There are many reasons why we take photographs. It's the intrinsic motivation that has the greatest value, and for me, it has paid off. Have you discovered why you should be seeking that and neither the money nor a pat on your back?
It's been over a year since the brand-new company, OM Digital Solutions (OMDS), took over the mantle from Olympus. Recently, they offered me the chance to work alongside them as a brand ambassador, and I agreed. This wasn't my first offer of an ambassadorship from a photography brand. I turned down a previous request from another company some time back because of their ethical failings that did not align with my beliefs.
When I mentioned online that I had considered an ambassadorship before, it was met with some negative comments. Whether these were fuelled by jealousy or a misguided belief that anything business-related is to be mistrusted, I don't know. Equally, the few respected photographers I mentioned it to congratulated me.
Personally, I have no qualms about being linked to a business that produces equipment I like using if, on balance, its ethos coheres with my beliefs. Moreover, there are intrinsic rewards: it feels good to be asked. Collaborating with other photographers, whether employed by a company, working for themselves, or shooting in an amateur capacity, is a joy. Being a brand ambassador increases my opportunities to do that. It will give me more opportunities to walk on the beach at dawn with my camera, something I love doing, and chat with other photographers.
Chasing Intrinsic Rewards
Various studies over the years have investigated intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. One of these was carried out over twenty years and looked at students' motivations for studying art-based subjects. Those who were going it for the love of the art and not for the financial rewards went on to become successful in their field, whereas those who were studying art as a career, hoping to earn money at it, went on to fail.
Similar research has shown that rewarding children for learning can demotivate them. If rewarded, even with excessive praise, they will no longer want to learn for the joy of discovering something new. That golden star, or ten dollars you give a child for achieving a task, will actually make them less eager to carry on performing.
Intrinsic Rewards are not an Excuse for Treating People Badly
It is widely recognized that underpaying people for their work is a significant demotivator. But so too is awarding bonuses in exchange for working in a stressful environment. Perhaps you have experienced this, being driven to meet targets with a dangling carrot in front and a sharpened stick thwacking you from behind.
One of my photographer friends' former employers advertised this job as rewarding, challenging, and fast-paced. It also described the organization as being a family that worked under pressure. Those recruitment clichés are now widely seen as red flags for applicants. Indeed, he told me it paid relatively well (rewarding), treated its staff appallingly (challenging), and piled on evermore work that was expected to be finished yesterday (fast-paced). Yet it expected total loyalty (family) despite the massive stress (pressure) he and his colleagues suffered. To this day, they haven't changed. Consequently, they have a huge staff turnover, high stress-related staff absences, and a bad reputation in the community in which they are based. Clearly, their former employees realized that the extrinsic reward, i.e., the salary, was not worth the consequences of working for that organization.
Is Competition a Motivator or Demotivator?
If I work with a person or a business, I don't want to compete with others. My experience suggests that OMDS and everyone associated with it seem dedicated to enabling the ordinary person to improve with their photography. It's not about celebrating its ambassadors or getting photographers to show they are better than others. That coheres with the spirit of my own business.
I've never been a fan of competition in photography, or any art for that matter. My rationale is that judges are not necessarily able to read the intention behind a photo. Additionally, if one shoots to please a judge, it leaves little room for experimentation into new and exciting areas that the judge might not recognize. Thirdly, how could one choose which is best between the work of Vincent van Gogh and Leonardo da Vinci or Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson? You can't. So, how can your work be better or worse than someone else's?
Furthermore, judging art is divisive, and those with the potential to become great can have their enthusiasm destroyed by being judged. I know a young person who was put off photography because a judge gave a cruel and savage critique. Competition breeds plenty of judges like that who use their power to maintain their status as the art's gatekeepers.
Now I will add to the list by including the extrinsic rewards given when one wins a photography competition. Prizes demotivate the winner from continuing to improve.
Intrinsic Motivation Leads to Extrinsic Rewards
When I started my photography business, I didn't know that seeking intrinsic awards invariably led to greater success than extrinsic ones. What I was told suggested the opposite. I attended training courses, most of which were about chasing profits. However, I didn't want to spend all my time looking at finances, marketing, advertising, and analyzing revenue. I wanted to do photography. That was what I enjoyed. So, I concentrated on the areas of photography I loved, dabbled my toes in genres I was curious about, and didn't pursue them further if they didn't bring me happiness. It was the intrinsic rewards I hunted, the good feeling I got when it went right. I see the financial rewards as a by-product of that.
What I love doing the most is training other photographers. Some clients drive around a hundred miles to attend my workshops, bypassing other closer trainers, and many return for more advanced courses. Several of my clients have gone on to work professionally. So, I must be doing something right. I also like writing about photography; plenty of people read my articles. I am trying not to boast but highlight that success results from doing what I relish doing.
Liking Your Photography Equipment Brings Intrinsic Rewards
People often talk about their Gear Acquisition Syndrome. I can sympathize with that. Part of my enjoyment in photography is that I really like the OM System products, and I have used Olympus gear for a long time. My first camera of theirs was an OM2n back in the mid-1980s. Every camera of theirs I have owned since has been tremendous.
The company's ethos is also unique, especially in its support for all photographers, regardless of their chosen brand. The people I've had dealings with from the company have all been fabulous, and the community of photographers that use the system is amiable.
The other brand ambassadors are all positively minded and good-natured too. This doesn't mean other systems are deficient in this respect. If I were a user of a different camera, would I say the same about them? I don't know. There are other cameras from different brands I have used and found appallingly bad. If I were saddled with them, I might have lost interest in photography a long time ago.
What Does Being an Independent Brand Ambassador Mean?
The appointment is little more than the photographer and the manufacturer endorsing what each other does. I can't speak for other brands, but money doesn't exchange hands; I won't be paid for being an ambassador. Photographers who are ambassadors might get to play with new gear before release and receive a discount on some of the equipment. In return, the camera company will get some support at events and be featured on their ambassadors' social media. The photographer flies the flag for the brand because they have the expertise and enjoy using it; in return, the manufacturer raises the photographer's profile. It's a symbiotic relationship.
Of course, as a writer who reviews equipment, I need to be honest. That is why I am declaring this interest here. I specialize in writing about equipment compatible with my OM-1 and the genres I shoot, just as other writers will specialize in the kit that works with their Nikon, Canon, Fujifilm, or Sony. Will I still review OM System equipment? Of course. Like any other kit I try, I'll still use my expertise with the equipment and give my honest opinion. If something has its shortcomings, I will say so. I'll still be unlikely to review other cameras because they are not what I know.
Nothing in Photography is Perfect, Thank Goodness.
Everything in photography is a compromise. With tripods, there is the famous payoff between weight, stability, and price. Suppose you raise the ISO, then the noise increases. If you want more depth of field by reducing the aperture, then the shutter slows down, and so on.
As technology advances and sensors improve, the concessions one makes by choosing a smaller system are far less than a decade ago. Cameras like the OM-1 outperform professional cameras from a handful of years ago. The benefits of those excellent smaller, lenses are now paying off.
There are other good reasons I decided upon a Micro Four Thirds system besides the M.Zuiko lenses. Firstly, I needed a camera that could withstand sea spray, blown sand, and hot and cold conditions. If I dropped my camera in a river or mud – I've done both – I wanted to be able to pick it up, clean it off, and continue shooting. I also needed the image quality to be good enough to photograph events and compatible with my studio equipment; I have some major clients on my books who won't settle for second best. I also required lighter gear so I could carry it all day without injuring myself as I had in the past. Plus, I am able to take it on a plane without incurring additional weight charges.
Never having to clean the dust off the camera's sensor – the OM System's self-cleaning system is second to none – and the ability to handhold in low light were important factors too. I wanted a system that was small enough to be discrete, so I wouldn't be noticed when shooting on the street or at parties.
There were also things I liked but didn't necessarily need. Coming from an engineering and technical background, I find the OM-1 and its OM-D predecessors have many unique and useful features that appeal to my inner nerd. Olympus was always an innovative business, and OMDS has inherited that mindset. Also for me, I believe that creative people should be inspired by surrounding themselves with great-looking equipment. I would rather sit at write at this handmade hardwood desk than at some boxy chipboard and plastic flatpack monstrosity. The OM System cameras do look great.
I can already hear the naysayers complaining that, like any company, OMDS is just in it for the money. I think they are wrong. Any business is about the people that work for it and the customers for whom it makes its products.
The more I get to know the successful people in the photographic industry, the more I realize they are in it for intrinsic rewards. That is true of the Fstoppers' writers, and it is true of the people working for OMDS too. I'll happily wave the flag for both.
Ivor I congratulate you on your ambassadorship for OM, the love for the system shines through your articles. And I can see why you love the system, they are beautifully made cameras and lenses. They are not for me, to small and light for my taste (and hands) and one of the things I like to shoot is concerts and there a full frame shines. For my landscapes the OM system would perform great. I recently bought a Zeiss lens (the milvus 2/35) and I love using it, it is so well build and is just a joy to use.
Sean Tucker has written a great book for creatives , the meaning in the making, a very good read.
Hi Ruud, thank you. That looks like a magnificent lens, and I hope you enjoy using it. I look forward to seeing some photos shot with it in your excellent gallery. The Sean Tucker book looks like an excellent read, thanks for the recommendation. It's on order!
I got it. It's excellent. Thanks for the recommendation.
I say do what you like and what makes you happy. Who cares what other people think? If being a brand ambassador is something you enjoy, than i say all the power to you. If, like me, being rabidly private and somewhat antisocial is what makes you happy, that's great too. I used to love sunsets and sunrises the best. Nowadays, i love blue hour and mid-day more. So, i shoot what makes me happy and, like you said, people buy it. I also shoot alone at all times. I don't like being around other people that much. But, I'm lucky that i built a circle of contacts in the early days of my career who understand my private nature, and the word of mouth keeps me working without having to network or market too aggressively. If it works, it works. That's the beauty of art.
Thanks for that great comment, and I absolutely agree with everything you say.