Set yourself apart
A few years ago I attended a seminar with the incredibly popular wedding photographer David Ziser http://ziser.com/ – the one thing that I took away from that talk was that photography is a very congested field and you must find that one thing that will set your work apart from everyone else. This is very true for any creative field, whether you make jewelry or YouTube videos, finding that one thing that will make your work stand out from the crowd can get you noticed. This reminded me of one of the people I took a photography class with, he decided that after one introductory class that he was ready to strike out on his own and sell images of the beach at art and wine festivals. We lived in Santa Cruz Ca at the time, so there was plenty of opportunity to photograph beautiful beach images. Beautiful scenery attracts photographers like moths to a flame, there are a lot of other shooters taking photos of the same thing you are and selling them at the same art and wine festivals. Once the class was complete, it was abundantly clear that the guy had not learned even the basics of camera functionality. Weeks after the class while I was shooting a sunset at a local beach, he walked up beside me, set up his tripod and started shooting away. He kept looking at the back of my camera and asking me what I was doing differently than he was. I asked him how he had his camera set and he said he was in P (Program) mode with auto ISO. He could not understand how I was getting the colors out of the sky and how I was setting my camera for long exposures. I was shooting in manual mode and tried to explain that with auto ISO and auto picture mode his camera was trying to get an average light level exposure, and that it didn’t understand that he was trying to capture the lower light level. I offered to help him setup an exposure and explain it but he just walked away. The next weekend I was shopping at an art and wine festival and I saw the 20X30 inch images he had made from that evening and they looked like over-saturated, over-sharpened snapshots. He did not understand why his images were not selling when the guy at the booth on the next aisle was selling photos like hotcakes (which were compositionally and technically better). In this instance, the guy on the other aisle had set his work apart from the competition by understanding his camera and creating a technically superior image than the guy from the photo class.
The takeaway here is that any number of photographers can set up and shoot in the same location, and results will vary depending on their technical and compositional expertise. This is the same as two different jewelry makers taking the same kind of wire and creating a piece of jewelry. The jewelry maker with more experience will make a more technical and interesting piece than the less experienced one. Both are completely capable of taking their piece to sell at the art and wine, however it is much more likely that the one with the greater technical expertise will sell their piece first and usually for more.
I don’t sell my images, nor do I do commission or paid portrait settings, however the work I do I try and set it apart from others. The style I have developed in my Landscapes of the Body series is in the bodyscapes style, but it has some subtle differences in lighting and the fact that the composition matches my remaining vision. I don’t over-process the images and I embrace the use of negative space in my work. Everything in photography has been done before, I didn’t invent the bodyscapes style, I just took the fundamentals and made it my own to set my work apart from what others are doing in the bodyscape style.