It’s useful to understand the different types of photography and genres practiced today. On one hand, it’s good to know that you aren’t missing out on good pictures from photographers who capture different subjects than you do. But more importantly, when you see a wide range of photographic types and styles, you might be inspired to try out another genre of photography for yourself. Although this list doesn’t cover every genre, it outlines many of the most important.
Landscape photography is another way of saying scenic or environmental photography. It involves taking pictures of a natural scene – often large and grand, but sometimes smaller and more intimate – in a way that brings the viewer into a scene. Landscape photography is one of the most popular types today, spinning off several sub-genres such as storm photography, seascapes, and so on. With a broader definition, it also includes “urban landscape” photography and manmade scenes.
Landscape photography is a very accessible type of photography, but that doesn’t mean it is easy to master!
Wildlife photography can bring out some of the most intense photographers you’ll meet – people who might spend hours on end waiting for an animal to wander into the perfect spot, or search for creatures that most people would rather try to avoid. But it’s also something you can practice in your own backyard, or a short drive from where you live, since there are animals to be found everywhere. From time to time, you’ll see a photo series of urban wildlife that rivals the best images captured in more remote locations.
One of the most accessible types of photography is macro, the art of capturing small creatures and objects that we ordinarily overlook. Macro photography is usually associated with images of bugs and flowers, but even subjects like snowflakes or water droplets in the studio can make for amazing macro photos. A related style of photography is simply “close-up” photography, which might not be as magnified as true macro work, but still isolates a small slice of the world that otherwise may not stand out.
Although a dedicated macro lens can be expensive, a set of extension tubes is much cheaper and likely works just fine with your current equipment. For photographers who only ever take pictures when they travel, my top recommendation is to start practicing macro photography one way or another. It’s not easy to master, but you’ll learn some very useful technical skills and take some stellar photos along the way.
It isn’t always easy to take underwater photos, even if you live in the right location for it. Not only do you need a good waterproof camera, but you also need some specific lighting equipment the moment you start taking photos more than a short distance from the surface. Add in scuba gear and the requisite training for longer dives, and you can see why this is one of the trickier genres to start practicing. But if you put in the money and effort, you’ll end up with photos that not nearly as many people are taking today. Underwater photography spans everything from wildlife and macro to portraits that are striking to the eye.
Encompassing everything from smartphone images taken through a telescope to deep-space photographs from the Hubble, astrophotography can be one of the most humbling types of photography to practice. It’s humbling for two reasons: First, the size and scale of subjects captured in this style of photography are enough to bring on existential awe in almost anyone. But more to the point, if you don’t have excellent exposure and post-processing techniques, any lack of knowledge will be immediately obvious.
There is also a genre of “astrolandscape” photography that includes the Milky Way with a slice of Earth in the foreground. Although it is still tricky to take astrolandscape photos, they’re a bit easier for most photographers to master.
6. Aerial Photography
Whether this is simply a branch of landscape photography or a genre of its own is debatable, but either way, aerial photography is experiencing an explosion in popularity today thanks to the advent of high-quality consumer drones. Aerial photography also encompasses high-altitude images from planes and helicopters, as well as images where the subject is manmade rather than a landscape per se.
Scientific photography is a broad category, encompassing everything from extreme magnification microscope photography to, again, astrophotography. Some manmade objects sneak their way into this as well, like photos of particle colliders or the space station that periodically go viral. It’s a type of photography that I hope continues to see more and more attention in the future, since it has the power to show us entirely new sights and change the way we think about the world.
The broadest type of people photography is portraiture, covering everything from family portraits to fine-art photography and commercial work. Often, the goal of portraiture is to show the character of a subject – to capture the person’s personality and emotion in an image. Portrait photography is also quite an accessible genre overall, not requiring more than a single prime lens and flash to start at a high level (or whatever equipment you already have if you’re just testing the waters). But capturing the essence of a subject, or meeting the goals for your commercial project, can take a lifetime of work.
One of the most important events in many people’s lives is a wedding, and that means wedding photographers have a huge responsibility. Not only do wedding photographers need to have good camera and lighting skills, but they also must know how to work with people and capture the right emotions almost effortlessly. This is a difficult type of photography to practice, and you only get one chance to do it right, so I have a lot of respect for good wedding photographers.
Documentary photographers seek to convey news or information in their images. Sometimes, the photos depict a moment so striking that it crosses the line into art or otherwise causes viewers to have an emotional reaction. Documentary photography can happen anywhere, from local news stories to reporting directly from war zones. In the best of cases, documentary photos shed light on important yet little-known events, or celebrate the best examples of humanity for everyone to see. Not all documentary photos are newsworthy; sometimes, they simply document a place or culture to show other people.
Another broad style of photography is sports photography, from international events like the Olympics to adventure-based photography in the most remote areas of the world. Even a parent photographing their child playing sports is part of this genre – a type of photography which requires top-notch autofocus skills, good timing, and often a very fast shutter speed.
A cousin of portraiture, but distinct enough to count as its own genre, is fashion photography. This is a fast-paced world, and the best fashion photographers are intimately knowledgeable not just about lighting and photography but also the clothing styles they’re photographing. Fashion photographs are usually intended for brands and advertisements, but not always, especially in today’s Instagram world.
Commercial photography of people is anything intended to sell a product, especially advertisements and even stock photos. Commercial photographers often simply capture the products themselves, although that’s something I’ll cover later in this article; people are still used very frequently in advertising campaigns today. Usually, the goal of commercial photography is to create images that match the emotions and message the brand in question is trying to convey. These photographers need special skills in studio lighting and visualization to make the client’s plan a reality.
7. Street Photography
Street photography is about capturing slices of life that happen in common areas in a city, such as parks and sidewalks. Good street photos find meaning and purpose in seemingly ordinary moments or interactions, making viewers think about something they would otherwise pass by. Street photography is often associated with black and white work on 35mm film, but modern-day street photos utilize almost any post-processing styles and camera equipment.
8. Event Photography
Aside from weddings, there are broader classes of events that deserve recognition as a separate genre of photography. For example, corporate events, concerts, parades, and other celebrations all count as event photography. You can expect unpredictability and fast-paced scenes – but also interesting human interactions and sometimes (like with concert photos) very good light. Skilled event photographers are able to convey emotions so that viewers are able to relive the moment.
One of the broadest types of people photography is travel – photographing life in another area of the world, whether portraits or candid images. Good travel photography captures the striking similarities and differences among people across the world, making us feel more connected and aware of how other people live.
10. Pet Photography
Pet photography doesn’t fit perfectly under one of this article’s broader categories, but I put it at the end of “people photography” because pets are an important part of many people’s families. And similar skills apply to pet photography as portraiture – understanding light, dealing with fast-paced chaos, and conveying the essence of your subject. Aside from selfies, this might just be the most popular genre of photography today!
1. Product Photography
Another branch of commercial photography is product photography, where you are typically shooting in a studio with careful lighting to accentuate the product in question (though sometimes outdoors or on location). In the same way as commercial portraiture, a product photographer’s goal is to match the vision of the company in question. An outdoor brand will have different needs from a high-end lifestyle company, even if both sell the same underlying type of product, such as clothing or backpacks.
Food photography has experienced a remarkable growth in popularity in recent years thanks to social media. Previously, it was essentially a sub-genre of commercial work – advertisements, cookbooks, menus, and so on – but it’s becoming more a part of documentary photography today.
No matter the final output, though, food photos almost always try to capture their subject in the most appetizing way possible. Sometimes, food photographers will replace the actual foods in an image with artificial substitutes that look tastier, such as glue rather than milk when photographing cereal!
3. Still Life Photography
Another broad style of photography is still life photography, taking pictures in a studio of a manufactured scene in order to look as good as possible. Although still life photography sometimes includes living things such as plants, I’m putting it under the “manmade objects” category because it can include almost anything. Some of the most interesting still life images I’ve seen are of seemingly boring objects like silverware and office supplies.
The last type of photography in this list is also one of the most popular: architectural photography, including cityscapes and other details of buildings and construction. In many ways, architecture is like “urban landscape” photography, with practitioners of both genres often using tripods and careful post-processing techniques to accentuate their subject as best as possible. However, architectural photography has the added difficulty of dealing with straight lines – not an easy task if you want to avoid a skewed or tilted look in the final photo.
Other Types of Photography
Not every photo fits neatly into a single genre of photography. Sometimes, an image will straddle the line between two or more different types, like a landscape image of manmade telescopes under the Milky Way. Is that landscape, architecture, scientific, or astrophotography? It doesn’t really matter – these genres don’t have a hard line between them, and the categories just make it easier to talk about.
Other images might not meet the criteria for any of these categories at all, like surreal composite photography or abstract images where you can’t tell what the subject is in the first place. That’s perfectly fine, and it doesn’t say anything about the quality of a photo one way or another. The point of the list above is to give you some ideas for different styles of photography you may enjoy, not constrict the types of images you can take.