Ever since the first photograph ever taken, back in 1839, photography has been evolving in different directions, as its presence spread to all spheres of our lives. The curiosity for this intriguing medium, so different from everything anyone has ever seen until then, began to grow, and many began to explore its possibilities, unwittingly creating types of photography that we still recognize today. Over the course of its short but rich history, photographic image-making became more and more accessible and revolutionized, giving its artists a wider range of possibilities to express their creativity, but also to use the means of a photograph to promote products, capture important moments and people, or even to conduct scientific researches. With this in mind, we will talk about types of professional photography although, of course, you can still take pictures for your own pleasure and place yourself within a certain genre nevertheless.
Although photography went through a period of a complete renaissance with the development of technology and the arrival of the digital environment, its core genres remained the same, and a few new ones appeared. Naturally, of course, inevitable changes occurred - it goes without saying that photographers working with analog imagery (which, let me remind you, involved filmstrip, a limited number of shots, and complex printing and retouching processes taking place within a darkroom, among other things) had a much harder job to do, in comparison to their contemporary colleagues who now work with raw digital files and computer softwares such as Photoshop. And so, the approach to almost all genres of photography that still exist today also altered. Each of them requires a certain balance between two crucial elements every type of arts requires - talent and skills, and because there are so many of them, the possibilities are truly endless.
Generally speaking, types of photography can be categorized based on what’s on the opposite side of your lens. If we start from a very broad point of view, we can say there are three main topics one can photograph: people, nature and things. Subsequently, we can deduct these into more specific types, tightly related to their purpose. Depending on that very purpose, the images can either depict real or constructed scenarios, and have a commercial or creative end.
When it comes to people, there is of course portraiture, usually meaning taking pictures of someone’s face in order to obtain a particular expression or an emotion. It also means fashion photography, involving models wearing items from a certain brand; celebrity portraits; and fine art photography - of the nude, for example. For all of the above, apart from technical skills and good knowledge of your equipment, photographers need to know their way around people, as they’ll be dealing with their subjects, but also other professionals on set sometimes. Photographing things is typically called still life and it is mostly working in advertising and creating campaigns for products, of any kind. Here, we also mention food photography, which requires you to be a great lighting connoisseur, among other things. Finally, there’s nature, and here we have an array of types, such as landscape, wildlife, underwater, flora and aerial photography.
All of these, for example, are usually created as editorials, meaning they’ve been commissioned by a publication or a client (although, like any other kind, they can also be done for creative or personal purposes). In such a vast universe, there are many more types of photography, and what they all have in common is the “truth” - unlike creative genres, they need to capture pure truth and facts, and thus cannot undergo almost any kind of editing. As you can imagine, these kind of images do not aim to be artistic in any way, as they usually only provide a record of events.
As part of the editorial genre, there’s almost everything you can imagine. Here, we find documentary, travel photography, which capture the lives of our society’s members and places. Photojournalism (or reportage) produce pictures of war and political events for news agencies and media, meaning that this kind of photographer needs to be prepared for possible danger and, above all, needs to be precise and fast in the execution and delivery of images. Similar rules stand for sports photographers as well. In this category there are also lesser known types, such as scientific photography, industrial and corporate portraiture, event photography, and even spy and satellite imagery, for military purposes.
Don’t think we forgot one of the most common types out there: wedding photography, however, falls under retail, as it represents a paid job, but in service of capturing a record of significant achievements - same as a funeral, graduation and rites of passage.
Now, because things aren’t already complicated as it is, I feel like I should also highlight the fact that different types of photography can also overlap and mix up between them. Because what if a photographer likes to take more than one kind of pictures? In light of this fact, you can now remember all the exhibitions you’ve ever seen and notice many of them featured fashion, documentary, landscape, or any other type of photography mentioned above. This is because many pictures, even though initially created for commercial or editorial purposes only, also carry an artistic vision, and that way they end up within a set of aesthetic rules which constitute a fine art photograph. Think of Ansel Adams, who captured Yosemite Park in order to preserve its image, true, but its visual impact is so breathtaking that you cannot not think of it as a work of art, or even the glittery David LaChapelle, whose imagery basically built up an entire genre of its own within artistic fashion photography. There are many more examples of this practice - so many, in fact, that it’s hard to determine whether we can talk about only one well-defined type anymore.
Finally, another thing to consider if the difference between photography genres and photography style. While we’ve established that genre depends on your subject, style is an attribute of the photographer and it represents technical and aesthetic choices he/she makes during the process of creation of a photographic image. Some types have clear rules on the matter and leave little space for experimentation, but others highly encourage it. Speaking of visual aspects, we have the choice between color and black and white, different shooting techniques such as time-lapse, long and double exposure, soft or precise focus, macro or wide angle lenses, to name just a few. Naturally, photography is also inspired by great movements in arts, which also determine the way they appeal, such as surrealism, abstraction, conceptual, minimalism and many, many more.
Have you figured out your favorite type of photography yet?
Editors’ Tip: About Contemporary Photography by Elisabeth Couturier
Explore more about the world of contemporary photography. This book explores all aspects of it – photography’s role in society, such as photojournalism and fashion photography, to more traditional and purely artistic shots. It presents photographers’ obsessions, unusual formats, differing methods, and the vast range of genres depicted. If you are new to the world of photography, this book will help you recognize different styles and place them in clear historical context, assimilate the essential technical vocabulary, and identify thirty key artists and their works. This densely illustrated book is a comprehensive study of contemporary photography enables the reader to understand society’s relationship to photography, through exploring everything from still life to Japanese eroticism, portraits to cityscapes, the diverse schools and forms of photography around the world are put into focus, and chronologies of technical innovations and major dates.
All images used for illustrative purposes only.