You are not Jerry or Jasmine. You’re never going to be Jerry or Jasmine – not even Jessica or Sue. No matter how hard you try, it’s just not going to happen, and here’s the thing. You shouldn’t want to be Jerry or Jasmine – or even Jessica or Sue. If you want to succeed in the photography industry – if you want to succeed as an artist, you need to be you. That’s right. You.
I see it over and over – people willing themselves to be clones of some name in the photography industry. They’re usually brand new. They’ve gotten fairly decent at working their cameras and talking to clients, and they want more. They want to succeed, so they look to the names for guidance and sometimes deliverance, and while that’s not a bad thing in general, it can lead them to a place where they fail to grow as artists.
Let me qualify my remarks before we go any further. Jerry is good at what he does, and so is Jasmine. For that matter, Jessica and Sue are too. They speak with emotion and fire, and they’ve enjoyed tremendous success with their photography, their photography businesses, and their workshops, seminars and products. They all deliver the goods in a manner that photographers love, and photographers can benefit greatly from what Jerry, Jasmine, Jessica and even Sue present to the public. But let me say this again: You are not Jerry or Jasmine. You never will be, and if you think you’re going to be, you’ve got a problem that is going to hold you back from being the artist and photographer that you need to be to be successful.
I can hear you now. “So what the hell are you talking about, Andy?”
You have to be you. It’s that simple.
Be you as an artist.
Ah, yes. The products abound, don’t they? There’s an action for yellow skies, and a preset for that cross-processed look that’s all the rage. There’s a miracle elixir on every corner that will get your images right and make them sell. Try this. Do that. Buy this. Run it once and forget it. Learn this photographer’s setups. Buy this piece of equipment, and don’t stray from the formula. Your images will sell. I promise. The people will love you.
Yeah, right. If only it worked that way, but it doesn’t, does it?
There are no miracle cures for style. There are no elixirs or potions or formulas. There is no ‘up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-B-A’ in the art of photography. Sorry, it’s not that easy. You cannot simply copy someone else or run their actions and presets and expect to inherit their unique perspective and style.
And that’s it, isn’t it?
Every photographer has a unique perspective, and that unique perspective biases the photographer’s work. That’s why you can’t be Jerry. You can’t see through his eyes or think with his brain. That’s why you can’t be Jasmine. Sure, she can show you her setups and her results. She can even tell you exactly what she did, but if the two of you had the exact same client in the exact same setup, your results would never be identical.
I believe that a photographer’s unique perspective is important and should be embraced. It’s that unique perspective and bias that will serve as the foundation for a photographer’s style. A style is something that must be discovered within you and nurtured. It’s not borrowed or adopted. It can’t be copied or faked. Style is inherent to the photographer, and once discovered and properly nurtured, it will be the one thing that sets you apart. You have to be you as an artist.
So how do you get there? How do you find your style?
In short, practice – or play as I like to call it. Work hard at it all the time. Buy that set of action or presets you’ve been lusting after for months, and then tear them apart to find out what makes them work. Create new and better actions and settings from them. Create something unique that is your own. The less you depend on someone else to provide your style, the better off you will be, but that certainly doesn’t mean you need to start from scratch.
And don’t stop going to see Jerry or Jasmine or even Jessica or Sue, but don’t try to be them either. Take what you learn and adapt and advance it. You don’t have to be a clone of these people. You can take those little tidbits from their experience and knowledge and meld them with your own. You can make them work for you as an artist in your own way.
Stop yourself from falling in love with one photographer’s work. The only photographer’s work you ever need to fall in love with is your own. For inspiration, draw on many sources. Forget the names. Look at the images. Surf the web. Buy magazines, and for cripes sake, draw your creative inspiration from somewhere other than still images. Turn to film. Turn to TV. Get inspired by a song. Dream up a narrative that lets you create your own images and style in your head and then push yourself to create them.
It won’t be easy. It’s going to be hard – very hard. You’ll find yourself unhappy more often than not, but it’s that dissatisfaction with your work that will push you to find yourself as an artist. It will push you to learn, and drive you to success. Harness it. Thrive on it, and become your own artist instead of a clone. You’re not Jerry. You’re not Jasmine. You’re not Jessica, and you’re not Sue. You never will be, and that’s a good thing.
Andy Armstrong is a ten-time international award-winning photographer who makes his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. He has received Accolades of Photographic Mastery and Outstanding Photographic Achievement from the Wedding and Portrait Photographers International Association (WPPI). In 2011, Andy Armstrong’s image was awarded International Commercial Image of the Year by WPPI. Armstrong has also been a professional graphic designer for nearly 20 years and has worked on product packaging, product design, and branding campaigns for brands like Colt, Remington, Winchester, Case, and Buck.