Sitting here, listening to Gary Jules’ track “Mad World”, my thoughts turn to how people treat each other in their given industry of choice. I know what you’re thinking – “What do the two have to do with each other?” Stay with me here …
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been learning the ins and outs of the photography industry. Beyond the technical and business aspects (of which there are many. Oh, so very many …), I’ve been, almost subconsciously, consolidating some general rules-of-thumb regarding ‘professionalism’ by watching and listening to the hundreds of photographers that I have access to through in-person and online interactions. The line in “Mad World” that brought this thought to the surface is “When people run in circles it’s a very, very mad world.” It speaks to me of self-defeating and self-defining behaviour, and that turns my thoughts to ‘character’.
Therein lies the first ‘rule’ – Be Critical of Yourself, Not Others.
Every day – and I do mean Every. Single. Day! – I hear photographers flaming other photographers for their techniques, marketing strategies (Groupon, anyone?) and opinions. They spend more time focused on what others are doing in the industry than they do about themselves. They overlook a simple truth: that those other photographers have absolutely nothing to do with their own businesses, ethics and reputations. The ‘superstars’, GWCs (guys with cameras) and momtographers may be frustrating to the hardworking full time photographer, but they aren’t going to vacate the industry simply because you blast them on Facebook each morning, nor is blasting them making you look any better in the eyes of your peers and clients. Worry more about being the best photographer you can be and let the others race to the bottom as they see fit. Set yourself apart from them with your work and work ethic, not your mouth.
That brings us to the second ‘rule’: Communicate, Often and Honestly.
Now that we’ve covered what not to say, think about what you should be saying. The truth is a good start – professionalism and honesty walk hand-in-hand. Be honest and consistent when dealing with clients and peers. If someone calls or emails you, return that communication as soon as you possibly can. Don’t stick them on the back-burner or put them off because you have ‘more important things to do at the moment’. Open and direct communication is the important thing you have to do at this moment. When asked a question, don’t beat around the bush – be honest and direct. Be timely in your communications. Acknowledge others, even if it’s just to say ‘thanks for the inquiry’, and earn respect by respecting their efforts in trying to communicate with you.
The last rule-of-thumb is a union of the first two: Graciousness Trumps Greatness.
This one goes beyond simply being polite. It has to do with how you treat others, especially the less experienced – the up-and-coming photographers looking to you for advice, the potential client asking why you charge more than ‘that other guy advertising on Kijiji’, whomever. Your knowledge does not make you the end all and be all. It makes you experienced, nothing more. Jealously hoarding knowledge (not to be confused with being paid to teach), being defensive or criticising the less experienced for being less experienced only defines you as imperious, not iconic. As the Greek rhetorician, Athenaeus, put it, “Goodness does not consist in greatness, but greatness in goodness.“
More can be said on this topic, to be sure, but it’s a starting point. Simply being “a professional” in any given industry isn’t enough, shouldn’t be enough, to satisfy your sense of professional self-worth. Credentials tell people what you do. Your character tells people who you are.
Something to think about …
Oh, the picture included here? That’s my wife, Amanda. If anyone defines “professionalism”, it’s her (not to mention caring and cute-as-a-button, so …)