Competition is a critical topic, and one I realize is getting in the way of many photographers finding the success they seek. And remember, only you can define what your success looks like – so I am not trying to hold you to my standards – I am trying to help you reach your goals with your photography.
Be sure to read to the end, and I will share my Top 5 Ways To Avoid Competition With Your Photography.
As I was preparing to talk about this topic on my LAST FRAME Livestream on YouTube, a local photographer responded to my social media post complaining about how competitive photographers are. He added that he doesn’t compete to be the cheapest anymore. His advice was that there are far too many photographers at the bottom of the pricing scale, so it makes more sense to move to the middle or top of the scale where there is less competition.
This same photographer made a name for himself locally, shooting dancers and athletes with color powders – you know that trend based on a set of images created back in the 1980s, but a few years ago, everyone was doing it?
Like so many photographers, this photographer is focused on his competition. He knows a lot about his competition and is aware of what they do and how they do it.
Why are photographers so damn competitive?
I used to think that it was just a machismo or marimacho thing. But I have learned over the years, especially while mentoring new photographers, that more often than not, competition is an excuse. It can even be a self-inflicted trap.
I see it every day; photographers talk about how hard it is to make a buck because they have to compete with every Tom, Dick, and Harriet with a camera or, worse yet, a smartphone. I hear photographers constantly talking about how they shoot a particular style or offer a specific package because their competition does it, and it is popular. And the list goes on.
These photographers are putting more effort into watching what others are doing instead of improving what they do for their customer’s sake.
In many cases, the word competition is used by photographers to mask jealousy. Yes, I said it. It’s jealousy because they see other people having the success they would like.
I even see articles in photography blogs telling photographers how to compete with other photographers. These articles stress people out by convincing them that they must become marketing geniuses to get ahead.
I don’t have competition as a photographer. I haven’t had competition for a very long time. Does that mean I am better than everyone else? Heck no – far from it. Does it mean I am just lucky? Not at all. It means I am practical, and I work hard.
A telling quote from Henry Ford – “The competitor to be feared is the one who never bothers about you at all but goes on making his own business better all the time.”
A Little History
I am competitive by nature. It drives me insane that my grandson can beat me at cornhole. I don’t think I ever let my son win at anything after he hit the age of 6. He had to earn his wins. He might say it was more like the age of 4. These are competitions where we keep scores based on accomplishments, like scoring a goal, hitting a ball, or winning a race.
This kind of competitive nature was a large part of my early photography career as a photojournalist. I was blessed to work in newspapers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which was the heyday of photojournalism, and photos were used big and often in newspapers and magazines.
Spot news was an essential part of the news mix for any small-town newspaper, and I excelled at being first on the scene and getting photos that no other media outlet had. But landscapes, portraiture, weddings, events, products, food, and pretty much every other genre of photography is NOT competitive like photojournalism.
Competition Is a Self-inflicted Problem
If you struggle with competition – remember these six words. Repeat these words daily as a mantra. “Competition is a self-inflicted problem.”
The idea of keeping up with your competition is ridiculous. When you got hooked on photography, was it because someone told you to get hooked on photography? Of course not! So why would you let someone else – your competition dictate what your behavior should be?
It’s pretty simple, really. There is only one YOU. YOU are the only person who can see the world through your eyes. YOU are unique. But you have to choose to embrace that uniqueness and explore it.
Why would you choose to follow a trend? Why would you structure your business in ways that match what other companies do?
If you have ever used a copying machine, you are well aware that a copy is never as good as the original. Even if you can do it better than the original, you still have a ton of work to get your version to stand out in the crowd.
By doing what everyone else is doing, you are, by default making it harder to succeed. By doing what everyone else is doing, you always look to either side instead of looking ahead at the opportunity.
By doing what everyone else is doing, you are choosing to have competition and in my opinion, choosing to have competition is also lazy at the same time. But it is a fool’s kind of laziness.
Let’s break that down because it should sound like I just contradicted myself if you’re paying attention.
We have already established that the most significant advantage you have in your photography is that no other human being sees the world the same way you do. If you combine that with genuinely creative work that reflects your vision and adds in excellent technical skills and an outstanding client experience – you will have images with a higher perceived value and greater demand.
But there’s the rub. I just said it would take creativity on top of excellent technical skills and an outstanding client experience.
No photographer ever got hooked on photography because they want to provide a great customer experience. Many, and I mean many, photographers today would rather not put in the effort to learn the foundational skills of photography. I mean, why should you when you can go and watch a YouTube video and, in less than 10 minutes, figure out how everyone is doing that cool new trend?
So many photographers shoot what they think they must shoot because that’s what every other photographer in their area shoots. Or that’s what all the photographers in their social media feed shoot and get lots of likes with. They build their websites like every other photographer, include the same information, and even use the exact words because that’s what all the other photographers do.
They buy their gear because some influencer on YouTube says it’s the greatest gear ever made instead of doing actual research. Watching an influencer is not research. It is watching an influencer. Research is comparing specs, learning what they mean, visiting a store, and trying the gear before buying it. The same rules apply if you don’t have a local store but purchase from an online retailer with a good return policy.
So you see, having competition as a photographer is a lazy choice. It is a choice not to be creative. It is a choice to do something other photographers do instead of pushing your creative boundaries and exploring new and uncharted ideas.
If your everyday focus is on how to one-up other photographers, you are not focused on improving your work and creating demand. Instead, you are thinking about their work and company instead of your own.
You have no control over what other photographers do. But you do have control over what you do and how you shoot.
Instead of focusing on this perceived competition, focus on the things and the people who will help you succeed.
If you are a person who can’t let go of the idea of being competitive in business, at a minimum, understand that your advantage doesn’t come from playing keep up with the other photographers. It comes from following your vision and developing a style and service offering beyond compare.
Top 5 Ways To Avoid Competition With Your Photography
- Remember the 6-word mantra I gave you, and repeat it daily: “Competition is a self-inflicted problem.”
- Don’t look from side to side at the photographers in your area or online. Look ahead. Explore opportunities that are unique to you.
- Build a solid foundation. Our technology is incredible today, but it will only take you so far. To produce consistently excellent results, you need to have a technical foundation.
- Embrace failure! Failing intentionally is at the core of creative exploration. New ideas come from taking a chance, from connecting dots that others haven’t thought to connect. This isn’t an invitation to do sub-par work. It is a requirement to set aside time and permit yourself to explore new ideas and concepts.
- Remember that to make people care about your work; you have to care about people. Build an experience around your photography that is genuine and unique.
This information is essential. I promise you it is not my opinion. It is a hard-learned lesson that I have experienced firsthand. Much of this lesson is based on psychology. Successful people like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and Mark Cuban routinely discuss the same psychology.
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I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – “Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman