I felt like a fraud. As I walked into Imaging USA, I was surrounded by REAL professional photographers, not wannabes like myself who still had another full-time job so they could pay the mortgage. The first program I went to just confirmed my belief that I wasn’t “real.” I was tempted to just leave. However, during the second program, something changed. It was a couple on stage—a big stage. Their work looked a little bit like what Dee and I had been doing and he talked about how he still had another job. I felt my wife’s hand grasp mine and give a little squeeze. Their story was just like ours.
So it began. Dee and I tried to be just like this couple. We didn’t know what we didn’t know, but we knew we liked what they were doing, so we copied them. We bought all their educational materials; we duplicated their actions. All of our marketing used their templates. A few months later, we went to a wedding program and did the same thing. We memorized the pose book and the wedding we photographed the following weekend was shot-for-shot just like the speaker’s last wedding.
Sometimes I look back on those early senior sessions and weddings and feel a bit sorry for our clients. You see, the problem wasn’t with the stage couple or the wedding guru. While they each had great styles, great photographic skills and gave great advice on how to run a business, those things were great for THEIR clients. In our attempt to become their clones, it fell a little flat because it wasn’t truly us. For something to be truly amazing, it has to come from your heart and yours alone.
You have a unique gift to share with others. There is only one of you. Your talents, passions, heart and character are not duplicated anywhere else in the world. When you hide behind other’s creativity or try to emulate someone else’s style, you are robbing humanity of the gift that only you can offer.
Maya Angelou said it perfectly, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When we simply act as clones of another photographer and use their words and techniques, our true selves can never shine through. In return, we rob those around us.
You are creative. You can come up with YOUR way of doing things—from lighting to sales to affirming others. With your ability to see others, you can tease out their very best selves. Please understand, I’m not saying you should be satisfied at your current level. We all should be constantly growing in our craft. That is the key. You should be growing… growing in a way that is unique to you.
Last month I challenged you to be great. Now, I’m challenging you to be yourself. What unique gift do you offer the world? How do you make people feel? Are you ready to stop being a clone and be the best photographer for your clients? Remember, it doesn’t matter.