So when you’re done reading you may be thinking this image doesn’t really work… I know, I was stretching. This is actually from After Dark and that is SOOC. The camera is tethered to the laptop. Amazing right?!
We all get (or got) caught up in the glossy mystique of what everyone else is doing. It’s so easy to spend way to much time blog hopping and studying and looking to learn from what the established photographers have done. After all, they’re where you want to be! Don’t be thinking for a minute that we haven’t all done it, we have, we do, we may stop… We may not. It’s natural and it doesn’t have to be bad. But let me introduce you to 3 common traps that Sally, Jane and Mary fell into.
Meet Sally. Sally found an incredible photographer in her area named Mary. Mary seems so nice, so friendly, so stylish. The website and blog that Mary has created are both amazing! Sally is pretty sure she would have designed it herself if she’d only thought of it. Yep, Mary has got it going on, she even seems to only photograph gorgeous people. Sally can’t help but wonder how Mary did it. She’s star struck, it’s exactly where Sally wants to be… Mary’s side of the fence is white picket with beautiful exotic flowers climbing the posts and Sally’s is an old rusted chain link fence. Sally checks in everyday and admires every single detail of what Mary does. Soon, Sally starts to emulate, only emulation is really more like copying. But Sally wants to be just like her and she justifies “adapting” the ideas with the thought, ‘that copying is the most sincerest form of flattery… and … it’s not like she’ll be able to pull it off as well as Mary did… she . could. only. wish.’. Besides look how well Mary’s ideas are doing! Sally certainly is not going to hurt Mary’s flourishing business, is she?
Next let’s get to know Jane. Jane lives in the same town as Mary and Sally. Jane finds Mary’s website and is also in awe. Jane follows Mary on FB, twitter, her blog… and may or may not have even tried to find her house on google maps. But not in a crazy way – she just really, really admires her! Jane talks about her so much that Mary is talked about on a first name basis in Jane’s home and her husband knows Mary’s entire portfolio as well (but not by choice). You know we’ve all done this with someone. Jane is just sure that her and Mary would be BFF’s if she could just meet her. And why not? She’s a photographer, Jane’s … a photog.rapher.in.training. And the idea hit’s like the most genius bolt of lightening ever! Jane will just email Mary and ask to come along on a shoot. She knows Mary is so nice (from her blog and FB and twitter) that she’ll totally take her under her wing and help her. So she emails and asks if she can mentor under Mary. Mary never responds. Jane can’t help but feel crushed.
Now meet Mary. Mary has been working hard for 5 years to build up her business. It hasn’t been easy but she’s been determined and after checking out every book on photography in the library and investing in some fundamental educational workshops she’s finally feeling a taste of success. She worked hard to establish her identity and brand and for the first time she’s proud of it. One day Mary get’s an email from a friend who asks if she has seen this new girl Sally’s website. She goes to look only to see that it is uncomfortably similar to her own. It’s even got the same verbiage and… ‘is that my font too?’ she wonders? This doesn’t feel flattering at all, this feels like copyright infringement and Mary can’t help but feel violated. Mary isn’t sure what to do about it. In the end she really is as nice as her blog appears and she’s never like confrontation so she decided to say nothing. A week or two later Mary gets an email from Jane. Jane is so sweet in the email and asks to mentor with Mary. She says she wants to be just like her and she only lives 30 minutes away. Mary again realizes that she has another photographer who wants to take her identity. She doesn’t want to feel cheated again and she’s not sure how to handle the email (in the end she’s human too) so she presses delete.
I have had the question asked, why are some photographers nice and some so rude. I’m hoping this analogy might help us see things from the established photographer’s point of view. I’m certainly not discouraging role models within our industry!! No way! I have photographers who I love to check in on and who I think are doing incredible things, and I’ve even taken some of the ideas I’ve seen elsewhere and made them my own. But the key is that I try to make them really my own not a 10% difference from what there doing. And I’ll admit, that was a lot harder when I was just starting out!
Now if I had to guess, I would say that quite often the reason someone would choose to copy is because they are unsure how to take the idea as inspiration and come up with something original for themselves. In short, they don’t know how to get from where they are to where Mary is and because they genuinely feel lost, they decide to take the short cut.
I know what some of you are saying… “But I want to meet MARY!” Okay, so you’re just dying to meet Mary and see how she does things, and rightfully so! Education is power and learning from those who we admire is a wonderful and exciting way to go about that! So what’s the best way of approaching Mary?? That will come as Part II of this post.
I’m excited to hear your thoughts! This post has been drafted, rewritten, re-read – re-phrased and a few more “re’s” several times. I hope that we can each take a honest look at ourselves and be real about what we see. I did and I saw room for improvement.