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6 Genres of Photography

Have you ever wondered what kind of photography you do?

I am sure that the answer is yes. Indeed, we all need the formal framework for our photographic activity. We need to know in which direction we are going. But the definition of photographic genres is not as simple as it seems. There are many classifications.

This is what I will share with you in this article. With this summary, I that you can better situate yourself.

Une photo d'un paysage en noir et blanc dans le parc national des Glaciers dans le Montana aux Etats-Unis.
Landscape in black and white of Glacier National Park in Montan in United States. In what genre do you classify that photo?

The Story Behind This Article

When I search or look for inspiration on social networks, photographers' websites, or blogs, I apply one efficient method. Indeed, the number of photos available and the number of sites is very numerous, and I cannot spend all my time on the internet. I must concentrate and be as efficient as possible.

The classification of photographic genres makes my life easier.

Over the years, as I have refined my knowledge and skills, I developed my own classification. I will explain it a little further in this article.

Do not be fooled. The classification of photography genres is quite complex. It is not as simple as it seems.

In order to save you some time, I thought it would be interesting to give you a list of the classifications of the photographic genres.

I will share with you my knowledge on the subject. I will also share my honest opinion on this very practical method at the end of this article, and

I think that I might surprise you.

Why You Should Establish a Classification of Genres

If you want to create interesting and meaningful photographs, you need to know your “photographic why,” define your photographic approach, develop a photographic consciousness, and know what kind of photography you are practicing. The more you define the boundaries of your photographic activity, the better you will become.

The more you specialize, the more skills you acquire and the more you move towards excellence.

If you dabble, you will acquire notions or bits of skills, but you will not develop a solid foundation to build your photographic profile.

By defining your photographic genre, you will explore creative avenues to find inspiration. You will truly progress.

This is what happened to me. When in 2010, I chose the path of artistic photography, I specialized. I learned techniques little by little to improve and progress. Without the knowledge of genres and without this specialization, I would not be where I am today.

Classification #1: Photographic Theme

  • Nature.
  • Experience.
  • Artistic.
  • Street.
  • Architectural.
  • Photojournalism.
  • Travel.
  • Illustration.
  • Reproduction.

As you can see, this classification lists the different themes of photography by field action. It can be handy and easy to remember, as it is very compartmentalized.

The problem is that a theme can be transversal. For example, street or architectural photos can also be artistic, or travel.

This first classification by photographic theme is useful, but not explicit enough.

This is what I call “natural classification.” If someone asks you what kind of photography you do, it is extremely easy to put yourself in one of these genres. Your interviewer will immediately understand what you mean. In his mind, he will immediately have an idea of what kind of pictures you can make.

Classification #2: Specialty

  • Photojournalism.
  • Social Media & Advertisement.
  • Fashion Marketing.

Although this classification is centered on professions, it does not consider animal and landscape photographers. It is, in my opinion, very reductive even if it can be used in certain very precise cases.

Classification #3 : The Plécy Classification of 1960

This is an attempt at classification made in 1960 by Albert Plécy who was a French journalist, photographer, painter, and filmmaker.

In this classification, he proposes a classification to help young photographers find their way in photography. He considers the purpose of photography.

  • Witness photos. These are photos that serve to testify or to report an event or a situation. In this kind, we can integrate the photo of reproduction, the scientific photo, the photo report, the photojournalism¬, the photo of fashion, or the photo of sport.
  • Art photos. These are the result of the creation of artists. This genre includes portrait photography.
  • Language photos. This is the domain of the writers of the image. These are photos in which a photographer transmits words, poetry, humor.

Although this interesting classification chooses to explain the purpose of a photograph from an intellectual point of view, it is rather impractical in everyday life.

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For example, if someone asks you what kind of photos you take, you may likely would not respond with “language photos” “or witness photos.” I do not think the person you are talking to will know much more than that. You will give the impression that you are talking down to them.

Personally, I like this classification. I keep it in mind to create my photo projects, but I never talk about it, because it is too intellectualized for my taste.

Classification #4: The Classification of Sébastien Raymond

Sébastien Raymond is a photographic journalist, portraitist and set photographer.

He proposes a classification of photography into 3 genres:

  • Aesthetic photography. This is made to please the eye. For Sébastien Raymond, aesthetic photography has no content.

    An aesthetic photographer is for him an image that has captured a wonderful moment that everyone will love. It is the valorization of the photographer by the accessibility of his images. As he says in the subtext: "when a photographer makes aesthetic photos, it is that he went to the facility. It is not his talent that spoke, but his malice. He knew that with this subject, he was going to get the most approval possible. For him, aesthetic photos are not life changing. They are photos that evaporate very quickly, immediately replaced by others.

    For Sébastien Raymond, this type of photography has no life and no reason to exist. It is just a photographic lie in the same way that an advertisement never tells the truth. For him, aesthetic photography is a purely self-centered act. It says "Love me. I have nothing to say or give to you."
  • Vernacular photography. It has no artistic pretensions. It testifies to moments in time. It shares truth in the most basic of terms. It is a photograph of vacations, of memories. It does not seek to please. It serves to share and remember. For Sébastien Raymond "vernacular photography allows us not to forget. The photographer wishes to communicate to others what he has loved. It is the photography of good memories.”
  • Conceptual photography.

    It emphasizes visual strength and realistic content.

This classification of Sebastien Raymond is a bit extreme. I have the impression that for him a beautiful animal or landscape photo has no meaning that cannot be exposed.

He only gives importance to photography when human beings appear. Moreover, conceptual photography is photography that is based on the notion of an idea. I do not agree with the meaning he gives to the word conceptual. A conceptual photograph can be symbolic or abstract. It can make you dream, provoking one to escape one’s own mind.

This is not a model I use in my photographic approach. It is much too restrictive.

Classification #5: Philippe Halsman's Classification (1961)

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