Star wars fans — this is not the post you’re looking for. Now that we have the cheezy pun out of the way, this is your life as it stands right now. It’s the reason you’re reading this post. You are a clone. We are all clones at one time or another, and that’s fine for awhile, it’s just not a long-term solution if you want to be exceptional.
By definition, if you want to be extraordinary, you can’t be a storm trooper in the clone wars, you must possess some distinguishing feature — a feature that inspires people. In the image above, you could imagine if someone were to wear a red t-shirt, that would certainly garner some attention. The outcome might not be pleasant depending on the temperament and culture of the group, but there would be a reaction. Whereas a person in this crowd enjoys a certain degree of anonymity, if you chose to depart from the norm, you will be identifiable with potential to make both allies and adversaries.
People tend to pay more attention to something unusual or unexpected more than they do to the ordinary or mundane. By ordinary I mean something of common occurrence. There are so many things competing for our time on a daily basis that only those things that stand out will warrant special attention. That’s not to say that you have to reinvent the wheel every time you want to get someone’s attention, but it does require effort to differentiate your photography from your peers in a positive way. It also takes an acquired visual sensibility.
If you’ve ever watched television you have noticed that commercials are substantially louder than your regularly scheduled program. This is done intentionally since marketers think that’s the only way to make you pay attention. I don’t know about you, but I turn the sound off and don’t watch commercials at all. A better strategy would be to just make commercials more watchable and persuasive, but that would require actual thought and effort — a bridge too far I suppose. Look at your photography in the same way. Just being the loudest thing on the screen is not the type of attention you want. The image needs to be unique, but in a thoughtful and persuasive way. Shock value has very short shelf life.
Being the Same
Like every art form, photography has a language and culture. As a photographer, you need to understand the way that the art is understood by others, which will require you to integrate yourself with the photography community and engage in the conversations that are happening. This shouldn’t be a difficult requirement since most people pursue photography as a hobby before turning it into a business venture. You like taking pictures — this is a given. Enjoyment of something, however, is not the same thing as engaging with a community of advocates.
Unfortunately, visual arts are tempting to enjoy in solitude. Nothing wrong with being alone, just not the best way to gain allies, which you will need if you want to make yourself known. It’s also helpful to gather different points of view, especially the ones you don’t agree with. You’ll find that in many cases, you’ll eventually come to the same conclusions as others about technique, composition, color, etc. This will help you learn for yourself what practices make sense for you and which ones don’t. You’ll deliberately take on positive attributes of your peers and mentors, but also be better equipped to make your style strategically unique.
Bring Your Uniqueness to the Table
Being part of a community means participation. Twitter, for example, is a great place to try this idea out. If you get on twitter and you tweet what you’re doing, unless what you’re doing is freaking amazing, no one cares and you won’t get much interaction. Usually you have to give on twitter before you receive. As you make others feel good about things that they post, they will want to reciprocate and interact with what you post. Do yourself a favor and treat your fellow togs better than you treat your twitter followers. You need them and they need you.
Share your experience, give some advice and help people out. Some people tend to hold things in because they think they have a golden ticket and don’t want to give it away. It’s fools gold — let it go. You need others to give freely to you, so give the same in return. Your uniqueness will allow someone else to see their photography in a new way and others will do the same for you. The first step in being successful in photography is realizing that these clones you think you’re at war with are really your greatest and most important asset.
photo credit: Skeeze