Nov 30, 2010

Conquering Conformity and Comparison as a Photographer

by: Jessica Strom

So here I am, going into the third year of my ever-changing career as a child and family photographer and excited because 2011 will my first year with my photography being my full time focus. I've redone my blog every year, found a logo last year that stuck, and only just now, almost 3 years later, finally figured out my niche. What I love, what I don't love, what I want to say, how I want to say it and who I want to say it to. But the road to get here wasn't easy, no it was a long road full of lots of ups and downs and I learned a lot along the way. I am not setting out to be a famous photographer that people ooh and awe over like a bunch of star struck teeny boppers. I am setting out to be the best ME I can be and truly help families capture those sweet tender moments that so quickly pass us by.

Here's a little about me. Up until now, I worked full time during the week at a desk job to get my husband and I through the years he's spending getting his education. I live and breathe photography and only just now have gotten to a point where I can focus on it as my primary career. I have been in love with it since I was small and so it's been a natural flow for me to discover this is what I want to do with the rest of my life. When I first made the decision that this was what I wanted, I fell victim to the Curse of Comparison. I spent hours after hours looking at the works of many different photographers. Many I admired, some more than others, and there were some I wondered to myself how they could even call themselves photographers. I asked myself time and time again "What am I going to bring to the table that defines who I am?". I practiced and practiced and would look at the photos I was producing compared to the photos I'd see online and tell myself that I wasn't very good. And I believed everything my head was telling me and ignored what my heart knew to be true. I kept on and kept on. I saw the changes in my work as I moved along and grew. Tried to do what I could without spending too much money, but in the end, you always spend some serious cash. There's so many people out there telling you that they have what you need to be better and charge you an arm and a leg for it. If you're wise, you can tell what the good TOOLS are but you know that the only thing that is ever going to make you better is YOU.

As you continue to grow and ever-evolve, trying new things, learning what works for you and what doesn't, it's a natural thing to still compare yourself with other photographers. Some people get high on themselves, some get depressed thinking they will never be like so and so. But I'm telling you, just do your thing. Learn and appreciate what you have in front of you and grow on that. I purposefully avoid many of the most popular photographers' websites and blogs because it's turned into more of a popularity issue. Yes, those top photographers produce excellent photographs. But so do you. And so do I. And remember that they only ever show their best images online, so while you see photos you’ve taken that you’re not happy with, they see theirs too and might be wondering the same thing about themselves. And there's no sense getting down over your own work because you don't have 20,000 "fans" on your Facebook page.

The other curse that strikes photographers new to the industry is the Curse of Conformity. This one just kills me. They see what the popular photographers are producing and just copy the exact same concept in their own work. If it works for them, why not for you? Or the photographers who 'specialize' in everything. Specialize in maternity, newborn, weddings, children, seniors, pets, boudoir, etc, etc, etc. Don't specialize in everything! Pick what you're passionate about and specialize in that, dabble in the rest just to mix it up! For instance, take myself. I am gearing my entire business model and plans towards specializing in the time period of pre-birth to Kindergarten and involvement with promoting adoption stories. I dabble in couples, weddings, and the only pet photography I do is of my own dog. I tried boudoir photography and didn’t like it. I don't offer senior photography and my newborn sessions are lifestyle sessions instead of the cutesy portraits. That's just me. I have no problem recommending a fellow photographer who can meet needs I can't. I'm real. I'm not going to meet every person's individual need, but I will meet the ones I can and meet them as uniquely as I can. No cookie cutter photography from me and that's why people hire me.

In a nutshell:

Avoiding Conformity:

- Just because you see a growing trend doesn't mean you have to hop on the band wagon. If you like it and want to do something similar, do it because you love it so very much and please please put your own style into it. Imitation is NOT the greatest form of flattery. You can be inspired by someone or some other photographers but don't straight up copy another's ideas and props. Mix it up and let yourself shine through.

- It's all been done before, but there's never been a YOU before. Think of ideas that just get you excited and shoot them, don't constantly be looking for someone who has done the same thing you want to do and wonder how they did it. You'll surprise yourself with how going with your natural talent might get people wondering the same thing about you.

- Try and try again. Do and do more! Never stop learning and write down your ideas, your inspirations and how you can make something your own.

Avoiding Comparison:

- It's not fair to yourself to compare your work to that of someone who has been in this industry for a long time. All it does is make you feel less about yourself when your raw natural talent is great! Trust me, they've all been where you are right now and who knows, possibly still are. You know that old saying "Don't judge a book by its cover"? Just as the paintbrush doesn't make a masterpiece, neither does a camera make that perfect portrait. It's the time, talent, and viewpoint of whose hands it is in.

- Avoid Craigslist. Two things could happen here. You could get a false impression of how to monetarily value your work and talent because most photographers who list on Craigslist (and I mean no offense) aren't photographers who have truly branded themselves and their art, a lot are hobbyists or some just getting started and needing to build their portfolio. The other thing that could happen is you could see the work of someone who you might consider to be less than professional advertising themselves as professional and get a little judgmental. We've all done it, it’s no secret. But that creates a stream of unhealthy attitude from you and puts down someone who could be in your very same shoes, just trying to get their name out there. But you will find that there are a lot of ways to get your name out there that does not involve the free classifieds ads. Word of mouth is the best way to go.

- Remember that you can hear the same story many many times but every time someone else tells it, it's a little different. Photographs have different perspectives and Photographers have different visions and voices.

What's yours? Who are you and what do you want your work to say to your clients? Don't conform or compare to, break the mold, create some beautiful photographs and chase your dreams. You’ll be surprised where your heart can take you!

By Jessica Strom

Jessica Strom is a portrait and lifestyle photographer based out of Overland Park, Kansas in the greater Kansas City metro area.




Elder Larkin said...

I agree that we all need to find our own unique style. I relate to the comparison, and the conformity. I think we all do it at times. Great article!

Erin Norman said...

This really resonated with me. I've just now come that realization myself, that I was trying to "copy" or just produce a shot like what I had seen someone else do because I thought that maybe that was what the client wanted. I've recently shifted my enitre shooting style to reflect what I preferred. Thanks so much for such a well written article.