' - but that is all: Good enough turned out to be a creative death. In other words, shooting commercially wasn't any fun for me, and - much worse - I stopped learning. 

I've taken some of my most fun and creative photographs when I've been playing around, experimenting, and making mistakes. 

I've taken some of my most fun and creative photographs when I've been playing around, experimenting, and making mistakes. 

I have a deep respect for people who are able to deliver high-quality commercial work time and time again. Wedding photographers, fashion photographers, and product photographers are gods among us; it's an incredible skill that can be learned, and I firmly believe that someone who can create truly good photos consistently, is a far better photographer than someone who takes one great photograph per month. 

If you're working commercially - for example if you're shooting runway fashion - you're unlikely to get away with not delivering the goods. 

If you're working commercially - for example if you're shooting runway fashion - you're unlikely to get away with not delivering the goods. 

Laurie Young's book explores the concept of 'who are you shooting for' really well. Worth a read!

Laurie Young's book explores the concept of 'who are you shooting for' really well. Worth a read!

Having said that - it's important to be aware of the difference, because this is often the thing that new photographers get wrong, thinking that their hobby (where they occasionally take very good photos) easily and cleanly translates into a profession (where the demands are very different). 

Laurie Young's Being a Photographer explores the themes of how your target audience, technical skill level, and your personal goals with an individual photograph has an effect on your approach, it's well worth a read. 

For now, though, just have a think about this question: Who do you take photos for, and how does this impact your creative and technical choices? 


What about professional vs amateur?

The distinction between amateur / professional can be remarkably fuzzy.

The distinction between amateur / professional can be remarkably fuzzy.

hen we're doing market analysis in the photography world, I'm often asked whether the pro/amateur division is important. To be honest, the jury is still out; On the one hand, I occasionally see work from professional (i.e. people who were paid for their work) photographers that is downright embarrassingly lacking in the creative or technical space - sometimes both. The corollary is also true - there's a huge number of photographers who are amateurs (i.e. take photos for fun, rather than for money) who are able to take photographs that put the pros to shame. 

The one place where there's a significant difference is in the world of equipment purchasing - but even there, the lines are blurred. I know of professional photographers who shoot on entry-level gear and treat it as disposable ("Yes, my Canon EOS 600D will probably not survive for long, but it was cheap, and when it breaks, I'll get a new one"), and amateurs who take the "buy all the gear" approach - with only top-shelf camera bodies, lenses, etc. 

Of course, whether you decide to charge for your photographic output or not is up to you, but I also think that there's less of a difference between an amateur and a pro photographer than you might thing - in terms of photography, that is. Electing to charge money takes your hobby and turns it into a business, and at that in itself carries a lot of considerations: Pricing, marketing, resource management, taxes, accounting, and much, much more. Don't underestimate this bit, because even in the best run photography businesses, you'll probably find that you'll spend a significant amount of time on admin, customer relations and all the business bits. 

Pop quiz: Was this photo taken by a professional or an amateur? (If you can tell, you're a better person than I am...)

Pop quiz: Was this photo taken by a professional or an amateur? (If you can tell, you're a better person than I am...)

Even if you choose not to charge for taking photographs, you may still find yourself working for a client - perhaps you're taking photos of a friend's band, or doing product photography for a friend's Etsy page, for example. You may also be taking a family portrait for a Christmas card, or shooting a photograph that a vineyard owner wants to hang in their tasting room. Whatever it turns out to be, you'll probably find that there's many situations where someone has an interest in your final product one way or another. 

Smarter folk than yours truly has written about this at great length, but one the key thing to keep in mind is this: Who is the final 'user' of the photo? As in: Photography is, at its very core, storytelling. Whenever you tell a story, the question is 'who am I telling this story to', and 'what is the message I am trying to convey?'. Having that explicitly clear before you start taking photographs, 


Putting it all together

If you've been taking notes as you're working your way through the blog post, you've probably got a sizeable to-do list. You know which bits of your photography you need to work on. Perhaps you've added a couple of books to your Amazon list. You've started thinking about whether you prefer to take photos for yourself or for others. 

I think the best thing you can do is to start here: Be honest with yourself; where on the technical/creative chart do you belong? And where do you want to be?

My progression was probably something like this: I started as a very technically oriented photographer, shooting just for myself (1). Then I became a lot more customer centric (As a freelance photographer - 2). Currently, I am probably a decent balance between technical and creative, but I rarely shoot a photograph without also considering my audience (3)

My progression was probably something like this: I started as a very technically oriented photographer, shooting just for myself (1). Then I became a lot more customer centric (As a freelance photographer - 2). Currently, I am probably a decent balance between technical and creative, but I rarely shoot a photograph without also considering my audience (3)

great way to map out how you'd like your photographic career to develop, is to find out where you currently are, and what you need to do to get you to where you want to be. 

Good luck!