Finding your niche in photography

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Finding Your Niche in Photography -   a personal story by Christina Maki

If you had asked me when I was younger what I thought I’d be doing for a living at age 30, you’d have gotten a pretty wide variety of answers. For a long time I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian. At one point in my very early years, I actually thought professional cheerleader was a viable option. (Thank goodness that dream died) Thinking about squeezing my butt into one of those tiny skirts makes me want to laugh and cry all at once!) There was about a year long period where I wanted to do art on motorcycles and automobiles, and I even got myself an offer to apprentice at a local customs shop that summer. But that one didn’t pan out, either. In any case, at no point in my youth could you have gotten “professional birth photographer” as an answer. It wasn’t a job I’d ever even considered until a very specific set of circumstances led me here, but I attribute all of my success within that genre to having really and truly found my calling—something that’s often easier said than done!


“Passion is the genesis of genius.” -Galileo



Coming from a guy who was shunned by everyone for daring to believe that the planets revolved around the sun, that was pretty poignant advice. Dude had no way of knowing if his ideas would ever become accepted or proven, but he fought for them anyway. That’s how much he cared about his life’s work. When it comes to photography, finding your niche is vital to success, because as soon as you have that “Aha!” moment and realize your life’s passion, it will start to come through in your work.

Before I discovered that birth photography was even an actual genre, I was doing mostly portraits with a smattering of small weddings and events here and there. My work was, at best, decent. Then I got pregnant and started looking at birth stories online, and I was absolutely hooked. My own newfound passion for motherhood bled over into my love of photography. It was a perfect union. As soon as I was done with maternity leave, I booked my first birth session, and the caliber of my work was instantly and exponentially improved. I could hardly believe how much better my birth images were than my portraits, but nothing had changed. Same camera, same lenses, same photographer. The only thing different was the passion behind the photos. When you do what you love, it shows.


Having passion for your work also gives you the courage to take risks. When I got pregnant, I was working in a specialty veterinary hospital as a surgical nurse—the closest I ever got to one of my childhood career considerations—and I went back for a short time after my son was born. It was the same job, the same coworkers, the same animals I adored and worked hard to save each day. But I just didn’t have the same love for that job after experiencing the thrill and emotion of documenting births, so I made the decision to quit my job and try to build my business enough to sustain our family.


You know that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indiana is standing on the precipice outside of the temple and realizes he has to take the Leap of Faith? There’s nothing below him but a really crunchy, painful death as far as he can tell, but he has to trust that everything will be okay and take that first step. Leaving my job was a lot like that (except I’m not nearly as tan or athletic as young Harrison Ford, and nobody turned into a skeleton at the end).


I had no idea where this career path would lead or how long it would be before I was successful, but knowing this was what I was meant to do gave me the push I needed to complete my own Leap of Faith. I handed in my two weeks’ notice and felt confident that things would work out because I knew I had the fire to make it happen. Eat your heart out, Indy.

 Photo by:  Melissa Slater

Photo by:  Melissa Slater


A specialty makes your life easier—and cheaper!


Finding your niche also makes marketing much less complicated. If you’re a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none, it becomes very, very hard to narrow your target audience and promote yourself. You could spend $750 a year on marketing for portraits,  weddings, babies and seniors, or you could spend half of that marketing to one of those specific genres pulling in more of the work you actually want to do. (Don’t laugh at that figure, wedding photogs. I just picked the first dollar amount that popped into my head.) Discovering what makes your heart pound and your soul sing can also allow you to increase your bottom line, and making what you deserve while doing what you adore is a foolproof recipe for both success in business and happiness in your career.


So, how does one find their niche? Well, like I said, it’s not always easy. In photography, there are about a hundred different specialties you could choose. Birth photography just sort of dawned on me after looking at umpteen thousand photos and then experiencing labor and delivery from the other side of the lens, but for you it might not just plop into your lap.

Life’s a buffet. Try a bit of everything. (Except that weird lumpy stuff on the end.)

Prior to doing births, I did a healthy mix of everything just to test the waters. I did some pet photography, which I really enjoyed but realized there wasn’t a big market for in Kansas City just yet. I did—and continue to do—a lot of nature photography. Again, not going to make me a ton of money anytime soon (still waiting on that phone call from NatGeo), but I truly love it as a hobby. I shot landscapes, which is something I definitely like to do, but Ansel Adams I am not! I continue to work on weddings here and there, but it’s not something I am remotely passionate about. I second shoot and will take on a wedding for a friend or family member, but to me it often just feels like a chore once I get to editing them unless the wedding is really special to me. And I did commercial work for some local companies, which brings in great money but isn’t exactly what I want in terms of creative control and artistry. None of the things I tried really made me happy, but you just kind of have to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks, and eventually you find something you really enjoy that also makes you profitable. The point here is that you shouldn’t feel like you’re stuck with portrait photography if you find that you love landscapes and can really rock ‘em, because maybe you are the next Ansel. You won’t know until you try!

Make an existing passion profitable.

If you already have something you’re passionate about and some existing talents, think about how you can incorporate those things into your business. If you love watching whatever big game is on ESPN and you’re great at fast-motion photographs, maybe sports photography would be a good fit. If people love the photos on your foodie blog, maybe you have a future in culinary photography. (As an added bonus, think of all the delicious stuff you get to eat! Invest in some stretchy pants.) Maybe you like working with teens and could really make waves as a senior photographer. It may even be something nobody has thought of as a photo genre, and there’s a lot to be said for that kind of innovation in business.

Whatever it is, meditate on what you love and work it into your art. The fire it lights in you will spur you on in those moments when you doubt yourself, and once you see how it affects the results of your work, your confidence will soar! Then work to perfect your art in the genre you’ve chosen by practicing all the time and going to classes, conferences, and workshops—like {hive}!—that will help you improve your business savvy and your technical skills. The more you learn and grow, the more you’ll love your results and the more passion you’ll have for your work, which in turn will make you want to keep at it and improve even more.


We are super stoked to introduce to you Ms. Christina Maki our newest {hive-blogger}.  She is one of the most down to earth people you will ever meet.  She's smart, funny and super talented.  We are blessed to have her on the {hive-workshops} team!  Bee on the look out for many more posts from Christina.  Until then check out her personal BLOG  & her PHOTOGRAPHY page here :).