food photography, travel photography & cinemagraphs

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Why I Don't Have a Photography Niche

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A year and a half ago, I met up with a freelance photographer friend to discuss making the jump to freelance myself. He asked if I was going to put all of my focus into food photography since that had been such a large portion of my work up to that point. At the time I was working for a restaurant group. The logic with picking a niche is that you become known for doing one thing and everyone hires you to do that one thing. It’s a theoretical cheat code for getting work as a freelancer. 

Food Photography by Sandy Noto at S.K.Y. in Chicago

My answer then and now is that I don’t want a niche. For many years, I was known as the person to go to for cinemagraph work (see below some of my work for Universal Studios on the left and MGM resorts on the right) and I had a steady stream of commercial cinemagraph projects. In some ways it was great but sometimes I started to feel creatively stagnated. The work was incredible but I got really good at one thing and one thing only.

The Huntsman GIF by Sandy Noto
Cocktail Cinemagraph by Sandy Noto

Marketing vs. Reality

For a while I tried to label myself as a photographer and multi-media artist. This I thought would encapsulate my range of interests in different photography subjects as well as my cinemagraph and GIF work. It also felt honest and true.

I tested it out this title at a few events and quickly found myself looking at blank stares as people tried to figure out if I was in fact slightly deranged and possibly unemployed. It’s important to describe yourself in a way that’s easily understandable I came to realize. As a person, I always want to feel like I'm conveying myself in a way that feels true to me. As a business owner, it's also important to convey my work in a way that's quickly understandable. So I tried out various combinations of “photographer”, “photographer and gif artist”, “food photographer” and so on, eventually growing most confident in food and travel photographer. 

The Reality

When I meet new people, I introduce myself as a professional food and travel photographer and while that's true, it's only a snippet of reality. For example, I started this week out by wrapping up a large industrial photography project. On Tuesday, I had a shoot with an interior designer to capture his newest project. Wednesday started off bright and early with an event for a women’s makeup line and then I had shoot at a new restaurant. Friday is a wedding day. So just in one week, I'll be working on everything from industrial photography to wedding photography.

Industrial photography by Sandy Noto
Chicago interior design photography by Sandy Noto
Photography for Equinox x Glossier event by Sandy Noto

I’m absolutely thrilled for each of these shoots. Maintaining a wide range keeps things fresh and exciting for me. Over the last 2 and a half years, I’ve photographed over a 100 restaurants and have taken over 25,000 images of food. It’s a huge part of what I do but it's not a niche that I want to settle in.

Progressing as a creative

Each new thing I photograph gives me a fresh perspective into photography. It also jolts me out of creative ruts. These days, I feel very comfortable photographing restaurants and food. I know the angles I like, the lighting that works best and the type of styling I like to see. It would be easy to shift into autopilot for weeks at a time if I was predominately focused on food but fully delving into a range of photography subjects pushes me to stay present and to constantly think about my work. When I'm photographing a large industrial space or a newly finished interior design project, I'm much more aware of my lens distortion and the angles of each shot. With portraits and weddings, I have to feel extremely confident in my technical skills so I can focus entirely on the people in front of my lens. 

Do what works for you

I love variety and change. Jumping into a new project is thrilling for me. I realize that's not true for everyone and there are plenty of photographers I admire that go deep into one subject matter. The great thing about being a photographer is that you choose your own destiny. Create the reality you want.