The 7 Most Popular Types of Photography Explained

For novice and professional photographers alike, the number of technical and creative skills needed to take perfect shots in 2018 can be overwhelming. Everything from capturing natural light and making good use of it with exposure variables and subject planning needs to be understood and perfected if we hope to become professional photographers or simply better at our craft. With so much to learn, how do we go about getting anywhere at all?

If we step back and consider what our early schooling looked like from a macro perspective, we get a good idea of how it is we can form a great foundation for our learning of photography. When we were young, we learnt mathematics, our first language, possibly a second, various disciplines of scientific study, sports, and various other subjects. Each one of them gave us different stimuli with which to create the, hopefully, well-rounded human beings we have become. By learning various types of photography, we are able to master a variety of skills and draw on our knowledge to eventually apply to our chosen area of work. Let’s look here at a few types of photography that can help you master the skills required to become a better photographer.

Street Photography

We’ll start with a form of photography that is accessible to most of us; street photography. This genre aims to capture everyday life as it happens and represent it in an artistic fashion. Although the definition is broad and much of the genre can actually fall into documentary photography or candid photography category, good street photography requires the development of several key photographic skills.

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First and foremost, street photography will help you hone your observation skills. You’ll be watching for small nuances that can take a photograph from a snapshot to a world-class image and you’ll be doing it on the fly. Street photographers are looking for light, moments, gestures, patterns, and juxtapositions to mention just a few things. All of these are elements that can make a great street photograph. But they all have to be applied in the chaos that is street life. Learning to see these things and make good use of them is paramount to street photography and can help you pay attention to these things in other types of photography as well.

Learn the fundamentals and art of street photography from street photographer Steve Sweatpants. Learn more.

Street photography with Steve Sweatpants

With the quick reaction times needed, many street photographers will work with their cameras in full manual mode and manual focus. They will set their exposure in advance and then pre-set their focus using a technique called “zone focusing” to ensure that what they want in focus is sharp in the split second they have to capture a moment that unfolds in front of them. Thus, learning even the basics of street photography can help you become more aware of your camera and your environment. These are great skills to have as a photographer.

Film Photography

It may seem odd that the classic medium of photography has become somewhat of a sub-genre since the digital revolution. Nonetheless, working with film is not only an excellent way to make sure you know your exposures inside and out, but to make sure you give each image some thought and make it count. You don’t see the images until later, which forces you to become more confident in making choices for your compositions, moment, and exposure.

I recommend working with slide film from time to time. You’ll see costs add up very quickly and your exposure choices reflected directly on the film. Slide film has a much narrower latitude than negative film, much like making photographs in jpg mode used to be. You’ll also see light temperature changes very clearly on slide film, which can be a great way to learn how your white balance will affect your pictures. Take a fully manual film camera, don’t use the meter (if it has one), and spend some time making images. You’ll quickly see where any technical misunderstandings you may have lie.

Portrait Photography

When making a portrait of another human being, it is important that your camera becomes second nature and not really be a part of the photograph beside making the exposure technically sound. An authentic portrait of a person is about the photographer’s connection with that person giving the viewer some sort of vicarious link to the subject. This has nothing to do with how many megapixels you have and is one of the most important skills you can master if you want to make photographs of people.

Knowing what your gear is capable of is just the beginning in portrait photography. From there, you’ll want to hone your composition techniques and learn how light affects the mood of a portrait. You may even want to delve into the use of reflectors or strobes for your portraiture. This will give you a plethora of new things to learn and make use of in your photography.

Landscape Photography or Travel Photography

In a far departure from portrait photography, let’s take a look at how landscape photography can help you to improve your skill set. Great landscape photographs transport the viewer to a time and place and give them a sense of what the photographer felt and saw.

Many of the important elements of landscape photography are often out of your control. Weather and light, for example, play huge roles in successful landscape photography and learning to interpret those and react to them can help you immensely in creating mood in your images. Mastering these things can be of great boon even to a wedding photographer. Taking the weather and using it to your advantage to tell the story of your client’s day can be very powerful.

Learn the fundamentals of travel photography with professional photographer John Greengo. From location scouting to post-processing, learn how to become a travel photographer pro. Learn more.

Travel Photography with John Greengo

In addition to helping you learn to read light and mood, landscape photography can teach you a lot about composition and patience. By learning to slow down and see the world in terms of lines and the shapes they form, you can improve your ability to visualise compositions and make use of everything that a scene has to offer you.

Food Photography

Until now, we’ve been talking mostly about receptive skills, gear, and honing your ability to see the world in terms of photographs. But, actively creating scenes is another way to learn how your lenses see the world and how light plays off different objects.

In a food set, you will often be contending with several different materials, each of which reflects light differently. Although your brain filters out much of the extraneous information you see with your naked eye (like reflections of the ceiling lights in a plate, for example), the camera is an absolute tool and these things can become very distracting in a photograph. Food photography will help you to begin seeing the way different materials interact with the light around you, particularly when you’re close-up.

Join Liza Gershan to learn how to take eye-catching food photos that will get you noticed on social media. Learn More.

You will also have the chance, much like in still life photography, to arrange your set in a methodical manner in order to create a pleasing composition. These skills can also be translated over to other genres like fine art photography, wedding photography, sports photography or fashion photography. By learning to ask yourself questions about what is possible, how you can place it, and how it will appear on camera, you can gain a much deeper understanding of photography.

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Commercial Photography

Now we get into the more complex area of commercial photography. There are countless different genres and styles within this category, but they all aim to do one thing: sell something. Working in this space assumes that you’ve mastered the technical skills and artistic side of your craft and can now make use of those to send a brand message to a consumer and convince them to part with their hard-earned cash.

In this way, you are expected to be able to see beyond photography and start hooking potential customers for something other than your photographic prowess. This is a whole new way of working that can help you to see what photography is capable of. You’ll also likely need exceptional post-processing skills with programs like Photoshop to create commercial images in the modern environment.

On top of this, you’ll often need to work to a deadline in less than ideal conditions, so a keen understanding of strobe lighting and people skills are a must. Working with a team to get the job done is a huge part of commercial photography and will give you skills well beyond just working with your camera to create beautiful images.

Mobile Photography

Your mobile phone camera can teach you a lot about popular types of photography and capturing the perfect shot. The simple functions and limited capabilities of many mobile phone cameras can help you to simplify the way you make photographs and focus on what is in front of the camera rather than on the camera itself.

Learn how to create the best images on your phone and get them noticed on social media from acclaimed mobile photographer Pei Ketron. Learn more.

Pei Ketron Mobile Photography

You’ll lose all of the amazing dynamic range, noise-free high ISO images, and multiple focal lengths that your dedicated camera system has to offer and be stripped back to a very simple set of tools with which to make images. You will be forced to focus on what’s really important in photography. If you’re like me and use a high-end Android device, skip out on the temptation to use the full manual controls of your camera for a while. Work with it in automatic mode and see what it is capable of.

The Photography of Others

There have been countless photographers before us who have made great use of the medium. I encourage you as you get into each genre you wish to learn about to gather the photography captures of some of the photography masters of that genre (no matter if it’s black and white photography, wildlife photography or aerial photography!) and study it. Consider how and why they made their images and see if you can learn some of that for yourself.

We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible when you begin learning different photography styles, but you should be able to see now how we can take the elements of one type of photography and allow it to educate us and further our own image making. Every photography style has a different set of prerequisites and learning these can expand your options when it comes time to make images.

13 instructors spanning photography and business will show you how to build the brand you’ve wanted, amplify your creative arsenal, and unearth the heart and soul of your photography business. Join us for Photo Week 2018.


Dylan Goldby FOLLOW >

Dylan Goldby is an Aussie photographer based out of Seoul, South Korea. His primary business is family portraiture, but he frequently travels to add to his ongoing Tattoos of Asia project.