Being Unique Is Not The Same As Exclusive (Or Scarce)

from the a-bit-confused dept

Taylor Davidson alerts us to an odd blog post with suggestions on how photographers need to adapt to the changing market place. As Davidson properly notes, there’s some good points mixed in there with some really odd conclusions. The writer does a decent job explaining how the market has shifted — with the ease of digital production and distribution, the old exclusivities have gone away. But, from there, gets confused about what to do with it, focusing on trying to build up artificial scarcities or suggesting that photographers try to ignore basic economics. That’s not going to work.

The key point is that the writer seems to think that the key scarcity is uniqueness, as if there’s some exclusivity to it. Uniqueness is a good thing, but it’s not the same thing as exclusivity (again, a point Davidson makes). Uniqueness is what gets you noticed (promotion) and what makes your real scarcities (time, access, experience, etc.) worth more. But the writer of the post seems to think that uniqueness can only be developed by shunning others, learning from no one, and trying to hide all of your ideas. Some examples:

Hide your best work. Only your clients should see it. no one else.

I can’t think of an idea any worse than this. Earlier, the writer suggests focusing on commissioned work. You don’t get commissioned if you’re hiding your best work. Your best work is the calling card for you to get commissioned work.

Do not share or post your techniques. You will only be popular with the ones that have no imaginations. Like leeches, they feed on others knowledge.

Yes, because all brilliant photographers are simply born brilliant, and never learned a thing from others. The statement above does not mesh with any creative process I know. Sure, there will always be some copycats and “leeches,” but if you are an innovator, that’s only good for you. It boosts your own reputation as being a trendsetter. Furthermore, most truly creative people use the ideas of others as a part of their own, and build on them — taking pieces of what they find from others, but still building on them and creating something new and unique. Hiding your techniques doesn’t make you exclusive or your work more valuable. It likely just means you’re cut off from what is state of the art.

Never, ever ask for the opinion of another photographer. If its good, they will copy you, if it’s bad, they won’t tell you.

Someone’s sounding a bit paranoid here. Collaboration and feedback are good things. They’re what help people grow. The problem is that the writer seems to think that this market is a zero sum game, of sorts. If one photographer has a good idea, it’s one less good idea for the rest of the world. That also explains the following:

Do not copy. If you have an idea, look to see if it has been done. If it has, drop it. Move on. be creative.

Of course, an awful lot of creativity is done by unique individuals looking to redo the work of others, but adding their own style and flare to it.

All in all, I recognize that it’s tough for content creators in disrupted markets to come to terms with the market challenges they’re facing, but locking everything up isn’t the answer. Cutting yourself off from the world, and hiding your best work, is not the answer. That seems only guaranteed to make your own market dwindle. No one will recommend you. People searching for you won’t find you. Your work may be unique, but you’ll have missed out on valuable ideas and feedback from others. It’s hard to see how that’s a winning strategy at all.

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Comments on “Being Unique Is Not The Same As Exclusive (Or Scarce)”

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Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Putting your best work out there doesn’t mean putting it out there for free…
You can put a low(er) res/thumbnail version of your best work out there as calling card, and ask money for access to the high res version, for instance.

In the same respect: ‘hiding your best work’ != ‘selling your best work’.

Please read what is being said, and don’t jump to conclusions.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Putting work out there to see doesn’t mean everyone can copy from it. An online gallery of your work is not the same as the full-resolution files you would deliver to a client for printing or other reproduction. Showing your work off online means it’s possible for a few people to steal your photos and use them in a low-res web design (an approach largely stymied by a small watermark) and honestly, those people weren’t going to hire a professional photographer anyway.

Tek'a R (profile) says:

Re: "free isnt always the answer"

Congratulations! you missed the point entirely.

If, for example, you make your money by producing.. oooh.. custom artwork for a variety of things, would it be..

A) Better to have older work spread wide, with plenty of attribution so people know where to find more.. and Pay you for new things.

B) Better to keep every scrap of paper locked in a vault. After all, Everyone knows you, right? you don’t need any kind of free publicity and advertisement.

Think it over, anon.

Rib says:

"What exactly are they selling?"

I think what photographers sell depends on how they see their work. If they’re creating fine art photos, then they’re really selling their brand, ie, their name and the vision and execution it represents.
If they’re primarily service photographers – portraitists, wedding photographers, etc., then they’re selling their capability to do work the client will like and be willing to pay for.
In either case, it wouldn’t serve them to hide their best work. Word of Mouth Marketing, relationship building, promotion…the “stuff” of business should be the driver behind what makes it possible for them to succeed. Can’t imagine a sillier idea than to cloak your best sales pitch.

Richard says:

Re: You know what this sounds like?

I thought that too – then I looked at the bottom of the page – where it said words to the effect of “The guy who wrote this isn’t a photographer and there is absolutely know reason for you to believe he has the slightest clue as to what he is talking about…”

Steve R. (profile) says:

Build a Customer Base

Yes, Paul Melcher has made some weird comments. But there may be an inkling of understanding in what he writes. “Shoot commission work … because commission will give you access to places, or people that are not available to the common mortal.

The value is no longer in the physical “product” itself, but in your “unique” ability to provide the customer with something they desire. Anyone can take a picture of you or take a picture of a landscape, but the photographer must somehow convince you that his/her personal photograph provides something uniquely creative that the other photographers can’t.

This would be similar to the issues faced by the music industry. The value of the music is no longer in the physical CD, but in the ability to sell public performances to a customer base and selling the proverbial trinkets and T-Shirts.

Pete Austin says:

Manifesto for a Photographer revolution

This guy has an interesting view of “rights”. IMO if copyright counts as property which can be inherited photographers should pay property tax on it, like I do for my house.

“Photographers worldwide need and demand…
The right be recognized and accepted as highly skilled trade workers
The right to have their work protected and enforced by powerful copyright laws.
The right to pass on the ownership of their copyright to their children”

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Manifesto for a Photographer revolution

And this is why 3rd parties are so important, because ANYONE that counts a union or advocacy group rep as they’re chief source of information is going to get a story so one-sided as to be completely irrelevant. For instance:

“Photographers worldwide need and demand…”

Okay, before we get into the meat and potatoes, I hope EVERYONE understands how powerful the words “need” and “demand” are. In this age of hyperbole, I’m not sure we aren’t desensitized to that type of thing. Anyway…

“The right be recognized and accepted as highly skilled trade workers”

….uh, no, photographers worldwide don’t have that right. First they have to be…you know, highly skilled, and guess who gets to decide that? Here’s a hint: it’s NOT the photographers. It’s a combination of the market and their peers that decides who’s highly skilled at an art, not the individual artist. So 0 for 1.

“The right to have their work protected and enforced by powerful copyright laws.”

….er? Why do they have that right? It’s already been proven that they don’t absolutely NEED these, as your preface suggest. They certainly can DEMAND it, like you said before, but the RIGHT to “powerful copyright laws”? Do they also have the right to NOT have those powerful (cumbersome) laws if they choose? Also, what rights do consumers have, and are they equaly backed by “powerful” laws?

“The right to pass on the ownership of their copyright to their children”

Now he’s just being silly. If we can acknowledge, as most do, that copyright law is at LEAST in some part about promoting the creation of more works, then how does passing copyright on after death make any sense at all? How does that not reward decendents for NOT doing anything? How does it stifle work that decendents of artists might do otherwise? How does legacy copyright rights make ANY FUCKING SENSE AT ALL?

Scote (profile) says:

“Hide your best work. Only your clients should see it. no one else. “

Maybe his article sucks because he his following his own advice and hiding his best work from the public? :-p He gives some of the wort advice ever. You’ll never have clients if you keep all of your best work secret, and you can’t be very good if all of your “creativity” is based on secret techniques. Actual creativity is a process that can’t be replicated by copying a few tricks.

It is funny that he gives this advice all in apparent-self contradiction, telling people his secret techniques, no acknowledging that photography and writing are both related creative endeavors.

MBraedley (profile) says:

Influenced by the RIAA?

This idea of lock up everything seems similar to the mindset of the RIAA. They don’t realize that if their artists put they’re best work on display for a minimal cost to the consuming public, then they can probably sell more of the worthless crap that these artists produce along with their best stuff. Okay, maybe not the best business model around. However, if you only show off your crap, then people will start to think that all you can produce is crap. If you’re able to produce works that at or near the level of the best works that are showcased, however, your business will only grow as more people become aware of the consistent quality of your work (unless of course your best work is no better than the average amateur).

John Doe says:

Say what?

As an amateur photographer, I can assure you that a real artists work can be imitated but not often duplicated. Their vision, their imagination, their post processing methods and skills are all unique. Besides, by the time an artist is recognized for a style and is imitated, he is already known as the guy with that style. So being an imitator often means you are late to the party.

Anonymous Coward says:

saving big $$$

thanks to all the photographers that are not as smart as this guy is I was able to save a shatload of money by skipping the wedding photographer and just doing a google image search! Baby pictures, school photos, graduation I have saved thousands because the silly photographers leave their best stuff lying around for me to down load

🙂 🙂

kyle clements (profile) says:

its all about relationships

as a semi-pro photographer, I see this advice as being so off the mark, its either a deliberate attempt to throw people off, or the words of someone who has never woekd a payed photo gig in his life.

Always show off your best work (this is advice I don’t take myself, not one of my photos is on my website…hmmm)
if a client is interested, they have seen your work, they like it, they want something similar to what they have seen from you. what they are actually looking for, and what the photographer is actually building is a working relationship.

I work with small-time bands quite often. I don’t get jobs by being the best photographer in town (I am far, far from it) I get jobs by being someone the band doesn’t mind hanging out with before/after the show.

The work only gets your foot in the door, the relationship is what gets you the deal. Without exposing your best work, you will be passed over time and time again, unless you are very, very lucky.

william (profile) says:


I am sort of an amateur photographer and I have to say I take offense to what the quoted blog says.

Copying is essential in a photographer’s journey. Most photographers agrees and teach others that you need to have a collection of photos you like and try to replicate them.

Why? Because one fundamental of photography is that NO TWO PHOTOGRAPH WILL EVER LOOK THE SAME, unless you try really really really hard. While you copy, you learn new technique, you gain new insight and you CREATE new photographs that others may get insight from.

Additional, that quote “Do not copy. If you have an idea, look to see if it has been done. If it has, drop it. Move on. be creative.” is just… @#$%!!! Is the guy saying that to recreate something with a BETTER idea is NOT creativity?

I read the original blog post this article referred to and I have a hard time believe this guy to be any kind of professional photographer or has any kind of insight on the current photography scene. He and a bunch of commenter of that blog just sound like some paranoid, old fashioned, scared, misguided fools that’s running for cover.

With the digital camera becomes common commodities and everyone is freed from having to pay for cost of film and developing, an explosion of creative and artistic photos are now available online. Most of them are even under the CC license so you can use it for free. I believe a professional photographer should be taking ideas from them and teach others so they become better. You HAVE TO get use to the fact that within the millions of amateur photographers out there, someone (and not just only one person) will have a better idea that you do. 1 against millions, you can go down fighting and have ZERO change of winning, or you can join them and learn and improve.

I am sorry, but that blog’s author and their commentors DO DESERVE to slide into obscurity if this is how they’ll approach this.

PS. This comment is a lot harsher then my usual tone, because I am pretty pissed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just remember-

Pictures are as unique as a steaming platter of sesame chicken with lo mein, vegetable fried rice, egg drop soup, and an assortment of beef and vegetable egg rolls along with a choice of hot mustards, alongside sweet and sour sauce offered as condiments.

Lo, you are an artist in that moment. And how you paint the plate is entirely up to you.

But in the end, it all has to be cleaned up the same: with TP. Granted, it still steams, but you do have to succumb to the vivid realization that your work will ultimately will become something made by a bona fide asshole.

kingalekz says:

It's still my own idea

“Do not copy. If you have an idea, look to see if it has been done. If it has, drop it. Move on. be creative.”

Finding out that someone else had the same idea afterwards doesn’t change the fact that it was my own idea and that I was creative in the first place. Furthermore, others having similar or the same ideas would proof to me that it was a good idea. If I already put a lot of work and effort into it I would refuse to drop it.
You could also look what others have done with it and see what could be done better and improve your own work.

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