I have seen absolutely beautiful things happen in the photo industry. I've seen strangers become best friends, I've seen grand ideas being brought to life, and I've seen photographers grow from beginners to mentors. I've seen so many things that make me proud to be a part of such an amazing community. The sad news is that I've also seen the uglier side of it. I've seen jealousy turn into bad-mouthing, I've seen photographers knowingly leave out key techniques from classes or talks, and I've seen new photographers become discouraged and disheartened by the cold shoulders of the more popular photographers in the industry.
For a lack of better words, that sucks. Nobody benefits from negativity like that so we might as well get rid of it.
Let's change things.
I'm talking to you. To the part-timer, the student, the pro, the educator, the Instagram king, and to everyone else. We are all crucial parts of this industry and we all have the power to push it forward. This manifesto is something that I've had in my head for a while and I'm writing it as a piece of encouragement for anyone who needs it (myself included). I believe in these things down to my core and they are the driving force behind everything I do. They all boil down to one simple little fact: we are all in this together. I think it's time to start being awesome.
This is idea numero uno. The big one. I have seen so many photographers become islands. Lonely, discouraged, and negative little islands. Somewhere along the line someone thought it would be a good idea to view each other as competition and I have no idea how that stuck. Let me set one thing straight right away: your life and career will suffer greatly if you believe that, I promise. I am not your competition. You are not my enemy. You are my fellow artist and I'm on your team. I want to see you win. I want to see you create gorgeous things. You might think that there are only so many jobs to go around but I assure you, there are plenty. Every artist out there has their own style and every potential client has their own taste. There is always a match for you no matter how many other photographers there are in the industry. So here's a thought: let's quit seeing each other as threats to our businesses and start looking to each other for inspiration, education, and encouragement. We are all passionate artists; let's start treating each other like it.
Competition tears you down, community builds you up. It seems like a pretty obvious choice, right? Let's all be friends.
Work on your craft. Learn new things. Step out of your comfort zone and let your comfort zone grow to meet you. You can always always always improve and let’s be honest here, you always want to. It’s what makes humans so great at so many things. We all want to be awesome, so let’s be awesome together.
As you improve, we all improve. It’s that simple. I think it's time that we recognize that we aren't only individuals, but we are also part of a community. Every time an individual improves, the entire community improves. If you learn something new, the photo community is pushed forward. Better yet, if you share what you learned with someone else, the photo community is pushed forward again. That means you improve, the photo community improves, and you feel the warm fuzzies. Win-win-win.
I want to see you succeed. Truly. I want to see you booking awesome work and getting published in the best magazines and on the coolest blogs. I hope you get booked to shoot a wedding on the moon and that it ends up published in Vogue. With that being said, I'm still going to feel a little jealous when I see you traveling for a totally kick-ass job and having the time of your life. When you get published in one of my favorite magazines, I'm still going to feel that little jolt of envy. It's natural. Everyone gets jealous. You can thank social media and our culture of bragging for that. Maybe the fact that everyone feels jealous at some point or another (even the people that you are jealous of) will lend you some sort of comfort.
Jealousy over things you see on social media can bring you way further down than you ever need to be. Don't compare your b-roll to everyone else's highlight reel. It won't make you any better at what you do and it's not the truth. Be proud of what you accomplish and be excited that your friends in the photo community are doing awesome things.
When I was starting out, I always felt discouraged. After every single shoot. Every single time. To make it worse, I assumed that I was the only one who felt like that. I was positive that the "pros" always loved what they created and never felt down on their work. Well here I am, 7 years later, and I still feel discouraged. Sure, there are aspects of my work that I'm proud of, but for the most part, I pick it to pieces and know that it needs to be better. Oh wait, you do that too? I wish I could say that I'm surprised. Here is the good news: discouragement fosters improvement. If you feel down about your work, you really only have two options: stay down about it, or try to make it better. Sure, after your next one million tries, you will probably still feel a little down about it, but at least it will be leaps and bounds better than what you were creating before.
Just know that you aren't alone. Even if it looks like everyone around you is loving what they are creating, all artists struggle. It is just part of the game. Everyone struggles and everyone has hard days. I have days that leave me in a complete rut. I have months when I feel like I haven't created anything worth anything and it's a terrible feeling. So far, everything I've just said seems like a good reason to stop trying but the truth is that every now and then I create something that I feel truly proud of and that becomes my reason to push through the discouraging times. Sometimes I feel like being an artist is nothing more than wading through a pile of your own dirty laundry in the hope of finding a clean shirt.
I’m about to admit something that I’m pretty ashamed of. During the first couple of years in my career, I was stingy. I kept my shooting and editing secrets to myself because I was afraid of someone copying my style. Humans are infinitely complex and filled with their own unique ambitions, inspirations, passions, and values, yet I was afraid that if I told someone how I colored my images, their photos would look just like mine. If you think about it, it's ridiculous (maybe even bonkers). I can’t believe I thought that way and now I’m the complete opposite. If you ask me, I will answer (maybe even to a fault). I want to see you improve and I want to do my small part to push the photo community forward.
Education rocks, so lets share it. Lets bounce our ideas and work together to be better than we were. Hoarding your secrets for the sake of keeping your style unique is like a cook not telling someone what type of noodles he uses because he doesn't want someone else cooking a sauce like his. Everyone is inspired by completely different things so even with the same exact knowledge you won't see duplicates, you will just see more forms of awesome.
I know some people may not agree with me on this one, and that’s completely fine. If a new (or even a not so new) photographer asks you a question and you have the time to answer, please do. Help them out. You were there once too. We were all there. Obviously we can’t always answer everything (most often for the sake of time), but we can always email back. We can at least say “Hey! I appreciate your email and wish I could answer every question I’m asked, but I need sleep too. Best of luck!” I can tell you from personal experience (and I’m sure most of you went through this too) how discouraging it is to not hear back from or to be completely shot down by someone you looked up to. In the beginning I had no idea how busy some of these photographers were and the photographers that might be emailing you now don’t understand that either. So even if you have to create an automated response, send them an encouraging note. Do your part to welcome in new talent and encourage positivity and community. Start them off on the same note you wish you had been started off on. It may seem small to you but it might make a world of difference to them. If nothing else, maybe karma will pay you back.
We are artists and we can do whatever the hell we want. I know that seems pretty obvious, but I think we all (myself included) get stuck in a box of things we see others doing or we limit ourselves to creating only what we think will be popular. How about this: let's be artists and do what inspires us. Let's create. Let's slap normal in the face. Let's shake things up, step out of the box, and make people remember what it's like to be weird. Let's want to be awesome, and LET'S FREAKING DO IT.