Photography: The Art of Imitation

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Photography is the science of light, and the art of imitation.

One of the joys of my life is the photography business that my husband and I share. If I ever decided to concentrate on a single industry as my coaching niche, it would have to be photography. There is probably no other business that involves the collision of art, ego, and level-headed business in quite the same dramatic way as photography.

The barriers to entry are low, which means the likelihood of long term success is low as well. Those who stand the test of time deserve credit for much more than excellent photographs. They have set themselves apart from the camera owners, and become photographers.

A recent discussion among photographers brought up the topic of imitation. The sentiment was that there are more and more photographers visible in the world, but fewer and fewer stand out. The old-school innovators time out and the next generation of digital gunslingers produce three times the work in half the time. It’s the ageless math problem of quantity over quality.

In a room full of people with cameras, where have all the photographers gone?

This is exactly the discussion we have around our house a lot. My husband has been a working photographer longer than I have. Together we have a successful business. We each follow a lot of photographers and we have running critiques of peoples’ work. I always try to make a comment about what I like in someone’s work, whether it’s the composition, the use of light, choice of setting, whatever. We also consume quite a bit of education from mentors and photographers we each admire.

If something doesn’t appeal to me, I ignore it, I never criticize in public. Heck, I’m the first to admit – I’m no fine art photographer, I point a camera at people in a very niche genre and I have to work with what’s flying by in front of me. It’s about having the right equipment, composition, and timing that becomes almost instinctive. But it must always be better than the competition. My husband, on the other hand, tells me I’m doing just fine.

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I’ve watched people – a lot locally – go through their arc. Most seem to start out as young mothers (hey, I have no problem with that!) who start out buying a “decent” camera to take photos of their kids. They decide they like it, their friends tell them they’re stars and ask them to take photos (think friends with camera benefits), that they should go into business, etc. Before you know it, everyone is chasing brides and babies with a lowest-price-wins-customers mentality. Eventually, they get discouraged, or their loved ones remind them that all those get-rich-in-photography internet courses haven’t delivered, and their equipment shows up on Facebook marketplace.

Worse yet, they congest the marketplace and make it harder for the more talented – or determined – people to come into the spotlight.

A select few actually break out of that cycle, mostly those who find their niche and stick with it. Niche might be a subject or setting, but it’s always a style. They might do other things as well, but you can see where their heart lies.

I think a lot of the innovators in photography are the ones who have found that one style they love, and work to perfect it. They are not specifically thinking of being “The It”, just naturally get there. They have that wow factor everyone can’t take their eyes off. They inspire others to “try that”, if just to see how difficult it is. The next innovator will be the person who rises to that challenge and takes it up a notch.

Photography is the science of light, and the art of imitation.

So, yes, we all imitate. It’s how we learn. Not just photography, but as infants and all throughout our lives. And photographers, pros and hobbyists alike, come and go. Some fabulous Photographers are literally starving artists, while some PeopleWithCameras actually make a living at it. It takes stars to align in most cases. Mostly, it takes persistence.

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Some of the best aren’t pros at all. Those are the ones I hate to see give up and put their cameras on the shelf. Even if they never make a dime in photography, they are still photographers, and you can see the passion in the product.

That’s why I encourage. You never know the difference you make in someone’s arc. Besides, there might eventually be one or two I’d try to copy, myself…