Looking Up and Looking Down: How We Can Better the Photography Industry with Vanessa Joy
I’m on an airplane leaving Las Vegas right now after speaking at the Mobile Beat DJ convention. Planes from Las Vegas are not the same as planes to Las Vegas. They’re much rowdier on the way there, but when I’m flying out of Sin City, I can usually get work done.
A speaker colleague of mine, Alan Berg, is here on the plane, and we’re talking about the speaking world. He’s invited me to check out the National Speakers Association (NSA). He says it’s the most open and welcoming community he’s a part of. As a speaker, he’s part of a lot of communities and has been to a lot of conventions. He says people at the NSA conventions are often looking for ways they can give rather than take.
I smile when he tells me this. I want to be part of a community like that. My smile fades a little when I compare it to the photography world. In that community, I still see the bigger guys complain about the newbies, or the less successful throw a jealous eye toward the more successful.
If you’ve been around long enough in this industry, you know how we’ve fought to build community instead of competition. Thankfully, it has gotten a lot better lately. It is nothing like when I walked into my first local photography meeting 18 years ago. It was like walking into a boys’ club where they measured themselves by sharing how many weddings they were booked for that year. Whoever had the most won, even if he wasn’t charging very much for them.
This made me start thinking about business and life—in and out of the photography world. I’m accustomed to writing an article with five tips to maximize your studio’s revenue, or about branding (like I do in my eBook 9 Secret Ways to Brand Your Business, available free at BreatheYourPassion.com). But not today. Today I’m going to give you something better.
The Gift of Sight
It’s ironic how blind photographers can be. It’s easy to sit in our little self-employed bubble and not see the bigger picture. We often don’t notice that we’re looking at the world through social media glasses. I’m guilty myself of looking at the successes of others and thinking, “Why not me?” or seeing people trying to grab a piece of me and thinking, “I don’t have the time for this right now.” I think to some extent it’s a natural reaction, but that doesn’t mean it has to be your reaction.
After talking to Alan about the speaking community, and recently seeing a fellow photographer complain about new photographers bringing down the industry, I’ve realized there are two ways people tend to look at the world: We either look up or we look down.
It’s not whether we gaze up or down that matters. It’s how we look up or down that makes all the difference in the world.
My Uber driver today asked me why I enjoy public speaking. I responded with the proverb about teaching a man to fish versus just giving him a fish. I love to give my listeners the tools to better themselves and their business and watch them grow. I find joy in teaching others to fish.
When you look down at those below you, you have a choice. You can either bring yourself down by thinking negatively about them or you can bring them up by helping them.
This isn’t a lot to ask. In fact, it will only benefit you and the industry. Raise the bar by encouraging them to charge more and helping them better their photography so that they’re worth it. If you don’t, who else will? If you do the opposite, you only bring down your own morale.
Rarely do I get involved in online arguments. If you’ve ever seen me go tit for tat on social media, I’m likely to be defending a friend of mine or fighting against the way leaders in our industry are scrutinized. I’m extremely defensive of my friends and fellow speakers.
You can choose how you look at those above you. Not many successful photographers got to where they are by lying, cheating and stealing. They have expertise that you can learn from. Most of them are willing to share tips that’ll revolutionize the way you run your business. Are they perfect? No way. Do they have to charge you for their time and wisdom? Sometimes, yes. They have to put food on their table too. So stop waiting for the other shoe to drop and pay attention to what got them where they are instead.
This isn’t a lot to ask. I’m not telling you to take financial advice from a broke person or ask an obese person how to run a marathon. I’m saying that you can learn photography and business from someone who is successful in photography and business, regardless of whether you agree with everything he or she does. After all, the only person you’ll agree with 100 percent of the time is yourself.
The ShutterFest Community
You’re reading this shortly after our little community gathering at ShutterFest. If you didn’t go, chances are you’ll want to after you hear about the community Sal has built there. It’s open. It’s honest. Most of all, it’s welcoming. Everyone there is looking up and down in a way that builds up other photographers. We don’t tolerate anything else. It’s pretty amazing. It’s part of why ShutterFest is the fastest-growing photography conference.
Here is a challenge for you. Look up and look down with proactive intention instead of negative reaction. Look down to find where you can reach out a hand to pull people up. Look up to find a hand reaching down for you. Judge less; give more. Help shape the photography industry so that when it’s explained to outsiders, it makes them smile and wish they were a part of it.