The Photographer's Manifesto

The Photographer's Manifesto

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.

COMMUNITY OVER COMPETITION

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.

AS YOU IMPROVE, WE ALL IMPROVE

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.

JEALOUSY SUCKS

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.

EVERYONE FEELS DISCOURAGEMENT

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.

SHARE YOUR SECRETS

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.

ENCOURAGE NEW TALENT

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.

BE AWESOME

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.

 

BEN SASSO | EDUCATION | FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM

 

 

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23 Comments

kevin nnnnn's picture

a refreshing piece, well written, thank you!

Ben Sasso's picture

Glad to hear that you liked it Kevin

Bob Bell's picture

Awesome words, great stuff mate :)

Ben Sasso's picture

I appreciate it Bob!

Mike Pomazal's picture

Writing this comment is my way of signing at the bottom. Excellent article!

Anonymous's picture

"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." ... Brilliant, simply brilliant. Great, to the point example.

Can you hear me yelling "Thank you, thank you!"?

Wonderful article! I'm so happy to have read this. It's like you read my mind and know exactly how I feel. It's encouraging to know I'm not alone in this journey to find my place in the photography world.

I've only been taking photos for a couple of years and often feel I have no talent, skill, or future in photography. Then I look at photos from when I first started and see how far I've come and improved. That keeps me going and gives me the knowledge that the more I shoot, the more I learn, the better I will become.

jasonmanchester's picture

Excellent article!

So many great points I find myself struggling with and trying to push through on a daily basis.

Thanks for sharing!

bchau's picture

Awesome read as always Ben!

Claude Laramée's picture

Encouraging story Ben ! I agree that we should share our love/passion for photography with the emerging generation of artist. Photography, in itself might not give us a real sense of worth/purpose but I suspect that sharing/cheering/inspiring others will :-)

Lindsay Sarazin's picture

This is a pretty awesome article, and sort of puts into words what I have been doing over the last few years I've been involved in the photo community. I wanted to ask though, as I usually don't say much about the topic to others unless I'm just making small talk, how do you properly address the photographers that may be photographing for less...than respectful means. If ya know what I'm getting at. There are some photographers in the area, and I imagine more so in bigger cities, who are all about getting the models unclothed and whatnot and I've heard many horror stories where a model feels super uncomfortable and vents to me about the situation...so in (I suppose) a direct conflict with my values and the values of this article I accidentally find myself talking about or warning potential models about certain individuals in the community. How would you address this issue?
Thanks!
(Sorry for the huge paragraph)

Ben Sasso's picture

That's a really great question. Honestly I don't know if that is something that you need to address unless it is something you feel compelled to personally. Unfortunately that does happen and I wish it wasn't the case.

If anyone else would like to chime in, please do!

Lindsay Sarazin's picture

Thanks for the reply! From a personal standpoint I find it hard to not get involved because of the fact that I care for the health, well-being, and reputation of the model, or whomever I'm working with for that matter. I feel bad that I feel the need to give a "heads up" about other photogs in the area, however it is quite counter-productive into the idea of community building and its values.
Any other opinions would be welcome :)
PS> I live in a small town. That MIGHT have an influence on why this topic is so important for me.

Thanks so much for this! I´m gonna bookmark it and will probably read it again and again. I discovered communities (and online workshops) like CreativeLive quite early and sometimesthese international communities are Kind of a "safe heaven" compared to the local ones which treat everyone as competition. Something I never really understood.

Anonymous's picture

Thank you Ben. As a serious photographer since 1975 your article resonates with me.I find it sad when famous and notable photographers while giving the appearance of being approachable are really just trying to make a buck.Some however are amazingly giving something back for example Arthur Morris the top bird photographer.Thanks again. I agree with your premise but the hard nosed business people probably won't.

andrew bret wallis's picture

When I think back to my studio commercial days... sharing and been open with your "competition" (and believe me - they were cut-throat competition!) would have been suicidal! There was always a reasonable amount of work out there, but there were a good many talented studios also wanting a slice of it.

Photography in those days was no different to any other industry. How many accountancy, engineering or manufacturing companies do you know who freely share their best practice methods, contacts and client lists even today? How many musicians, artists and dancers would be willing to impart their hard-fought, time-earned, trade secrets when this is their primary source of income?

So what has changed?

These days, the world is over-saturated with imagery. It fills every corner of your computer screen. Many folk don't need to make a living from it and are therefore perfectly happy to share their working methods.

It is good to share! And - of course - we probably all did freely share knowledge amongst our close circle of trusted colleagues and friends. I don't think photographers in the past "held back" for any better reason than good business acumen. Even today, if you hit upon a winning formula... bearing in mind the burgeoning competition out there and falling fees... you would still "surely" be sensible to establish a name for yourself before rushing to break the news to everyone else (If you are a professional and this is your main or only form of income?)

Charles Gaudreault's picture

Love this post!
Great piece Ben!
i love when you said : I've seen photographers knowingly leave out key techniques
i often see video tuts where i strongly feel like theres something missing like if the youtuber shows us the trick but only 90% of it :P but telling us its 100% of how to do it!
anyways thanks for the post!

Anonymous's picture

This is an awesome article and an inspiration to be a better part of the community. I'm by no means the best photographer, but there are people around me that ask me questions and I've tried my best to answer and give them the help they need. I've also been on the other side and just brushed it off. This is convicting in a sense because your ABSOLUTELY right. We are a community that needs to help and support each other.

I've been following a few of my personal favorite photographers and when I've written to ask a question or something I'm sad to say that very few have responded to questions on Facebook or email. I will say that Clay Cook has been an awesome sport in answering everyones questions and just responding, in general. You know those text messages that you get and in your head you're like, "What do I even say to this? Is it a question or just something to say?" and dude responds and seems grateful that someone even said something. No one likes an asshole and it's good to see that there are informed pros who are willing to go that route instead of brushing everyone off as though it's not their problem or job to respond.

Thanks for writing this and being a building block in this community that I love.

Sherry Sheare's picture

This is a wonderful article! I shared it on my photography page www.facebook.com/photographsbysas Thank you for the reminder! I hope that many people see your article and give it great consideration!

James Donaldson's picture

Love this piece, and completely agree, this isn't Apple vs Microsoft big business crushing the competition, we are artists and as such can inspire each other and push each other to be better. We are one of the only communities that can do that and still be successful. I know I'm inspired by all of you everyday and it causes me to look at things differently all the time.

Dana Goldstein's picture

Thanks Ben! You know what always cracks me up? The idea of being new and being reluctant to share one's "tricks" and "secrets" and "style." The fact is a newbie doesn't HAVE a style, a trick, or a secret. They -- and we -- are still figuring that out. When we are sometimes the most reticent and protective, is when we actually have the LEAST to protect, and the MOST TO GAIN from sharing our journey with others.

SLR Lounge has started a critique section and established guidelines; one of the things that I found positive as part of the critique process is the "sandwich evaluation": Praise/Encouragement, Constructive Criticism,, and finally, Praise/Encouragement.
Praise: What you liked of their photo.
Constructive Criticism: Offer suggestions for improvement. This is not a tear-down of them.
Encouragement: Something that will keep them enthused.