I am Sustainable
With very few exceptions (@RickSammon and @JoeMcNallyPhoto :) ), photographers should specialize and not generalize. Generalize for the wall (art). But specialize for the wallet (commerce).
A specialist is an expert, authority or master craftsman in a technique, subject, niche, topic, theme. A generalist tries to be all things to everyone (and often fails). A specialist narrowly focuses his skillfulness and expertise in one certain direction - with one audience, one niche, one narrowly casted purpose.
Even if you have generalized photographic skills, it's usually better to lead with your specialty. Your strength. Your unique selling propositions. Your competitive advantage. Don't lead with generalities.
Photo clients may ooh and aah over your general portfolio. But the fact is, they usually don't know what to do with you. 'Don't call us, we'll call you'...is a typical response to the photographic generalist.
Photographic generalists have a hard time marketing and branding themselves. Too scattered in various directions. No real focus. No clear cut course, tact, preference. No defining strength, style, vision. Again, generalize for the wall (art)...specialize for the wallet (commerce).
But being a specialist is only half the battle. Being a specialist often compounds your new business dilemma, since the scope of your market is now considerably smaller and narrower.
It's not good enough to call yourself a specialist. That specialty needs to be sustainable. You need to earn a living with and through that specialty. Otherwise, it's simple art and not commerce. Great for the wall, but not for the wallet. So it's best not to drill down too far in your photographic specialty. Otherwise, you'll be drilling yourself right out of business. Your photographic business has to be sustainable in order to call it a business.
It's a good thing to be proud of your photographic specialty. We're proud of you, too. We're all rooting for you to succeed. But you can not and will not succeed unless that specialty can sustain you. Unless that specialty has a wide enough market base to support, underpin and shore you up. And I'm not talking about nurturing and nursing your photographic ego. I'm talking about putting money in the bank. Making a living. Sustaining you. Fattening your wallet.
Shooting doors, windows, silhouettes, urban grunge, peeling paint, textures, clouds...are all aspirational subject matter for specialists. And I applaud and encourage you to shoot them. But will these specialties sustain you in business? Unfortunately, they most likely will not. You have to find photographic specialties that balance your interest and passion with money and accounting.
The simple mantra for sustaining yourself in business is to make more money than you spend. Simple. Your specialty needs to be sustainable.
Another exception to employing generalist tactics is when you're starting out in photography. You should generalize. Then, over time and based on customer feedback, let your experience help you more narrowly define your photographic specialties.
I know there will be those of you out there reading this post who don't care a bit about making money with your photography. That's cool. Good for you. Shoot whatever your heart indulges you to shoot. This conversation is for the emerging photographer who needs to find a sustainable revenue model...to build their business and brand.
Don't try to please everyone. It won't work. Don't try to show everything you ever shot to anyone who will pay attention. That won't work either. It's okay to build generalist skills, but brand and market with your specialty. And make sure that specialty is sustainable...so you're around next year to read another post. :)