Know Your Place, Part Two
I alluded yesterday to the tendency of photographers, particularly working photographers who endeavor to do this for a living and therefore feel the stakes are higher, to compete with each other. Few things kill the creative spirit so efficiently.
We become photographers, most of us, because in this craft we discover a means of expression that suits us. And we love it so much we do it as much as we can, and then people begin to pay us to do it, which suits us just fine because we love doing it so much. But soon it becomes the bread and butter and because, we assume, there is only so much work out there, we become competitive. We look to other photographers and see how they’re making money, which markets they’re serving and what those markets want. Without knowing it we’re begun to drift towards the herd and away from our unique vision.
Yesterday I championed the value of knowing our place and fighting our weight. I think it’s just as important to know your place and find your niche. Find that place that you fit like a glove and do so well others will flock to you. Does Steve McCurry do weddings? Maybe, but he’s not known for it, is he? Does Annie Leibovitz shoot Nascar races? Does Moose Peterson shoot kiddie portraits? Joe McNally says “shoot what you love.” Same thing. What’s the one thing you love to shoot so much you could do it every day? You love shooting it so much you shoot it with a special affection and an eye knows the subtleties of the subject for having looked at it day-in and day-out? Find that niche and own it, baby. I’m not talking about being better than others, but about being unique, different from others.
“Yeah, but what if someone else already shoots that niche? I mean, I wanna shoot elk and stuff, and Moose Peterson already shoots that stuff. AND his name is MOOSE for crying out loud!! How can I compete with that!?” I hear ya. But you’re slipping into the comparison paradigm, again. It’s not a pyramid with room for only one at the top of each broad category. Make your own pyramid, in your own style, from your own angle. But make it yours. Unmistakably. Switching metaphors, make sure the red X you are standing on is yours and yours alone. There’s no room on Zack Arias’s X for me – it’s his and his alone. And if I try to usurp his then my own X, the place I alone was created to occupy and shine on, rests vacant.
In marketing speak this is what branding and positioning are all about. When the market thinks of you, what red X do they associate you with. Heck, if you’re smart and really creative your X won’t be red. Probably won’t even be an X. Do they think of you as a destination wedding photographer or as the guy who does weddings and portraits and Nascar and travel and dogs and still life and, oh, also landscapes and macro flower stuff. If it’s the latter then you stand on a very diluted X, my friend, and when the client goes looking for a destination photographer they’re going to look for the brightest red X in the style they prefer and go with him. Same with the client looking for portraits, Nascar, travel, dogs, and still life.
Know your place. Own it. Make it the brightest, most unique red X you can make it. And best of all, beyond all the marketing talk, is that this is the place you’ll be most challenged, most content, and most creative. Feeling frustrated? Where’s your X?