Other Creatives Should Never Be Your Competition

Other Creatives Should Never Be Your Competition

Think of the nowadays common term #squadgoals; now, turn off your Taylor Swift playlist on Spotify and really listen. Would that term have the same meaning if some of the "squad" were paranoid, bitter people? Probably not, because those kind of people don't make for very good company. Instead, you're probably picturing a team of diverse, amazingly talented powerhouses from various walks of life who all have one thing in common: eating faces and taking names.

It's no secret that being an artist can feel like a contest of who can hate themselves more, throwing you into a race to the bottom of a neverending pit of despair. However, rest assured that there is hope for us after all. Instead of thinking as other artists in your peripheral purely as competition running towards the same goal, think of them as your support system, allowing you all to get to that shared goal. Stay with me here because this is where it gets pretty heavy.

Do you drop names like Leibowitz and Barker for photographers that inspire you? Here's the thing: never view them as idols; instead, view them as respected peers who are just at different points in their career.

By doing so, you empower yourself to immediately place your work amongst theirs: still developing your style, your skills, and aesthetic, sure, but on the way nonetheless. It's funny how once we realize the whole "they're no different than us" reality, suddenly things aren't so intimidating anymore; monsters don't seem so scary, powerful creatives don't seem so unreachable. Now, you can reach out to them via email or social media, conversing like two masters of the craft just talking shop, instead of fanboying/fangirling and spewing out nothing but praise and compliments, because we all know how old that gets.

Right now, you're probably wondering how this impacts your life at all. Well, I'll tell you: as a creative, it is hard enough to feel like you're making headway in your career. The important thing to realize is that you're not alone. What better way to fuel your creativity than the greatest artistic concept: collaboration.  You're probably wondering how collaboration could be effective; so, let's see:

Collaboration Purely in the Artistic Sense

  • Like the age-old saying, "Two heads are better than one," artists combining efforts always yields better results.
  • Ever wonder why so many musicians feature other artists in their songs? It's because they make the song that much stronger and they can help launch someone's career.
  • Bouncing ideas off of each other can yield breakthroughs you otherwise wouldn't have had.
  • Just think of your favorite movie directors and how they seem to cast the same actors time and time again; they obviously collaborated well enough to string together hit after hit.

Collectives Are a Thing for a Reason

  • Collectives are a great example; a few artists pooling together to share studio space, attract bigger clients with your broad range of talent, and push one another.
  • Just look at photojournalist powerhouse Magnum Photos, co-founded by someone who goes by the name Henri Cartier-Bresson (yes, you may have heard of him), which has stood the test of time since the 1940s, when it was established by Henri and six friends.
  • Even production house Wonderful Machine started as a collective with commercial photographer Bill Cramer and some photographer buddies.

No One Other than Artists Really Understand Us

  • Ever been at a party or family function and cringe when someone walks up to you and says: "Oh, so you're a photographer, huh? What's that like?!" A job, it's like a job.
  • Venting about the stresses of being a creative to non-creatives basically makes everyone envision you as a walking meme.
  • "Gosh, I wish I could just sit at home all day or travel and 'be working'." I wish I could sit in a cubicle all day scrolling through Facebook and get lump sums of money deposited in my bank account every two weeks.

Nothing Is More Motivational than a Hard-Working, Humble Creative

  • We all know someone like this: tons of success, amazingly down to earth, and you can't hate them no matter how hard you try. I know; it's exhausting.
  • Creatives like this push you and make you want to work harder and master your craft, not sell all your gear and quit.
  • Some have even made collaboration a career, like Chase Jarvis with CreativeLive and CJ Live, as well as Nick Onken and his amazing Shop Talk Radio Podcast.

It's unquantifiable how much more you can do for both yourself and your career if you simply connect with others, truly cheer for their successes and remember that together, we're a lot stronger than simply choosing to go it alone. I laugh when I think about a post I made a few years ago on the Facebook wall of a good friend, a retoucher a lot of you know on this site, who today just returned from traversing all over Europe for workshops and gigs.

Now, I may be a little behind, but that's okay; I've got two more years and we're just at different points in our careers.

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Mark Davidson's picture

Too many would-be "clients" see photographers as generic products and the real hurdle is breaking out of the fog of low paying clients to the sunshine of loyal, repeat clients who understand what you can deliver on every job.
Then we can enjoy the security of a decent income that allows us the luxury of collaborating and hanging out with our peers instead of running in fear from them.

Jose Rosado's picture

While true, one of the hardest things for photographers to get to that level is nothing more than confidence. For a lot of photographers, the gear and knowledge is there - it's just believing in themselves enough to know that they're worth more.

Mbutu Namubu's picture

It appears that I'm playing the role of contrarian in this thread. Please don't take it personally, Jose.

The reason why photographers lack confidence is because they DO NOT have the resources or the knowledge. They are not equipped for serious productions. They don't know how to organize talent, bid jobs, etc. They run away from normal criticism. Most of them don't even have an adequate space to work out of. This lack of confidence is literally an epidemic with the online photography community and it's because the majority of "self-taught" photographers tried to cut corners to success by skipping art school, skipping assisting, and skipping the necessary saving of capital that is required to start a business. They didn't pay their dues beforehand and then got upset and disappointed when they jumped into something that they weren't prepared for at all.

Jose Rosado's picture

I agree with you on this, and believe me I don't take any comments on my articles personal - it's all just healthy debate and I encourage it. While I agree, I do also recognize that some people simply can't go the direct route you mentioned, like myself, who only found photography at the end of college and pursued while I was already in grad school getting my MBA. I did assist some when I lived in Philadelphia, but as much as I wanted to do art school I was quite in the hole with two degrees.

Mbutu Namubu's picture

I can definitely understand how hard it would be to get into photography after getting two degrees in something else. That's tough.

I don't want to be a downer but I'm always thinking that there are teenagers reading these threads and trying to discover what paths to take in photography. I just want them to know the hard harsh reality instead of only hearing the happy talk they tend to get from the normal "you-can-be-a-pro" crowd.

Jose Rosado's picture

Oh I wholeheartedly agree with you on that, I don't ever want to mislead young people that it's easy because we all know it's not at all. However, if starting out you're pushing people away because you think they're stealing jobs and can't help you in any way you're in for a much harder transition than someone who openly asked for advice, gave out advice in anything they thought would help others, and thanked other photographers promising to pay it forward.

OK, I think I understand better now what you mean by competition. If I understand this correctly, competition is something that prevents photographers from sharing with each other. And if a photographer is not sharing, then it's safe to assume that he's scared of competition.

But that's not how I see it at all.

My experience is that all of the real tricks of the trade in photography that will truly help people to get to the next level can only be learned through experience. Experience, by it's very nature, cannot be shared. It is experience alone that makes a person unique enough to have his own vision in photography and is then able to advance in career and find success.

I could share everything that I know about photography with you. You could download my entire brain. Yet, it's not going to make you a better photographer because only your personal experience is what really matters for your own work.

When I try to help people become better photographers, I do my best to tell them how to change their experience of photography. In forums and comment sections etc, my approach is often interpreted as being mean-spirited or even trolling. But really it's all about getting folks out of their comfort zone. The great thing about school, assisting etc is that those are extremely competitive environments that people cannot run away from. Therefore, they have to slug it out and really learn for themselves what photography is all about.

If a photographer skips these initial steps of experience, then he is missing the benefits that he will get of being chewed up and spit out by all the worst that the photography industry has to offer. The benefit is the confidence that comes with having suffered and survived. Soldiers that go to war and come back usually look at civilian life as easy in comparison to people that never went to war. It's the same way in photography, all of the things that self-taught people find so difficult and all of the roadblocks that prevent them from truly finding their potential are usually from having a lack of the experience of competition that the right background would have provided.

In the end, photographers that are trying too hard to get-along and are seeking nurturing environments are only hurting themselves by avoiding the competitive atmosphere that would really bring out their best qualities. That's my true point of view. But unfortunately, when I try to explain these things to people online they generally think that I'm coming from a place of fearing competition or am projecting my own insecurity or some other bullshit. That couldn't be further from the truth.

Sorry for the long post Jose, but that's the truth as I see it! I felt like you deserved a thoughtful explanation from me considering how gentlemanly and polite all of your responses have been in this thread.

Jose Rosado's picture

Mbutu thanks for the comprehensive explanation and professionalism that is usually lacking in comment section on the Internet ;)

However, I again don't disagree with you at all - only that you're describing a much broader picture that I am writing about in this article which is just a VERY small window into the life of a career creative that boils down to this: No matter how good you are, seasoned + well-versed in all that there is to offer; there will come a time in your career that you will need help in some way. Now, that help may come easily if you, at that point in your career, cultivated a strong network of fellow creatives who would gladly help out in any way possible. However, if you were strictly treating everyone as the enemy, not sharing information, and trying to get along with others who are fighting the same fight - you will be all alone.

Being a career creative is tough enough, so why not try and build a support network of people who get what you're going through, that's all. Like you had said, I can teach anyone everything I know - that doesn't mean they'll be my competition tomorrow or that they are ready to start their career. They will, like you said, need to gain LIFE experience, make mistakes, learn from them, and adapt. And yes, through the competition of getting work they will learn skills and be building a solid foundation. But being competition doesn't mean that you can't support one another - just look at professional athletes: between the whistle and sidelines, they're trying to take each others heads off. But when the whistle blows, they'll be the same person to help that other guy up and give him a friendly slap on the helmet; not to mention how many of them train together in the off-season, even if mortal enemies/rivals on the field.

Competition is one thing, but what I wrote about is more regarding mutual professional respect.

Mbutu Namubu's picture

Basically, the collective you're describing already exists. It's called a "camera club."

The good thing about camera clubs is that the people who join them usually understand that they are doing photography as a hobby and aren't trying to make it a career. In business, they would all be competing against each other as enemies. But as hobbyists, they can all be best friends forever.

Unfortunately, the internet is confusing most aspiring photographers because it constantly blurs the lines between professional/hobbyist. In the real world, the profession and the leisure activity are two completely different environments. On the internet, both of these environments collide and become indistinguishable from one another. It's good to understand the difference in the real world and if a person isn't comfortable with brutal competition then he or she should take the camera club route. Anybody that tries to make the business world more like the hobby world is going to be in for tons of misery and frustration because it's never going to work.

Also, don't believe all of these internet photography super-stars are really as successful in the professional world as they pretend to be online. Many of them are making the majority of their income by teaching other people how to be professional photographers. In other words, they are a part of the "you-can-be-a-pro" industry that poses as the profession but in reality is just an extension of the hobbyist/consumer industry.

Jose Rosado's picture

Of course collectives exist, that's why I gave a few examples ;) However, I respectfully disagree as the whole article was about the fact there is plenty of room for professional respect between photographers and knowing that you'll get a lot further in your career by working with others as opposed to against them.

Mbutu Namubu's picture

Bottom line:

You're scared of competition.

Jose Rosado's picture

Actually quite the opposite, I've bid on the same jobs as some of my best friends. I just realize that I've also gotten some of my best gigs because a friend threw me the work. It's always nice to have a network of friends who you can throw work to when you have scheduling conflicts with a client. Competition is healthy and a necessary thing in photography for sure, but constant paranoia and putting yourself in a bubble isn't.

Mbutu Namubu's picture

Right on, I like your style. Sorry man, I should have said "don't be scared of competition" instead of "you're scared of competition"

Sorry about that...I was being too accusatory.

Jose Rosado's picture

No apology necessary man! Like I said, I always invite healthy debate because it brings to light stuff that people can learn from. And look at this, in the end we both came to a mutual understanding that we agree with one another - we just didn't see eye to eye in the beginning.

David Vaughn's picture

Eh, not all camera clubs are created equal. I've been to camera clubs of mostly professionals trying to better their craft, and I've also been to camera clubs that are made of mostly seniors sharing photos of their grandchildren and over-HDR'd landscapes.

It really depends.

Ty June's picture

Sometimes you do need to look at your peers/idols as competition. In no way am I saying to take the cutthroat mentality and undercut them when it comes to potential jobs (I've heard of it happening) BUT recognizing where one is at in their level of work and looking to their idol's work as a stepping stone to help them become better. After achieving that level of work, keep striving to improve upon one's work. A big thing that I have seen is the reluctance from some photographers to explain to new photographers what was done in post editing or even composing a shot to help the new photographer learn new techniques or better ways to do things. As you stated in one of your previous articles, sometimes teaching someone helps you become better. Sadly, some photographers do not think in the same way.

Jose Rosado's picture

Ty, it is sad that not all photographers think that way, but that's the case in any field; some people are known for being the person who will ALWAYS help someone out, whom are then the person everyone would love to work with & then there's the people who only look out for #1 and it shows. We can obviously take a guess who's going to have an easier time being a stable career.

As for the first remark you made, I do agree - which is why I mentioned recognizing that they're in a different part of their career AKA ahead of you clearly, but notice I didn't say they're in a totally different stratosphere than us mortals, because then it seems unattainable and that's not entirely true either.