As anyone starting out in a new business, you meet people who will guide you, or attempt to. Being new at something seems to invite others to give their opinions whether it is solicited or not. I appreciate when people offer their particular expertise for the most part. It can be extremely helpful to know others experiences. It is important to remember that one person’s truth might not be another’s. Along the road, I have been told many things that I simply must do in order to succeed at my career. A rare few ended up being true, but most of them were personal truths that never ended up applying to what I do.
These are a few that I’ve been told a number of times that proved to be untrue for my career. It is important to spot the advice that simply won’t serve you.
1. You must produce work consistently.
Here is my problem with number one. It is not that I necessarily disagree with what it is trying to say, it is the pressure that it implies by it’s phrasing. We need to get more specific with the words if it can apply. For example, this sentence could read: You must share work with some consistency in order to maintain a social media following. That would be a fairly accurate (though not always) statement. However, the amount of work that I share is not in any way equal to the amount of work I produce. And that is because I share behind the scenes images along with videos, quotes, and more. It isn’t always my art, and that is okay – preferred, even. It gives me the time and space I need to create meaningfully without feeling pressured.
2. You must shoot with X, Y, or Z to be successful.
I can hardly believe how many times I’ve been told that I need to evolve my way of working if I want to be successful. You need…a bigger monitor, a Mac, a better camera, more megapixels, professional lights, a soft box…the list goes on. And the thing is that each person telling me these things truly believes that it will help me to be a better photographer. Who can fault them for caring? I certainly won’t. But the problem is not them giving advice, is it us following it. Advice should be weighed as opinions, not facts. It is too easy for an up-and-coming artist to listen to opinions like that and buy into them, literally. And there are many instances where yes, upgrading gear or changing how you work might help your art and career. However, as artists, we must be secure in what we do.
I remember really distinctly a few years ago someone, referring to how I like to shoot in front of a white wall and composite my shots, said, “Call me in a year when you’ve learned how professionals shoot”. Now don’t get me wrong, it was said mostly in jest. But it stuck with me, because I believe that person really believed what they said.
I’m not generally popular among companies because I’m not fun to sponsor. I don’t use a lot of gear and I absolutely hate selling things. If only blank walls and bed sheets were in need of marketing, I’d be all over that. At some point in your career, hopefully sooner rather than later, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions. 1) Are you comfortable with your workflow? 2) Can more/different gear benefit me, and how? They are both great questions. I have expanded how I create. I learned how to use a layer mask in Photoshop (this was a big deal, guys). I learned how to use a Wacom tablet. But aside from that, it’s still just me, my tripod, and white wall at home that sets my creativity on fire. Grow, but not out of fear that your methods aren’t good enough.
3. You must not create anything too polarizing or you’ll lose your audience.
Say what? My business was build on polarizing imagery! I’ve been given this advice many times and have heard others receiving this advice. And trust me, I totally get it. I am in a unique position where I don’t have clients on the day-to-day. Like any business that deals with customers, you might want to censor yourself somewhat to appease a greater audience of people. I am fortunate to be in the business of creating conversations, so my perspective is quite different. However, I am also a big believer in the idea that being your authentic self will attract your most authentic clients…the people you truly want to be around, who will appreciate what you do fully. I would rather have fewer clients who respect what I do than many who don’t feel strongly at all.
A friend of mine said the other day while we were filming a podcast together that if there aren’t people who love it and hate it then the artist is probably not doing their job. I thought that was definitely an interesting way of seeing art in general. Everyone has a different way of creating, and there is no right way. If you want to create happiness in everyone who looks at your work, I commend you for that vision. If you want to let people glimpse their own darkness, go for it.
The real problem with each of these statements is the phrasing “you must”, which indicates if someone does not follow what comes after those words, they will fail. Most of the greatest innovators are considered so great because they chose not to do what others said they must to succeed. They realized their own potential and accepted their choices as being good enough, and forged paths that no one saw coming.
Know your message and don’t let anyone convince you not to share it.