Believe it or not, who you are may not be who you want to be.
On this road to finding our own way in photography, there are an ample number of speed bumps along the way. So many times, it feels like we’re being counter-productive and we have trouble even taking ourselves seriously as photographers and artists. Before you know it, we feel like we’ve lost our identity and we begin to drown in the sea of conformity. We begin to mimic what we see around us from those that we feel are unique, successful, and have it all together. The problem is, there are a couple of fundamental errors with this logic. First is that we should only believe far less than half of what we see. Social media is the great facade that can often contain very little truth. Second is that what works for someone across the country, or even across town, may work great for them but not for you!
No matter who you are or where you’re at in your business right now, let me assure you that you do have an identity. However, this is not always a good thing! All too often we are not cautious about the identity we put forth. When we don’t take control of how we’re being perceived of by others, we lose the ability to define who we are and how we would like to be seen! Like it or not, in this online world of information, our identity is defined by the most accessible information about us that is readily available. Because of this, I think it is very important that we periodically reflect on how we are representing ourselves in a few areas.
As photographers, much about our identity is defined by the images we share. The old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words”, is in fact, quite true. What types of images are you sharing? Do they represent the work that you WANT to be shooting…or is it just a pretty picture from your last session? Does the technical quality speak to your ideals or are you just trying to get more “likes”? Do the images being shared show your professional prowess for crafting an image vs getting a “snapshot”? Does the subject matter define who you are as an artist? Are you sending out mixed identities? This last one is something that many people to not take into account.
For instance, do you photograph High School Seniors and Boudoir then show them on your same business page? You may be an incredible photographer, but I can assure you this is sending mixed identities to your audience. In the same way, filling your feed with both portraits and landscapes can also be very confusing to potential clients. Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with wanting to photograph various subject matter (I enjoy many forms of photography myself), but what I’m suggesting is that in order to build our identity and to start carving our niche in our area, we need to be specific about showing the style, quality and subject of work that we want to be defined by.
For many years I was afraid to show the images I loved shooting the most, which are really dark, moody images with lots of deep shadows…because it’s not the popular look for modern Senior photography. I also love creating composites and using Photoshop to create “larger than life” images of my seniors (again, a stylistic choice that further narrows my audience). However, since embracing the facts that “this is who I am” and “this is what I create”, I’ve found that I have an audience that loves and appreciates what I do. It then gives me a specific voice that allows me to work with incredible clients to truly enjoy the image creation process!
Another way that we send out mixed identities comes in how we represent our business. I think I could safely ask everyone “Would you like your audience to see you as a professional?” and the answer from each would be a resounding “Yes!” Yet, do the services that we offer represent that of a professional? Do you make it a point to take care of your clients all the way through delivery of the prints, or are you emailing them some digital files so that you don’t have to deal with it? Are you helping to sustain your market by charging competitive prices, or are you afraid you’ll lose bookings as your price increases? Do you have pre-defined service offerings or are you making up quotes on the spot? Are you afraid to tell a prospective client “No” when their needs and your goals do not align? I know some of these questions my sting, trust me I’ve been there! …but in order for others to know who we are and what we stand for, we need to be intentionally defining our business identity.
Even when our image and business identities are on point, it’s very easy to forget that our personal identity arguably affects our overall perception more than anything else. As photographers and business owners, we like to try to separate our lives and social media presence into “business” and “personal” categories. However, in many cases we become Facebook “friends” with our clients. Personally, I think this is well and good. I quite enjoy getting to know my clients and their interests and even appreciate the delicious dinner and dessert recipes they share! Although, we forget that what we post on our personal feeds, or what they overhear us say in line at the movie theater, or what they see us do when we’re not working…all works to influence our identity! A person’s character is defined by what they do when no one is looking, but let me assure you…people are looking. When we’re having a bad day and post those ill-prepared comments out of stress and anger, how do you think that reflects on your business? How about when we share that post that we just know is going to cause a stir and may be considered inappropriate? How often do we think about what we say, do, or share affecting our identity?
Listen, I’m not here telling you what to do and what not to do. What I’m saying is be specific about defining yourself and then stick to your convictions! This is not directed as a slap on the wrist, it’s saying that we are particular and unique individuals. Sometimes even we forget who we are. We each have a voice, we have an identity, and we have a vision that someone out there needs you to be a part of. It’s not about pleasing everyone and getting as many people in front of our camera that we can. It’s about knowing who we are, telling others who we are, and then working with the RIGHT people in order to make the magic happen! …but we’ll never get there until we’re able to stand up and say “This is me!”
“But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain;” – I Corinthians 15:10