Switching Genres in Photography

Seamlessly Switching Genres in Photography

Switching genres in Photography is not quite as simple as you might hope. In this post, I’m going to talk about the importance of being open to learning, retaining objectivity about your own skill levels as a photographer and the importance of being open to learning entirely new skills. Switching genres is a great way to freshen up your creativity while also serving as a great reality check!

My own experience as a commercial photographer covered several genres, all carried a learning curve, some steep, others not so much. I worked mostly in the genres of Architecture, 360° Photography, Interiors, Product, Food and Drone Photography.

Transitioning from Product to Landscape Photography

For a bit of context, I started my photographic journey many years ago taking landscape photographs, but when I turned professional, I very quickly transitioned to product photography in order to get paid. Landscape photography is a bugger to make money from!

So over the course of the next seven years I became pretty decent at product photography, at the expense of everything else. I wouldn’t describe myself as a master by any means, but I got a good foothold in the market and gained some very prestigious clients.

So where did my skillset develop? Product photography turns out to be a very different beast to landscape photography and some of those skills don’t transfer. I moved full-time to Spain in 2021 and decided to switch back to Landscape Photography. Of course, it has moved on considerably in the last decade so there was more learning to do!

Food Photography – Onion Bhaji

Transferable Skills

  • How to work a camera
  • How to choose a focal length
  • How to work with a Tripod
  • Location Scouting
  • Composition
  • Compositing in Photoshop
  • Colour Theory in Lightroom and Photoshop
  • Masking in Lightroom and Photoshop
  • Eating Humble Pie

How to Work a Camera

What do I mean by this? Well, how to work a camera involves attaining a level of expertise that enables you to choose the right settings for any situation without consulting the manual. Photography is way more than this though.

Choosing the Right Focal Length

How to choose the right focal length means understanding the difference between various focal lengths and knowing which one will deliver the result you have in mind.

Working with a Tripod

Working with a tripod is not everyone’s cup of tea, but in Product photography it is absolutely necessary, looking at an e-commerce site, you don’t want the subject to be jumping around the frame every time you look at another variant. Try placing the subject in the same place by hand!

Location Scouting

Location Scouting is a skill that is relevant to both product and landscape photography. Check out my post Location Scouting for Landscape Photography for more detail on this.

Landscape Photography - Montefrio
Landscape Photography – Montefrio

Composition

The rules of composition still apply, albeit in a different style and amended by a lot of data from the likes of Amazon. There is a reason that shoes, for example, are shot with the heel on the right and toe further forward (the three-quarter shot). It is because Amazon, with the evidence of millions of sales, noticed that this pose results in substantially more sales than its mirror image (heel to the left)!

Compositing in Photoshop

Compositing skills are more often used in product photography than landscape, but I would plead guilty to moving clouds, even people to make a composition work better.

Colour Theory

Colour theory applies as much to landscape photography as it does to products. If you want to conjure up a warm summer evening, you need warm colours. The devil is in the detail of how this is implemented in the curves tooling.

In the Red Channel

Cyan is the opposite of Red meaning that less Cyan means more Red and vice versa

In the Green channel

Magenta is the opposite. Less Green means more Magenta.

In the Blue channel

Yellow is the opposite, Less Blue means More Yellow.

In product photography you need to shoot the product colours as true to life as possible, but the objects you surround it with often need to be tweaked to show off the product in the best possible light.

Applying different colour curves to different parts of the image is done using masks. This principle is exactly the same in landscape photography as in product photography.

I include eating humble pie as a transferable skill not simply as an excuse to namecheck the Small Faces frontman Steve Marriott, without whose contribution the sixties in the UK would have been a joyless drudge, but to make a serious point. If you approach a new genre switch without humility and ruthless objectivity, You’ll have some harsh lessons in front of you. You may find you’re not the photographer you thought you were!

Non Transferable Skills

  • Lighting
  • Set Building
  • Collaboration
  • Subject Identification
  • Orienteering
  • Compass & Maps
  • First Aid
  • Suitable Clothing
  • Snowshoeing
  • Climbing

I think you get the gist – the second two-thirds of this list contain skills that have nothing directly to do with photography but each one of them is essential to the serious landscape photographer. Unless you are in the UK where you can see a road from almost any point in the land!

Let’s take a closer look at the first few skills.

Lighting

Studio work requires a mastery of lighting techniques. It is the photographer’s job to control the light and shadow in every aspect. In landscape photography the sun provides the light. The photographer’s job is to know when the conditions are favourable, to find the composition and wait for and recognise the best possible light.

Set Building

In studio photography, we build sets to provide context for the subject. In landscape photography your options are limited, you might move a few stones to alter a foreground, but you’re not going to throw up a mountain range. Set building is done by moving around to find the best angles.

Collaboration

Collaboration is all-important in product photography. Some say it would be the perfect job if it weren’t for the clients. The reality is every client has an opinion on look and feel and your job is to deliver it or better it. Landscape photography is much more of a lone-wolf activity.

Subject Identification

Dodging and Burning Using Adobe Lightroom
What are we supposed to be looking at?

Sounds easy right? In product photography, it’s the thing you are being paid to photograph. In landscape photography, it’s the thing that makes the composition work. A composition without a clear subject that draws the eye to it will never work, no matter how much you tinker with it in post.

Your Unique Style

As an improving photographer, it’s natural to try your hand at basically, everything. Switching genres in photography as a beginner is not only easier, it is necessary. The most useful piece of advice I was given at London College of Printing where I studied for my degree, was “don’t try too hard to create a unique style, you’re style will find you”.

What they meant I think was that if you spend your time trying to take photographs like some other photographer, you will run into a blind alley. Your personal style takes a long time to evolve and in the end, it’s a combination of subject, genre, editing and personal interests that make you unique. Most people need to experiment with genres to discover what they are really interested in.

We’re getting into Malcolm Gladwell territory here – for those that don’t know, in his book “Outliers” he rubbished the notion of talent, pointing out that prodigious ‘talents’ generally benefitted from extraordinary upbringings, often featuring very focused practice. His proposition that 10,000 hours of practice is required to become a master at anything has become widely accepted.

I’m sure that this is at least partially true. Look at chess grandmasters, gymnasts, guitarists and so on. The idea that any of these activities could result from innate talent goes against logic. The electric guitar wasn’t invented until 1936. It would be unfortunate indeed to be a talented guitarist before the instrument was even invented! Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame was a session musician for years before he joined the Yardbirds. His brilliance in architecting Led Zeppelin’s sound is surely the result of knowing studio technology inside out and a prodigious amount of practice from a very early age.

Anyway, as usual, I digress. The point I am trying to make is that talent is more often than not formed by exposure to technique, interest and practice.

The biggest takeaway in this post is that different genres throw up different opportunities to learn. The genre you embrace is the one you will hopefully master, and to an extent, although you will be able to switch genres fairly seamlessly by virtue of competence it is unlikely that you will be master of more than a couple.

Seamlessly Switching Genres in Photography

The idea that the complete photographer is a master of all genres is for the birds. Switching genres in photography can be difficult, but it is also an opportunity. Knowing what you don’t know is key to doing this successfully. I’ve been a professional photographer for close to ten years and there are genres that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole because I know my skills in that genre are not up to scratch.

People photography for example is a highly skilled occupation requiring fabulous soft skills – communication, empathy, sociability and advanced processing skills that are focused in entirely different areas to the skills that I have in photoshop. Could I learn them? Yes. Do I want to learn them? No.

At the heart of this is a simple fact, landscape photography makes my heart sing and my spirits lift in a way that working with models just doesn’t. Consequently, I’ve been very highly motivated to discover new locations, and new skills such as orienteering, map reading, snowshoeing, climbing and walking.

Specific to landscape photography is that to photograph a location well, you have to know it well. What it looks like in all seasons, where the light falls and when. You have to learn to read weather forecasts and determine when you need to be on location. In the case of landscape photography, these things take up as much time as taking photographs!

This post is part of a series about The Art of Photography

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