I used to spend hours scrolling through the work of other photographers, wondering how I could possibly get into their minds to better understand how they might have photographed a particular scene the way they did. I would reach out to other photographers and ask, “What was your inspiration for this image?”
“How did you decide on this concept?”
But I should have been asking myself: What about my work? My inspiration? I was so fixated on understanding how other creative minds worked that up until that point, I had never stopped to think about what my own mind was doing while I was creating.
This was a pivotal realization for me, and it deeply affected how I approached my business, my work and the relationship I had with myself as an artist. It was time to leave envy in the dust and, rather than try desperately to understand others, focus the same questions on myself.
PICKING APART WHAT MOVES YOU
I once read a quote in a list of 22 compiled bits of wisdom released by Emma Coats, a former storyboard artist for Pixar. One of them said: “Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.”
I had never even considered that before, but with that, I pulled out some of my favorite films and found a lot of my answers by watching them. The parts that made me laugh or cry or feel nostalgic all meant something to me, and I made note of them.
Stringing them together, I began to notice a theme emerge: I was attached to movies and television that were visually pleasing, had subtle gestures of love and connection, and possessed an element of nostalgia and time. Films like Arrival and About Time spoke to me in a way that others weren’t able to.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was part one of understanding my brand, and myself. Part two was realizing that the selling and marketing of my services was actually not so much about me at all, but about those I was serving and how to effectively communicate to them. I decided that I wanted to connect with clients who felt the same passion for nostalgia and closeness and love that I did.
REFOCUSING WHAT YOU SHOW AND COMMUNICATE
I purposefully went through my entire website and removed any images that didn’t reflect the connection and the feeling that I was trying to attract. I streamlined every aspect of my social media to showcase connection, nostalgia and images that were visually pleasing to me—meaning, simple and minimalist. If an image didn’t have one of those elements, I removed it. If a shot contained all elements, I pushed it to my homepage as a signature image.
I streamlined my text as well. I wanted to create a warm, friendly environment on my website and social media. I wanted the audience to feel as if I were an old friend. I wanted them to feel a sense of familiarity. What I realized was that the more consistently I adjusted the language and voice on my channels to project that, the more I was connecting with clients who spoke in a similarly warm, familiar, friendly way and shared the same values that I did.
There was a moment when I realized that everyone in the industry was asking about how to find the ideal client, but no one was speaking to being the ideal photographer. This simple switch in mindset changed so much for me; rather than seeking out my “ideal client,” I became the ideal photographer for the niche group of people who valued what I valued.
Now, it’s OK to look at what the competition is doing. But don’t try to be just like them. Create your own niche market that you can show up for. A lot of photographers struggle with this, and I get it. I’ve been there. We all take photos of happy people in wedding attire, we are all trying to “capture the moments” or “document the beautiful connections” and so on and so forth.
So how do you distinguish yourself from every other photographer in the industry?
You deliver a service and an experience that no one else can do exactly like you, and you believe in all of it with everything inside of you because it speaks to your personal vision. People can sense if you lack confidence in what you create. The more you love what you provide, the more others will too. Know yourself and what you can truly give others, and sell it because you believe in it.