I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between a ‘generalist’ photographer, versus being a ‘specialist’ photographer.
A ‘generalist’ photographer photographs everything. A ‘specialist’ photographer only focuses on one genre (street photography, studio photography, wedding photography).
I was meditating on this idea quite a bit, and I realized: as human beings, we are generalists. Our bodies have many different parts— our head, arms, legs, and organs. Without all of these ‘general’ parts, we couldn’t survive.
A human being isn’t just a specialized part. A human being isn’t just a hand. A human being isn’t just a foot. A human being is a sum of the parts.
Are humans specialized?
Also human beings eat ‘general’ foods. We can eat plants, and meat. We are omnivores. This is what helped us survive. We can eat practically anything, and survive.
A ‘specialized’ human being could perhaps only eat meat. Or only eat rice. But if suddenly we don’t have meat or rice, we would die.
Why it is better to be a general photographer
I also think that in our photography (if you want to survive for the long-run), you should be a generalist photographer.
As a generalist photographer, you are more flexible to your environment. You can adapt.
For example, when I hyper-specialized in just ‘street photography’ it worked well when I lived in a city. But when I moved to the suburbs, I died creatively. I then realized I need to generalize more in my photography, so I started to photograph anything that interested me. I shot stuff on the ground, urban landscapes, furniture in my home, light streaming through a window, personal photos of Cindy, and self-portraits of myself. I started to become re-born as a photographer. I felt alive again.
Even in careers and jobs, you don’t want to specialize. If you can only do web development— what are you going to do when WordPress takes over, and anyone can make a slick website without any coding experience?
If you are specialized in being a taxi driver, what are you going to do when Uber takes over? And what will Uber drivers do once self-driving cars take over?
Even in photography — what are you going to do if you are hyper-specialized as a wedding photographer? What will you do once iPhones are as good as DSLR’s, and the prices of wedding photography drops by 80%?
Adapt or die
I feel that we should follow mother nature and evolution. We need to learn how to adapt to our environment, or else we will die.
I think in most things in life, it is better to adapt to your environment, rather than have your environment adapt to you.
So in photography, don’t limit yourself to just one thing. I know that I’ve made my name for myself in street photography, but now as I’m becoming a more generalist photographer— I feel more alive. I’m having fun shooting urban landscapes, nature landscapes, self-portraits, abstract photos, street photos, and portrait photos. I know if one day street photography isn’t popular anymore — I can share ideas about any form of photography. And ‘photography’ as a general concept isn’t going away anytime soon.
Diversify or die
Diversify your inspirations, your style of photography, and don’t let yourself become trapped. Break the golden cage, and set yourself free.
Never stop innovating,