Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Quit Trying So Hard to Make Your Work Unique

It seems to me a lot of photographers sometimes work too hard at producing images that stand apart for either their creative or technical uniqueness. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. But if that's your #1 goal just about every time you shoot you're in for a lot of disappointments. How so? Well, most of your work, no matter how much you believe is unique or never before seen, probably isn't. As a result, don't be surprised if a lot of viewers fail to share your same excitement about the work you believe is nearly incomparable for it's relative uniqueness.

It's very difficult to produce work that truly stands apart! I'm not saying it's impossible. It's not. But it's damn hard to accomplish. It's even harder, probably approaching impossible, to accomplish on a regular basis.

Occasionally, producing truly unique work is a product of luck or simply finding yourself, camera in hand, at the right place at the right time. True uniqueness isn't always planned or somehow conjured by the photographer. That's because just about everything, photography-wise, has either been done, tried, or shot before.  Photos you've captured that are new or seemingly unique in your mind doesn't necessarily mean it's actually new or unique. Instead, it might simply mean your awareness of what's come before (or what others are shooting) may be more limited than you know.

Please don't be put off or disheartened by my seemingly negative words. I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade. Being a photographer who stands apart doesn't mean all your work needs to stand apart. There are a lot of qualities which will make you, as a photographer, stand apart whether your work truly does so or not. And if your trying to monetize your love of photography, those "photographer qualities" may mean more to your success than the uniqueness or stand-apartness of your work.

A client of mine, one who has hired me, literally, hundreds of times over the years, once told me that he likes my work well enough and he thinks it's really good but the main reason he continually hires me is because I get along with the models so well. He told me he can count on the fact that problems on sets rarely seem to raise an ugly head as a result of my interactions with the models. If you're shooting tease and glamour for a living and you don't think the way you get on with the models is all that important I've got some news for you-- it is! It can be very important, not only in terms of getting the shots but also when it comes to you getting rehired again and again.

Your "bedside manner" can be extremely important to your success. It's been that way for me. Sure, you still need to be able to consistently produce good work which meets your clients' expectations but good work alone often isn't the only important element to success.

Good work ethics are also very important. They're the same sorts of work ethics that apply to almost any job: getting along with others, being a team player, showing your commitment, being dependable, and so much more.

I know a few photographers who, in my opinion, don't produce work that's all that good but they work regularly regardless. They do so because of some of the things I just mentioned and because they really excel at networking.  I often wish I could network as well as them.  They're also good at selling themselves once they've networked into a potential opportunity for work. That's another quality I wish I was better at. Selling yourself is as important as the work you produce. It's an art. People who can masterfully sell themselves are... well, they are masters at walking that fine line between being perceived as a terrific photographer and not being perceived as overly egotistical or self-impressed.

In a nutshell, I'm not telling anyone not to work at producing work that is unique and stands apart. I'm simply saying there are other elements to being a working photographer which are equally important. Sometimes, if you're doing this thing for a living (or as part of your living) those things can be even more important than producing unique work that truly stands apart.

The pretty girl at the top is Kayla. (Click to enlarge.)


Nadja said...

I really love this photo, too!
Great composition, pose, her look, and amazing light and colours.
Oh, by the way, I think I am one of those people who can't help being 'unique', even if their life depends on it...
So crazy... "-))
See you!

jimmyd said...

Hey Nadja! Obviously, there's a difference between being unique, as a person, and your photography being especially unique. I consider myself rather unique (crazy) in more than a few ways: something that's been both a blessing and a curse during my lifetime. Course, people who are unique/crazy probably can't help having some of their uniqueness and craziness spill over onto their photography.... which can be a good thing! :-)

Rick said...

Can you explain the difference between being "unique" and having a "style" and is having a style being unique?

This isn't really a comment but maybe fodder for another blog. Michael Rosen's style of photography is not unique but his post processing is and has become his style which makes his images unique. Yin and Yang of a different sort.

jimmyd said...

You're right, Rick. I got some more 'splaynin to do and that's a great follow on for a blog update! Coming soon to a blog near you. (This blog, actually)