Attempts to network with fellow photographers often fall short. Many of us act as professional “gatekeepers," defensively sharing little or no information.
While a hoarding mentality is an understandable instinct in a competitive environment, it's actually self-defeating.
Have you ever declined a conversation with a potential competitor?
When you avoid connecting with photographers on a professional level, you're not only missing opportunities for yourself, you’re also potentially doing a disservice to the photography community at large. There's a good explanation for competition turning cutthroat: emotion. Whether you live in a small town or a big city, the threat of other photographers taking jobs or undercutting you always seems to loom.
The worst undercutting offenders are often those newer to the trade or even photographers new to town, who are anxious to establish connections. If you show up on the first or even second page of Google, chances are you have been contacted by someone eager to learn from you or network with you. Some people in this situation will turn away such networking requests. But here's a more productive response: figure out how you can help each other. Last week, I wrote about the benefits of teaching your trade; healthy networking is one such benefit. If the networking request comes from someone with sufficient experience, you might be able to work with the individual as an assistant or second shooter.
Often, the decline of a networking request has nothing to do with ego. Many top-dog photographers have trouble responding to every request received. The more success a photographer achieves, the more crucial time management becomes.
There are several reasons photographers ignore or even discourage and intimidate their competition. Here are the main ones:
The main reason we ignore or discourage those eager to network or learn from us has to do with the scarcity mindset. As natural as this mindset may be for professionals in a crowded talent pool, it hurts you in the end.
If you're concerned that someone new to the craft could hurt your business, take a step back and consider respective levels of professional skill. You might worry that a newcomer will eventually reach your professional level and continue to undercut your price. But here’s a better scenario: networking and/or working with you, the newcomer learns photography lessons that include the real-world necessity of charging industry-standard pricing. That benefits all of us.
Undercutting will always happen, and someone will almost always bid lower than you. Instead of sitting around feeling frustrated about this, focus on how you can form strong relationships with clients who won't base their photographer hires solely on a "bargain” budget. By the way, if you're always bidding the lowest on a project in a pool of photographers, you might want to reevaluate your business plan.
If you have distinguished yourself from those grabbing at the low-hanging fruit, a newcomer is no threat to you. When you have the time, be encouraging, and make sure your protégé is contributing to our industry’s strong reputation through a good work ethic and fair pricing.
Let's face it: creative professionals can be difficult and sometimes have a chip-on-the-shoulder problem. Without delving too much into psychology, it’s worth considering that this chip that produces poor treatment of others is based in egotism and insecurity.
Strong egos often produce pessimism about the industry itself and the difficulty of keeping up with new technologies. Such frustrations often create blanket criticism of newcomers.
I experienced an early version of negativity in the industry back when I was in high school. My father took me to a local camera store (back when many existed) to buy a DSLR body for me. The camera was to be my going-away gift, an educational investment for my freshman year at art school. When the store clerk learned what the gear was for, he made some offputting comments. "Oh wow, does he think he’s going to make a living taking pretty pictures of flowers?" he sneered. "Good luck.”
Unfortunately, such attitudes are manifested by even accomplished professionals. You may have been in this situation or known someone who has experienced it: an ambitious person reaches out to a successful (typically older) person for advice on breaking into an industry. The older, successful person soon launches a lecture on how "it's not as easy as you think" and "most of us fail, I work long hours, the business isn't what it used to be," etc. While the person giving advice likely feels that they're doing the newbie a service by preparing them for reality; in truth, they are only projecting a negativity that reflects poorly on photography culture.
A modest recommendation: always be civil and encouraging, even in difficult circumstances. Being competitive is natural, but it’s important to also be genial with our peers, photographers, and clients alike.
The photography industry has undergone significant changes over the past decade. In some respects, making a living off photography has become more challenging. But it's still possible if you keep open the gates of your talent and love of photography.
Have you experienced a problem with gatekeeping? Perhaps it came in the form of a snide comment on one of your photos or even a face-to-face dispute. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section.
Lead image by ShonEjai on Pexels.