Community over Competition
Working in an oversaturated industry in a small city can lead to a lot of competition. There are only so many couples getting married each year, but an endless supply of talented photographers eager to capture their day. Everyone seems to be fighting to one-up each other to book a couple each weekend from May and October. And the race only heats up in the off season. Trying to find something new and unique to offer clients that other photographers haven't gotten into in attempts to gain enough business to make it through to May when wedding income starts again. I'll be the first to admit that I quickly got caught up in this mentality.
I've heard stories of photographers getting upset when one photographer "copies" their idea, or others keeping their shoot locations top secret in efforts to gain more clients who want their exclusive photo spots.
I've come to realize, however, that these attitudes create more harm for one's business that good. Being rude, secretive, and arrogant is not helping you in an industry that primarily operates on good reputations and referrals. I also firmly believe that if you are offering the same type of service as someone, or shooting in the same location, it's your skill and unique personality that will keep you standing out above the rest. And if your skill is not high enough to stand out, then keep practicing, because you get the clients you deserve. If you want clients to come to you because they love your work, you legitimately need to create work that they love. You don't need to create work that everyone will love, but work that the people who you want as your clients will love.
Though our clients often see photographers interacting with people, laughing at weddings, and chasing after little ones with our cameras, the majority of our job is done alone. Late nights editing our latest session. Long days sorting through expenses and filing tax claims. Anxiously attempting the best way to advertise and debating which marketing channels are worth investing time and money into. Friends often comment about how stressful it must be to photograph a wedding, but to be honest, the wedding day is the easy part. For an extrovert who thrives on making decisions under pressure, the big day goes by in a blink of an eye. It's the other 350 days of the year that get to me. The days between sending a gallery to a client and waiting to hear back if they like the images or not. The times dealing with those inevitable clients who are unhappy with some detail of your service without the option of passing them off to a supervisor. To me, the most stressful thing is never quite being sure if you're doing things right and not having someone in your corner who gets what you're going through. In any other job I've had a supervisor there to help me when I'm in over my head or to give me pointers and bits of advice about how they did things when they were in your position.
Without community, photographers are on their own. But within a community you can support one another in the situations above. You can let each other know about what you learnt at your 3 hour meeting with an insurance broker. You can gain advice on which marketing avenues produced the best results. You can laugh about the time the groomsman tried to kiss the photographer on the dance floor at the end of the night. You can bounce around ideas for a new service idea. You can build a network to draw from when people come to you looking for a service that you don't offer. You can fill a Saturday you're not booked with an assisting job for someone else, or book another photographer to second shoot the wedding you do have booked. You can plan adventures to fill your longing to capture the world through your lens. You can be challenged to produce better, higher quality work. You can stretch one another to try something new. You can find support when that new thing didn't go quite like you planned. You can give advice for dealing with a difficult situation. You can talk about gear and lend a tripod when someone misplaces theirs or borrow a lens that would be perfect for a project you're doing. You can gain clients when another photographer is already booked and send others their way when you don't have room.
The opportunities are literally endless. But as long as there is deep competition there can't be community. If you are looking at other photographers thinking about how you are so much better than them, nit picking anything they do that you don't like, as if to prove to yourself why you deserve their clients, there is no room for those wonderful opportunities listed above. But if you look at other photographers thinking about their talent and skills, searching for ways you can learn from them, wonderful things will come.
Nicole recognized these things as she reached out to a group of 20-something-year-old women who love taking photographs. She invited us into her studio where she created a beautiful space to meet new people, catch up with old friends, talk shop, and just have a little fun with people who know a bit about what we're going through. At one point in the evening we sat in a circle sipping on wine and took turns answering 4 questions.
What is your name, business name, website, instagram, etc?
How long have you been doing what you do?
What is your dream?
What is the most embarrassing/awkward situation that you've had with a camera in hand?
It was comforting, encouraging, and inspiring hearing from each person. Comforting to know that I wasn't alone in my struggles. That these girls were dealing with much of the same things I have or currently am dealing with. We laughed a lot too, as we shared funny stories that proved that no matter how perfect someone's Instagram feed may make them appear, we're all still human. It was encouraging to know that we're all in different places, doing things slightly differently and at our own pace, but all making it work. And it was so inspiring to hear the dreams each of us have for our future. One hopes to travel the world photographing weddings, another dreams of working missionally in the fashion industry, one simply hopes to photograph her first wedding solo, and others weren't specifically photography oriented, but to rather to pursue separate career goals while still enjoying their love for the art. As for me, I dream of figuring out my dream. I know I want to work as a photographer, but I really don't know what I want that to look like. I've accepted that that's okay, however, and that as I continue to explore any and every photographic opportunity that comes my way I'll get a little bit closer to sorting out just what it is that I love most.
We parted with hugs and refreshed souls, talking of plans to do this again soon. Please email me if you're a photographer who would like to be involved in our next meet-up, and check out each of these wonderful ladies below.