Trade secrets exist in every industry known to man. In most industries, trade secrets are common, expected, and understood. No one gets all bent out of shape about Coca-Cola keeping their formula a mystery. No one stops using Google because they don't share their search algorithm. Without these secrets, a vast number of companies wouldn't even exist. The whole primus of having a trade secret is having the ability to do or create something no one else can recreate. With that being said, are we as photographers allowed to have trade secrets or are we obligated to share our knowledge with everyone?
Sharing Is Caring
The photography community is known for being open to sharing. There are thousands upon thousands of tutorials, how-to's, and step-by-step guides all over the internet. I absolutely love that about our industry, however I have noticed there is a great deal of backlash when someone doesn't want to share.
I partake in a few photography based groups on Facebook and other social media sites. Most of them are are all centered around the same idea: People share their work then other people offer constructive criticism, shower them with praise, or verbally tear them apart. It's the nature of the beast, but it serves its purpose. From time to time I will see an amazing image that really gets people talking. It is usually these images that stir up the "how did you" comments. For the most part, people are very open to sharing their camera settings, their lighting setups, or even their post-processing. But when someone doesn't "give away the milk for free," the tone of the thread can shift in a very negative direction. I think the fact that the photography community is driven so much by sharing and free advice that it sometimes causes us to feel entitled. It seems as though many people think it's selfish to keep any knowledge to yourself. Why is this the case? Is it wrong for us keep secrets? For many of us, this whole photography shindig is a business. Is keeping secrets what we have spent hours, weeks, or even years to develop wrong? Is it our civic duty to the photography universe to educate our "competition" on how we are gaining the business we are getting? Where does the line begin and end, or is there even a line at all?
My Point Of View
This topic takes me back to the early years of my photographic journey. When I discovered Dave Hill, I was mesmerized by his work. His post-processing blew my mind. I barely understood how to work my camera, so I didn't even know where to begin. I started finding different articles and video tutorials on how to create the "Dave Hill Effect." I watched tutorial after tutorial. Some of them were decent at best and some of them were awful and left me feeling like I had wasted ten minutes of my life. No matter how many of them I watched, one thing remained the same. None of them were actually created by Hill. I remember feeling let down and discouraged that I could never find any information about his personal techniques. All I wanted was for Hill to tell me his secrets so I could create images just like him. Looking back now, however, I am so glad I never found what I was hoping for. The reason being, I was forced to figure things out for myself. I started taking bits and pieces of different tutorials and trying them out. I would mix one technique with another. I would mix a lighting technique I learned from one source with post-processing from another. I would play with different plug-ins, blending modes, layer mask, a little of this, and a little of that. Eventually, without even realizing, I had created something unique. I had developed my own style (a style still evolving I might add). I had found something that worked for me and set me apart. I had found me.
I knew there would come a day when people would start asking me how I "do what I do." To be honest, I welcome questions and I am open to sharing knowledge and advice on general questions about photography. I write tutorials on a regular basis for magazines such as "Advanced Photoshop Magazine." I have always thought that it is better to look at other photographers as friends rather than competition. I love sharing information and helping photographers grow and reach their potential. The only questions that ever really bother me are ones where people basically ask me for a step-by-step guide to creating my images. That is just something I don't want to do. The biggest reason is the simple fact that I'm not trying to make carbon copies of myself. I honestly feel people should put work into developing their own style. Though there may be other photographers out there whose style may resemble my style, I can guarantee that I am the only person in the world who creates images using the steps that I do. I think that is a beautiful thing!
What Are Your Thoughts?
There are a lot of extremely talented photographers out there who absolutely love sharing their knowledge. Von Wong, Aaron Nace, Joel Grimes, Calvin Hollywood, and many others like them put out some amazing free tutorials. The way I look at it is if someone wants to share what they know, then that is amazing and we should be thankful and grateful. On the flip side, I think we should respect when photographers have certain things they want to keep to themselves. I don't think there is anything wrong with having a few tricks up our sleeves, but that is just my opinion of course.
What are your thoughts? Are we allowed to have "trade secrets" or should everything be shared? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter. As always, thanks for reading.