Niche-market photography has become a necessity for professionals to survive in today’s overcrowded market. A couple of years back, just being a drone photographer was in fact a very unique niche of its own. Not so much anymore. Now in 2020 we see many skilled aerial image creators living and working within our own zip codes. If you are struggling to make an impact in this fast paced environment, it is time to tighten down the ratchet and identify what your specialty is. It is time to develop your own niche within drone photography.
In which areas do you stand out above most of the other DJI drone operators? Do you photograph architecture better than most? How about wedding portraits? Stock photography? Castles? Yachts? Golf courses? Are you more skilled than others at handling the joysticks in difficult flying situations? Do you understand a great deal about auto racing? Agriculture? Land development? Humpback whales?
Identifying your niche should be rather simple. Your particular niche will generally align with your hobbies or with your type of employment. What motivates you? What excites you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Once you have pinned down your niche, try to tighten it up. Rather than “scenic landscapes”, go for “scenic mountain landscapes of the Sierra Nevada range”. A tight niche is how you become known as the expert. In the photo industry we like to say there are three possible tactics from which to choose:
1) Be the very cheapest photographer (no thank you)
2) Be the very best photographer
3) Have the tightest niche
Changing and evolving your niche over they years is not just okay, but important. One of the world’s most successful commercial photographers, Joel Grimes, says that a photographer can only remain competitive in the marketplace is they continue to change-up their niche and style every several years.
Here is an example; for about 20 years of my career I was the best in the world at creating sepia-toned images of the indigenous Hawaiian people and their traditional hula dance. That was a super-tight niche! Because of that, I was sought after by clients worldwide. When my enthusiasm and interest eventually waned, I developed a new niche creating images of cowboys. After that came resort hotel interiors. Finally now, my established photography niche is drone photography for high-end resort marketing.
Developing your niche to the point of expertise will take work. Remember the old rule which says, “10,000 hours of practice will make you an expert”? (Malcolm Gladwell, 2008) And then there is the “Three Book Rule.” If you read three books about a topic you will be an expert compared to 99% of the population. You don’t need a degree or an expensive certification, or even permission from the FAA to build your niche in aerial photography.
Yes, you must practice, study, absorb, learn, read articles, rinse and repeat. Regardless of whether you fly a Mavic, Phantom, or Inspire, you must work your way into the industries surrounding that niche. Get to know the people who are involved with your niche. Get to know the rules and the odd quirks. Learn to see opportunities that people outside of the niche cannot see.
Ultimately, it is important that you become known as the expert in your niche. This is when people will pay for your aerial photography what you are worth without asking why. Put yourself out there as the expert. Volunteer to speak at clubs, on radio talk shows, or in a Ted Talk. Your niche market is bound to have Facebook groups and trade magazines. Share your knowledge. Create a blog about your niche. Create a Pinterest page. Refer to yourself as, “Nick Smith, Aerial Photographer of the Rural Ohio Farm Community.” All of these steps tell your clients that you are the expert.
The Flying Farmer has nailed his niche in the drone world. Jim Picot in Australia created his niche with a uniquely identifiable color palette over water. Darren David Wilden captivates us with aerial composites that mimic Hollywood movie posters. We recognize a Barry Blanchard California coastal, Andy Leclerc’s landscape composites, or a Loretta Alkalay tropical boat harbor photo before we see their names. Recognizing the artist before seeing their name has enormous branding value.
Marketing, advertising, and branding will fall into place and become more cost effective once you establish your niche. Take deliberate steps to find out who you are in the drone world, and start developing your clearly identifiable niche as soon as possible. Rather than you having to search for jobs, more jobs will land in your lap as people will recognize your name. You wouldn’t call Ansel Adams (1902-1984) to photograph your daughter’s wedding, would you? I think not.