When I started in photography someone once said to me "You must specialise in something rather than doing a bit of everything". Well back then I had no idea what appealed to me, I was happy to photograph most things - and still am in many ways - apart from weddings.
I used to paint a lot - in black and white - and usually portraits, mostly of women, so I guess B&W photography and portraiture was inevitable for me. I don't think I need to "specialise" in anything but maybe he was trying to tell me to find what spoke to me the most. I can't shoot a landscape unless I feel a human element to it. So that was it...
I was inspired by many photographers of all eras but in the end stopped looking at their work to find my own.
These days when I photograph I don't have any plans as to what I want to achieve as I never know in advance what's in front of me until I see it, and that's the way I like it. If I preplan I get disappointed. If I am free of preconceived ideas I can be creative and spontaneous.
Today I went to photograph a young child (non-studio). Mum didn't want to be in any of the photos. After photographing the child for a while, I suggested to Mum to do a couple of portraits as there was a little corner in the home that was perfect for what I could 'see'. I took into account the furniture, background tones, hair, eyes and the beautiful light streaming through the window. She was at first reluctant as she hates having her photo taken (like me), not liking her hair (which was stunning) and always insisted she's unphotogenic. After a chat she agreed and was very uncomfortable but then enjoyed the photography session.
This was unplanned and the portrait I saw through the lens was incredible. I wanted to show this woman that she IS beautiful and in the end she had gained more confidence just from the experience of the photo shoot.
So, I guess, I feel my way through a photography session. It's an emotional journey for me with immense satisfaction.
When photographing people I take my cues from their moods and feelings on the day. It's important for me to be intuitive and at the same time use gentle persuasion and a healthy dose of patience and respect.
Technical know-how is of course important and I've learnt so much through self-study in many books, apug and other photographers. I studied photography formally for a year and a bit until I decided it was stunting my creativity.
Sure I've learned the rules and fundamentals, but unless I can visually feel the image it just doesn't work for me. And if it doesn't work for me, it doesn't see the light of day.
This won't answer all your questions as there are so many factors to take into account that it's impossible for little me to explain in one post.