One of the many great questions posed on the Pretty Presets Facebook page the other day was, “who do you compare yourself to?” as a photographer. Originally, I wasn’t going to answer this question, because I have learned for me, personally, that comparing my work, or my business, to other photographers, can be a dangerous game. This is a touchy subject for many photographers, and artists in general. Rather than avoid the question, I thought I would instead share my thoughts on why comparison should be avoided as much as possible.
Let’s face it - it is human nature for us to compare ourselves with others, whether or not we do this on a conscious level. We compare houses, salaries, cars, etc. which more often than not, if we do it too much, makes us feel like a bit of a failure, even for just a moment. No matter how well you are doing for yourself, there is always someone out there who you will think is doing better than you, based on what your idea of success may be.
The same is true with photography.
There is a very fine line between admiring another photographer’s style and achievements, and comparing yourself to them. If you are comparing yourself to a photographer you really admire, chances are, you will always feel like you are missing the mark and falling short, simply because of your admiration for their work. You may find yourself thinking, “Why can’t I take photographs like that, or have that many opportunities come my way?”
For example, I really admire Brooke Shaden. I can get absolutely lost in her images! They are like paintings, or a really great book – so detailed and intricate, that every time I revisit one of my favorite images from her, I see something new. She is most definitely an inspiration to me, but if I compared myself to her, I would become very, very down on myself! She has a completely different vision than I do, far more conceptual, and she has editing skills that I will never know because she has spent so much time developing her unique style of post-processing. I can learn from her by studying her images or reading her blog, but the moment I start to compare myself to her, I may quickly find myself in the vicious thought pattern of “Why can’t I produce images like that?” and before I know it, I could be thinking less of my own work. Sure, I can be inspired by her and learn from her, but comparing myself to her would be unhealthy and counterproductive.
The same is true on the business side of photography. I sell textures and Photoshop actions, but are they as popular as Florabella or Pretty Presets? Well, not hardly! Am I proud of them, and doing the best I can with them? Of course! Just as I am inspired by Brooke Shaden’s artistry, I am inspired by the many smart and business-savvy photographers who run successful businesses. Instead of comparing myself to them, and getting discouraged when I feel like my business is not doing as well as I would like, I start asking questions of the people who I admire as successful business-owners, finding ways that I can apply their expertise to my own business.
In a profession like photography that is based on creativity and originality, being yourself, and finding what you have to offer that is completely unique, will get you a lot further than spending time comparing yourself to others. Be inspired by people and look up to them, but compare yourself to them as little as you possibly can.
Michelangelo once said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” We all have unique forms of creativity and talents to offer. Discovering what lies within us is far more rewarding, and productive, than comparing ourselves to others.
Anna Gay is a portrait photographer based in Athens, GA and the author of the dPS ebook The Art of Self-Portraiture. She also designs actions and overlays for Photoshop. When she is not shooting or writing, she enjoys spending time with her fiancee, and their two cats, Elphie and Fat Cat.