Since all of my kids are home with coughs and stuffy noses and I’m missing church this morning, I’m going to take y’all to church on my blog, okay?
Also, this is something I teach at every single one of my newborn workshops, so I’m tracking views and be looking for a bill in your email
Okay, serious face on. One of the biggest questions I get at workshops/emails/private message boards/when I meet people in real life is this: “How do you deal with people copying you” or “My BEST FRIEND just started photography too and lives down the street and charges $50 less than me, has this happened to you and what should I do?”
Many people do well with my usual answer of, “I focus on my business and my life. Dwelling on what others are doing isn’t going to get me anywhere, if anything it will mess with my creative chi and create bad vibes in my life.” This advice tends to reset many a photographer and is enough to remind them where to focus their energy.
Every so often, though, I come across someone who *REALLY* cannot let whatever photography related offense has happened to them and they. are. MAD. I’ll admit, I’ve been there. I was in a bad place with these same issues for over a year, I felt very wronged by a photographer and I’m leaving it at that. It consumed me, made me bitter and untrusting of new photographer acquaintances/friends and almost lost me some great relationships along the way. Thanks to rewiring my thinking and extreme patience that I didn’t deserve, I now view “photographer problems” much much differently.
There are a few different common scenarios I hear about the most, so I’ll focus on those.
First, the “Local Photographer Who I Don’t Know Copies Everything I Do” Scenario. This one is the most common, and yes of course it happens to me. Whether its the secret location you worked hard to find, the unique prop you handmade yourself, a pose you invented, whatEVER. It’s hard to see something you felt “yours” being “taken” by someone else. People always give the advice, “Take it as a compliment you’re being copied!”and it is about the last thing you want to hear in your indignant anger. So I’m not going to tell you that, because it doesn’t help when you’re in this mindset.
What I am going to tell you, I’m asking you to let it sink in. Mull it over for a little bit before you decide if it’s the right advice for you:
In 1998, I went to Chipoka, Malawi on a missions trip to build an orphanage for AIDS orphans and street children.
My eyes were opened to what real problems were. I forgot these experiences for a while, but one day a friend emailed me an image by another local photographer duplicating an exact set up of my own, alerting me to a “copy cat”. My initial response was anger. But then, for whatever reason, I imagined myself sitting across from one of the mothers I met in Africa. I saw her sitting there with her baby on her knee, her bare feet worn from walking daily to get clean water, she most likely has Malaria and her child most likely has a swollen belly from malnutrition. Then I saw me. With my healthy kids, my running water, full pantry, my studio (whose rent each month is more money than she will see in a lifetime), my thriving business. Then I heard my whiny voice, complaining to her about my “problems”. Really…MY problems. A photographer copying me. Poor Rachel.
Now let me pause here before those of you who love to hate me find fault in this. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well if that’s the case, then Rachel is saying no one can ever have a bad day based on this logic. You should probably stop crying about your son losing his two front teeth then compared to what others are going through. Be happy he’s heathy” or “Your poodle running away shouldn’t be sad because you could have AIDS” or whatever.
No. I’m not saying that. You are still allowed to be upset, angry, sad about things in life. But for me, photography related drama/problems, what works is seeing that scenario playing out in my head. I’ve been there, I’ve spoke with these women and children. I think they could understand being sad about your child growing up or losing a beloved pet. I don’t think I could complain in good conscience about another photographer replicating something I’ve done to someone who has so many other worries and problems in their lives, yet still considers themselves blessed.
For me, it puts it into perspective. What’s truly important in life.
Which brings us to the other scenario. When someone you care about, whether a relative, good client or friend opens up photography shop. Or if you’re a vendor, opens up a vendor shop. Not many in the business have NOT had this happen to them. You have a client, you shoot that client a few times, they see your fun job, and pretty soon that client is taking clients with their shiny new DSLR. Or if you’re a vendor, you have a photographer buy your products, they love your products but see them and decide, “Hey, I could save loads of money and make these myself.” and they figure it out and then open up shop.
It’s frustrating, I get it, I truly do. But guess what? I didn’t invent photography and you didn’t invent newborn pants.
I know, I know—it’s not as simple as inventing newborn pants, I get it. But take a step back. Look at that person you’re mad at. They are another human being walking this planet. Someone’s mom, someone’s daughter, someone’s sister. Someone who cries when they are sad, bleeds when they are cut, and has very real feelings.
Most of the time, these people aren’t “tromping” on you on purpose. They are making a business decision for THEM and their family, without realizing you are being affected. Choose to be happy for them. If this is a friend or family member or client you’re close with—choose to be happy. Be happy that they are able to provide for their family. Be happy that their new passion for photography or newborn props is now helping them afford a working car, getting out of debt, what have you. Work harder yourself to continue to grow your business, because if you are growing and honing your skills, no amount of friends turning photographer will kill your business. And meanwhile, instead of crying over them taking some of your clients–you can celebrate with them–truly with your entire heart.
If they are intentionally hurting you, try to humanize them in any way you can. Unless you plan on actually suing them (which again, good luck because you don’t own the copyright on photography or newborn pants), getting angry, talking about them to others, and holding on to that wrong and not moving on isn’t going to do you any favors. Move on, and don’t let it get you down. The best way to right a wrong that has been done to you by a stranger is sweet, sweet silence. Don’t let them get under your skin, have the satisfaction of ruffling your feathers and YOU truly focus on having a good life. It’s like eating chocolate after a close brush with a dementor — you’ll feel better
I’ve felt this blog post brewing for a few weeks now, so that’s my cue that hopefully someone will read this who needs to hear it. I’m begging you guys, let it go, be nice, love others and try to file the issues that plague this industry away in the petty box that they belong in.