Healthy Competition in Photography
With photography rising progressively it comes naturally that competition rises too. Of course, this has been part of any path taken, but with the digital world advancing, it becomes even more tangible. Photographers are now using Photoshop as an inseparable part of the process and knowing more and more about its subtleties becomes essential to their success. Not only that but they optimize the whole process of creating the perfect image – from taking the shot and editing, to presenting. This leads to constant checking of other professionals’ work – what techniques are they using, what results do they drive, what is working for them.
Regardless of the necessity of comparing your work as a photographer with other professionals, it is significant you don’t overrate it. At some point in your work, you might find yourself looking so much at someone else’s progress that you lose sight of your own. As the saying goes “Be so busy watering your own grass that you don’t notice if the others’ is any greener”.
But when is it healthy to accept competition? Let’s see.
Competing with other photographers.
Whether it is the influence of social media where we can find anything about anyone pretty much, or it is the constant urge to check other people’s work, we often find ourselves spending too much time looking at someone else’s life and success. And that’s powerful. We start accepting their accomplishments as guidance for ourselves. They posted X number of photographs this month. They had X number of likes. They used X number of models, tools, or whatever it is they used.
The truth is, the last year there were over 1.2 trillion photos that were taken. And this number rises each year tremendously. This only means you really can’t expect to be able to compare your work to all of them. Sure, you might have some idols in your specific line of work but looking too much at them might lead to you looking less at your own path.
Mentioning of social media above was no accident. It is essential for all of us to remember that we only see the end result online. Photographers post their best shots and none of them say “this was my first session in three months” or “I messed up the composition on half my images”- these details are left out. Because we all screw up sometimes. As professionals or as people. And social media tends to keep this part in a shadow far far away in the background. Don’t forget social media channels are a place for keeping the best versions of ourselves, our work, and our lives. Everyone posts their best shots, their good moments, and success.
But since you will be spending your time there anyway (meaning not only social media but other photographer’s websites, portfolio pages, etc), at least use that time to inspire yourself, to get some insights, to create a vision for yourself of what you could be doing. Not by comparing, but by gathering ideas and inspiration from someone else’s work.
Competition can teach us many valuable things about our work and that’s a significant part of our growth. It’s sometimes the push we need to get motivated, it’s the inspiration for achievement, it’s our guidance in success. But there is always going to be someone better than us. That’s why we should look at competitors not as a treat but as a motivation. As someone to inspire us and help us become better – to develop, to improve, to show us sides of art we hadn’t noticed before. A true inspiration to us. And still, don’t forget the only true competitor will always be you.
Compete with yourself
To get better at what you do it is crucial to find yourself a serious competitor from your previous work. Compare all the time. Spend time with each photograph and think of it as a goal for the next one to overcome. From time to time, go back to photos from last year of three years ago, and again – compare. See how you have changed. How your work is improved, what techniques you used back then, and how are those now suiting you better. You only get better by improving your own work. And you do that by comparing it. At the end of each year spend time going over your portfolio and look at the progress you’ve made and think of what your next goals are. Then start working on them.
The truth is, only by making mistakes you can truly learn how to be better. Don’t give it too much time overthinking, of course. Just look at the work you are not happy with, say “Ok, you messed up. Don’t let it happen again. Do it better” and move on. Don’t spend time thinking of your shots and how they could have been better, or don’t spend too much time feeling down because of unsuccessful gigs. Learn from it all. That’s how you become successful. Speaking of don’ts in photography, it’s essential to keep track of the right perspectives.
Making mistakes is not necessarily a bad thing and it shouldn’t impact our thinking, our feelings, and make us doubt our skills or talent. It is just part of the process of realizing what works for us, what is best for us, and where we should keep our focus on. If we are not ready to embrace our downs and failures there is no point in doing whatever it is we started. Meaning not just photography but anything in general. We can’t really become successful if we don’t accept that sometimes we can fail. The question is how great will we stand back up from that.
And when you are at the end of the year, per se, give yourself the needed pep talk. Be proud of what you have accomplished and consider every small step forward a step getting you closer to where you want to be.
Do’s and Don’ts – What is healthy competing
When talking about art, we should all know that this feels different for everyone. Someone’s work can be better from another person’s but when it comes to art, it’s all subjective and people react differently. What may feel for you good, for others might not be.
Photography contests? Entering a contest might be a good idea for you if you only do it for the right reasons. As a photographer, you need to always push yourself, always challenge yourself, and expand your opportunities. A contest can do that for you. Just don’t overstress about it. Don’t take it to heart and don’t have expectations for winning. This could be great, but not your main goal. Instead, try gaining as much experience as possible.
By all means, compare your work. Compare it with your past work, with your idols, and competitors. But don’t judge yourself too much and only do it so you can learn how to be greater. In art – photography, writing, painting, or else – looking at someone else’s work is part of acknowledging our own but only as inspiration. Copycats are no artists – remember that. Don’t ever take the essence of someone else’s work and implicate it as your own. Have your own signature in what you do and only this way you can stand out, be original, be authentic, and inspiring too.
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