Something funny happened today. I was somewhere, doing something, and ran into another photographer. In case you haven't noticed, our economy isn't that great at the moment. Oh, you knew that? Sorry. Just checking.
Well, I hear from a lot of other photographers, from all over the world actually, and most of those I speak with today are not doing that well. Things are slow. Business is down. Jobs are not coming as frequently, and the email/phone life lines are fraying near the edges.
This person I ran into shared the same reality. Things were slow. "Nobody is working."
I told him that there were people working, but that something interesting was happening.
The people who are still working are those photographers who know how to say "no."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Those people who will do any job that comes along, in any style demanded," I said, "Those people are dying on the vine." "They are dying because there are too many of them, and they have no distinctive style, so if they fight for a decent rate they lose the job because they have nothing of value to offer."
I firmly believe if you are a good photographer, and you offer something that the "digital body, 24-70, on camera flash" photographer doesn't offer, you will find work. BUT, BUT, BUT, you have to be willing to say "NO" when a bad job comes along.
The moment you cave, the moment you compromise your objective, it is over. Even if you "win" in the short term by securing a shoot, in the long term not only will you lose, but you make it far more difficult for other photographers to survive.
And, by taking these puny jobs, you are, chances are, not creating any memorable images, and are not getting better as a photographer. In essence you are falling into a trap of mediocrity where thousands already live.
I was asked a party on Sunday about losing my online archive due to the host company going out of business. "What are you going to do?" I was asked. "Well, I'm going to start over," I answered. "But, I'm going to do it very differently this time," I added. You see, I lost tens of thousands of images online. I still have them, just not online, so I lost my immediate access to them. I'm going to do this archive thing again, but this time, instead of 30,000 images, it will be closer to 3,000. And, they will all be of a certain look and feel.
You see, I know what I want to do as a photographer. I know what my best work is, and I know what kind of picture I NEED to make from here on out.
The best photographers I know, ALL OF THEM, have a immediately recognizable style. Immediately. How many of us can say that? How many of us allow the client to dictate the details? How many allow ourselves to enter the great vanilla dreamland of middle ground when it comes to our images? How many of us live lives of quiet, photographic desperation because we are not doing what we KNOW we should be doing?
My guess. A lot of us.
Well, time to change people. Ain't no time like now.
But don't fret. Instead, imagine the endless possibilities. Imagine the freedom. Imagine picking up a camera, your camera, and shooting your pictures. This is the way it should be.
We are the creatives. We are the image makers, and with that comes inherent power, a power to persuade, a power to influence and a power to educate.
When we fall short, when we settle, we let ourselves down, and everyone else.
Making this jump is all about education. It's about working together, as equals, and not from a position of desperation, but rather a position of passion and desire.