It is a trying time to be a new photographer. Literally hundreds of people are starting their businesses all of the time, and people who are inexperienced, unsure of their talent and unaware of marketing strategy will always aim for “out-pricing” their competitors. And before you know it, we all have a facebook feed full of $25 photography sessions that include all digital files, on location sessions and a bazillion poses pulled from pinterest.
This is not the way. I can promise that I remember how difficult it is to begin from scratch but I can promise you that copying others this is not the way to grow anything meaningful. The pricing is a conversation for an entirely different day but today I want to address originality.
Let’s call pinterest what it is: it is copying. Particularly if you lack the experience, knowledge and technical ability to use a photo purely for inspiration. Copying in the world of art is bad. It means that you are incapable of producing your own art so you need to use other’s. It also is deceptive to your clients because you are representing a skill level that you do not have. And it is wildly apparent in your portfolio. Other photographers can spot it from a mile away and your clients pick up on it, too. Which brings us back to price. Until you stop copying others and start creating art that it is true to your heart, clients will only be choosing you based on price. And guess what? They will leave you when someone cheaper rolls around. By copying other’s work, you are ensuring that you cannot build a successful business.
Just as bad is the facebook newsfeed. When I share something on my facebook page or website, I am sharing it for my clients. I am sharing it to further my business and to show my potential clients what I am capable of creating. When someone copies my styling exactly, which happens often, they are telling their clients that they are capable of something similar, despite the fact that their full portfolio tells a different tale. Aside from the fact that it is dishonest, as it was not their original idea and execution, it also leaves a bad taste in prospective clients mouths. And believe me, my inbox has exploded in the last few weeks: they notice. Once a photographer finds out that you have directly copied them, the door is closed for any relationship that may help you grow and develop. Which is a shame, because I regularly receive help from people much better in the industry than I am, because I asked, because I respect them and because they see the improvement in my work, on my own merit. Likewise, I pay that help forward whenever I get the opportunity.
So what is a new photographer to do? I remember that feeling, on the way to a session, all nervous butterflies hoping that I had plenty of ideas. I would pull my little index card out that I had scribbled ideas down onto and I would read and re read and re read it until my client arrived. The next session, I would have to read a little less. Then a little less. And soon, I had a repertoire of poses that were my “signature” poses and I have been told many times that you can spot a Stephanie McFarland image straight away. That is because it is my art, not art that was copied from someone else. Here is what helped me:
1. Imagine how you would like to be photographed. Disable pinterest on your ipad. Stop and think about how you would like to be photographed. Make notes.
2. Pose yourself in front of the mirror or pose your children or your neighbor’s family. Snap with your phone a picture that YOU created when you like the look so you can use your own hard work for inspiration instead of someone else’s.
3. Study the rules of photography. There are rules! Learn them! If you know about the rule of thirds, leading lines and lighting patterns and ratios, posing becomes easier because you are left with a more limited number of options that are technically correct instead of every silly themed options you could copy online from other photographers that don’t understand basic fundamentals of photography. In addition, the human eye is trained to appreciate fine art, which traditional portraits are based on.
4. When you wrap up a session and you find that you LOVE one or two images, print it for yourself and laminate them. Make your own posing cards. It will take a little while to have a full library of go to poses, but like all things in business, slow and steady wins the race.
5. Make friends with photographers around your same level of skill. Meet for coffee. Bring something to the table and bring a question that feeds into their strengths. Everyone walks away a little better every time. Your businesses will grow together and you will have each other for accountability.
6. Stop copying! Learning for yourself will yield better work, fewer icky feelings and a stronger sense of pride in yourself. Which is a positive in all areas of our lives!