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Choosing a Photography Subject & Getting Paid For It

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Choosing a photography subject is an important part developing your photography identity.

Your subject determines what tools you need, what skills you need to develop, who will pay for your work, and how much!

I tend focus on what I like and what I want the world to see -- scenes of individuals portraying black excellence in all its forms.

I’ve also been able to find a huge market of people who will pay for me to shoot these scenes.

So, what you choose to shoot shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Your subject will be a blend of your personal and commercial interests, as well as the viewpoints that you want to share with others.

But with so many photography subjects available to shoot, how do you go about choosing one and making money from it? To get started, you need to understand the following:

  • First, what kinds of subjects are out there to shoot and why do they appeal to you personally.

  • Second, what subjects are in demand (and why).

  • Third, how do your personal photography interests and commercial interests align.

What Photography Subjects Are Available For Me to Shoot?

I like to think that most photography subjects fall into one (or a combination) of the following three categories:

  1. Portraits (people, models, families, children, etc…)

  2. Landscapes (buildings, events, landscapes, sunsets, etc…)

  3. Items/Things (pets, flowers, cars, products, etc…)

Portrait Photography

If you’ve heard of the Mona Lisa, then you’re familiar with the most famous portrait to ever exist. I’m going to use Wikipedia’s definition for portrait photography because I don’t want to reinvent the wheel:

“Portrait photography is a photograph of a person or group of people that captures the personality of the subject by using effective lighting, backdrops, and poses.”

Portraits are my preferred subject. I love to highlight people, their emotion, their raw beauty, + their grind. Look for a subject that inspires you + that leaves behind something that makes other people feel.

Here are some other topics within portrait photography to consider:

Babies, children, families, models, nude, graduations, pregnancies...anything with people pretty much.

Landscape Photography

I like to think of landscape photography as anything that captures the physical world that we live in, whether that be natural or manmade.

Although my main focus is the person in my photographs, I also enjoy shooting in a landscape with powerful imagery.

I tend to capture images of black excellence in their natural habitat, CEOs in their office, street musicians on the train, beautiful people in front of their brownstones, etc…

Great landscape photography requires knowledge of lighting + a lens that can focus that knowledge.

It also requires a mind willing to challenge the boundaries of what the ordinary person might see in the exact same landscape.

Some great landscape photography subjects to start with:

Jungles, forests, beaches, night sky, sunsets, underwater, theme parks, cityscapes...anything that highlights the world we inhabit.

Item/PRODUCT Photography

A report from business insider claims that eCommerce will make up 17% of all US retail sales by 2022.

This means that a lot of items will need to be photographed, creating a unique advantage for the photographer who chooses to specialize in this space.

Item/thing photography is exactly what it sounds like, photographs of items and things, such as animals, cars, boats, etc…

There’s a lot of potential with this subject matter. Instagram profiles have grown massive followings by focusing on one item. Like this instagram profile with signs from around the world.

Some of the more popular subjects to consider are:

Pets, cars, food, flowers, wildlife, technology, boats, trees...anything that’s not a person or a landscape.

What Photography Subjects Are in Demand (and Why)?

It makes sense that an increase in ecommerce will fuel an increase in item photography.

In most cases, supply follows demand, and the demand for certain photography subjects are usually driven by market factors.

As college enrollment increases, there will be a higher demand for graduation photographers.

As marriage decreases, there will be less of a demand for wedding photographers. And the audience that’s interested in your selfies -- please be real.

Do you catch my drift?

A great way to train this mindset is to keep up with changes in society and business.

Think about the changes in technology that have revolutionized our world in the last few decades and what that means for the future of industry.

Phones will get more addictive, cameras will get better, batteries will last longer, the internet will become bigger, automation will change how we interact with our surroundings, social media + content (meaning your photographs) will consume our lives.

This will most definitely change what it means to be a photographer and what subjects you choose to shoot. Adapt or get left behind.

How Do Your Personal & Commercial Interests Align?

It’s important that the world understands this:

Photography is my art first and my business second!

This is not to say that I have an interest in being a starving artist. I want to get paid for my work.

It’s only fair considering that photographers are paid big bucks to shoot weddings, concerts and corporate gigs, so why shouldn’t black excellence drive big dollars too?

Well, there’s what I feel personally and then there’s what economics dictates.

The key to eating from this photography thing is to find a balance between both.

I first started off by shooting scenes of black excellence out of a personal interest, but then I was able to monetize that subject by asking myself:

“Who would be interested in paying for this footage?”

That’s when I researched and learned that black women are the faster growing group of entrepreneurs. Cha-ching! I found my audience. I’ve been able to develop a great client base of black women entrepreneurs.

Not only are they willing to pay top dollar for my work first, but they also share my vision that black excellence needs a platform.

The key is to look for who has the money and interest to pay you for your particular subject matter.

So What Next?

I like to keep my conclusions short and sweet. So here’s my parting advice:

“Look for something worthwhile as your subject, make sure it’s something that people are actually interested in seeing, and get paid to shoot it by someone with the money and interest.”

- Happy shooting!