The other day I was talking to my business coach about my unique selling proposition (yes I have a business coach—in fact more than one–and believe that anyone who is serious about growing their business should too!). In marketing, it is said that you should figure out what you have to offer that puts you above your competition. I was struggling with this because I couldn’t figure out what could possibly set me apart from other photographers but my style or my price. Either clients like your style or they don’t. And as far as price goes, no one wants to lead with that. No one wants to be known as “the cheap photographer”.
But this post isn’t really about that. It’s about the idea of competition in the first place. I’ve never thought of myself as a competitive person. If I was competing with anyone, I was competing with myself. Always trying to do better and make things perfect and do the best I could. I mentor and teach others about what I know and have always been transparent about my business, yet deep down I’ve been guilty of comparing myself to others and felt that there were not enough clients looking for what I had to offer. This is a competitive mindset.
The biggest shift I’ve had to make in my photography business is to realize that, in fact, there is no competition. Did you get that? I’ll say it again; there is no competition! Of course, it doesn’t feel that way, especially when we are quoting for jobs with other photographers and are terrified the client won’t choose us, because otherwise we won’t make next month’s rent. But the truth is, not everyone is your client. Not everyone will like what you do. Some people will love your style, others will be, like, meh. You need to believe that you have a unique expression, and you have to love and feel confident in that expression.
I have a friend who shoots nothing but crows and has a large following. Not birds. Just crows. She is very successful with this. So no matter your niche or style, there are people out there who will gravitate to what you do. The more you hone your style, the more you pour yourself into what you do, the more others will find it compelling.
My style is dark and moody. I was shooting this way when the trend was towards the bright and airy. Ever since I studied Art History in Florence, I’ve been fascinated by the light in the paintings of the Old Masters and the chiaroscuro style of artists such as Caravaggio. If I told myself the concepts don’t translate well into photography, or that there is no market for these types of images, I wouldn’t be doing very well as a photographer. However, most of the time, this dark style is exactly why clients hire me (I ask), even if they are actually looking for something brighter with less contrast. They are attracted to what I do. These kinds of decisions appear to be based on business, but are in fact emotional. And emotion is what we are trying to evoke with our images. How can you do that if you are following the crowd or trying to look like someone else?
When I first started writing, everything I wrote sounded like I was trying to be JD Salinger because he was my favourite author at the time. When I started out in photography, I sought to emulate other bloggers and photographers I admired. This was a great starting point in a way, because it helped me teach myself about composition and lighting, but it began to stifle me creatively pretty quickly. My work turned into a bad version of What Katie Ate. We hold ourselves back most when we are not being true to ourselves. When we are trying to do what everyone else is doing.
Realize that every single one of us sees thing differently. Five different artists looking at and drawing the same nude figure will come up with five very different sketches. When you try to look like someone else, it almost never works. I find that cannot even copy myself. If I try to replicate previous work I‘ve done, it never looks the same. It usually looks worse.
With all the talk about photography being an oversaturated field, and perceptions that what we do is easy and that anyone with a fancy camera can do it, I feel we have actually never before lived in such an exciting time. Opportunities are everywhere. Almost every business you can think of needs some kind of visual collateral at one point or another. They key to success is figuring out what you do best and to keep doing it, no matter how unpopular, weird, or “unmarketable” you think it is. There are plenty of clients out there who will love what you do and they will find you! I promise.