If you watch any amount of college football, you’ve probably noticed team helmets. Although the helmets themselves are not noticeably different from one team to another, each team imprints a design on their helmets to fit with their particular mascot and brand. While these designs distinguish one team’s helmet from another there is one, almost universal item adorning these hard hats atop that design — stickers. Players get stickers when they make an outstanding play in practice. Most of the starting players will have half their helmet covered in these stickers. Embedded in this cheap, seemingly small item on the helmet is a fundamental lesson for photographers. You need to make a splash in front of the people that matter.
Who Are You Trying To Impress?
The advent of social media has made clear who photographers are interested in impressing — other photographers. If you participate in any of the myriad online photographer communities, you’ll see togs literally begging on their hands and knees for acceptance by their peers. There is a logical reason for this. Most assume that other photographers are more educated in the art of photography than people that consume it. In other words, if you’re summarily accepted by other photographers, you’ve made it — you’re in! The problem with this way of thinking is that other photographers are not typically your clientele. You should be most eager and interested in impressing your client pool. Do you know who they are?
This is not to say that having “help” from other photographers is not important. On the contrary I’ve written here about how having photography friends and photography heroes is an immense benefit to your development. The problem with relying too much about what other photographers think of your work is that they are typically not buying your services. If you find a photography niche that is aimed at photographers, by all means go all in, but this is not typical. Once you have started a photography business, you must make a splash on their turf in a way that will speak to them directly. The more you do this, the more your business will thrive.
How to Make a Splash
There are two fundamental ways to stand apart from your competition. You can either be an exceptional practitioner of known methods, or you have to posses a skill that few people have. These two ideas are not mutually exclusive, you can and should try to incorporate both into your professional development. For instance, every college football player knows the fundamentals of the game to some degree — they wouldn’t be playing for a college team otherwise. The question is, how can players build on their fundamental skills in order to make themselves indispensable on the field.
In photography, the barriers to entry have never been lower. As a result, there has never been more technology available aimed at masking low quality images. Instagram revolutionized photography based on this platform. As you begin to master the fundamental techniques that all photographers must acquire, you must also test the accepted boundaries. Many promising photographers get to a point where they do adequate work, then become comfortable, never stretching their skills to their full potential.
Every Photographer Can Stand Out
In order to be an exceptional photographer, you will need to be willing to fail. Fear of failure or ridicule by others often prevents the natural process of discovery necessary to find your own uniqueness. Many feel that there is no undiscovered country in photography — every conceivable technique or subject matter has been explored. This is simply not the case, nor will it ever be. Arts much older than photography are still breaking ground and will continue to do so. Pursue your photography with vigor and you will find something that everyone else has passed over.
Every photographer needs a muse — something from which to draw inspiration. I don’t believe anything an artist does comes out of thin air, there is some genesis for every idea. It’s tempting to think that other photographers just have much more interesting subject matter which makes them great. This idea is not only incorrect, it’s utterly backward. The reason subject matter is interesting is because of the way it is photographed. Photography is part creation and part capture, great shots are rarely gift wrapped for us. Pick your subject matter, convince yourself that there is something interesting about it and make a splash.
photo credit: Dominik Martin