Is it Better to Specialize or Generalize in Our Photography?

Hue, 2017 #cindyproject

Dear friend,

I have wondered this philosophical idea a lot — whether it is better to be a specialist, or a generalist in our photography.

My suggestion

My general idea is this: I think when you’re starting off in photography, you should be a generalist. Then as time goes on, you should try to specialize in your photography. Then once you’ve specialized in your photography and want to make a change, you want to become a generalist again.

So the cycle is like a circle:

Generalist photography -> Specialist photography -> Generalist photography -> Specialist photography

If I think of my own growth as a photographer, it looked something like this:

General photography -> Landscape photography -> Architecture photography -> Black and white photography -> Street photography -> Street portraiture -> Film photography -> Color street photography -> Urban landscape photography -> Street portraiture -> General photography -> Personal photography -> Street photography

I go through cycles and waves. I think this is the best way to stay nimble and creative in your photography. Don’t be a specialist for too long (or else you will get bored) or don’t be a generalist for too long (or else you won’t have any focus).

I believe that we should undulate or rotate between both, and cycle both. It is like bodily circadian rhythms — there is a time for work, and a time for rest. There is a time for your body to be awake and active, and a time for it to be inactive and at rest.

Avoid decline

I think we are all searching for growth in our photography. We want forward progress. We don’t want to grow rusty or go stale.

Life without progress is death. Even organisms which stay the same size are constantly growing. Because the opposite would be that they are shrinking, and dying.

For example, there was a man who ‘plateau’d’ at squatting 200 pounds for 20 years. Some of his body-builder friends asked him: “Aren’t you frustrated that you plateau’d at 200 pounds, and can’t squat any more?” The man smiled back and said, “Actually — the fact that I’m getting older and weaker, and I can still squat 200 pounds, I actually think I’m growing stronger.”

Discover the truth for yourself

Honestly; I can only share my experiences. They will be different from yours.

So your goal in photography is to discover the truth for yourself. Never stop growing, never stop learning, never stop experimenting, and searching. Stay curious, nimble, flexible, and growth-oriented.

We should keep learning in our photography until the day we die.