Rule 44: You Are Your Competition

We hate it when our friends become successful. — Morrisey

A bit of friendly competition can be a good thing if you’re photographing among friends. Seeing who can get the best shot out of a day’s shooting can keep everyone on their toes, and motivate you to do some of your best work.

But what happens when that spirit of collegaility and competition finds itself side-by-side with (or, worse still, replaced by) jealousy, envy, and resentment? It can be all too easy when you see someone else you know succeed at the same thing you’re trying to do to resent that success, but that’s lousy for both your craft and your reputation, since both will suffer. And I’d add, by the way, that this is something I’ve seen just as much among amateur photographers as among professionals, so whoever, and wherever, you are, this means you.

You want to know what to do about your competitors? Forget them. Forget their gallery opening, their cover shot on Popular Photography, their day rate. What have you done? Is your photography better than it was last year, last month, last week or last night? That’s all that matters. Odds are better than even that the photographer you view as you “competition” isn’t looking over her shoulder at you; she’s looking at her last shoot, and wondering what she can do to make the one that follows it better.

Don’t look over your shoulder either, or worry about nipping at someone else’s heels. Look in the mirror, and on your hard drive. What are you doing to improve your craft? What are you doing to make sure you continue to grow and evolve, and to make the kinds of photos that you can be proud to call your own regardless of what anybody else says or thinks about them? If you can’t do that, you run the risk of being that one photographer that everyone knows (and we all know, or have at least met, one of them) who begrudges others their successes, no matter how great or small they are. You probably give that person a wide berth when you see them, so don’t be that person.

Here’s what I’d suggest. If someone succeeds, celebrate them, and what they’ve done. If they’re in the mood, celebrate with them. If you’ve been a photographer for any length of time, you already know that alongside the joys that the craft brings with it, it also has its share of frustrations, whether it’s those days when you feel like you’re regressing ’cause you’ve shoot a hundred photos and don’t think you’ve got a single one worth keeping, or it’s a shortage of clients, crappy weather, equipment issues, general malaise… you and I between us could probably spend an hour coming up with a list, and some third photographer — even if they just picked up a camera for the first time yesterday — could still add another few dozen items to the list. So whoever your “competitor” is, they’ve got the same set of frustrations you do, plus a whole raft of their own you probably don’t even realize. And on top of all those things, they’ve got your sorry ass sniping at them from the sidelines.

Again: cut it out. Success isn’t measured by money alone, nor by Twitter followers, site traffic, accolades, or any other single thing. Nor, more importantly, is success somehow finite. Someone else doing well — even if they’re in the same town as you, even if their studio is cheek-by-jowl with yours — doesn’t mean that your photgraphy or your chances are somehow worse than they were before. Their success does not diminish you. Only you can do that, and I hope for your sake that you’ve got better things to do with your skills, your talent and your heart.

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