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Community Over Competition Isn't What You Think It is

The word RESPECT has two meanings. Two levels of intensity. There is the basic mutual respect we have for others every day- a basic decency and kindness that every human being deserves without having to earn it. Like opening a door for a stranger or helping someone in need. And you know, not being a jerk to someone for no reason. This kind of respect should be a two way street. Everyone should be kind and respect one another. And then there is that deeper, more revered respect. The kind of respect you have for a role model or idol who has truly gone above and beyond to EARN that respect. No one DESERVES this kind of respect. It has to be EARNED….BOTH kinds of respect are very easy to lose.

Whether you have just dipped your toes into the photography industry, or you have been around a while, there is a phrase that you have heard used and misused over and over again. It’s a great mantra when used correctly but sadly, like a lot of things in our industry today, it’s being abused and misused. Partly because, like the word respect, it can have two meanings. Community Over Competition. Yup, we’re going there.

Let me preface this by saying that I 1,000% believe in Community Over Competition. It’s a core value of who I am as a professional photographer and I try to be a good example of Community in my industry every single day. Just ask one of the many local photographers that I talk to on a daily basis or ask one of the 19K members of the photography group that I created to help new photographers get access to free advice and resources. I know that there are plenty of clients out there and I can’t possibly photograph them all. I know that we can all succeed together. In working with so many photographers from across the world who are all at different points in their career, many of us have noticed a new trend… The phrase Community Over Competition is being misused… or at the very least misunderstood.

What is Community Over Competition exactly? Put simply, it’s a mutual respect for each other within our industry. Just like the word Respect, the phrase Community over Competition has a more basic, simple form. Entry Level if you will. Or Community Over Competition Lite. Just like every human being deserves to be treated with respect, every photographer, new or established, deserves to be treated with respect. In your daily life, you wouldn’t be rude to someone or be disrespectful to them, right? Same goes for the photography industry. There is no reason to be disrespectful to another photographer. This goes for publicly or from behind your keyboard. If I’m on location and another photographer is there with a client, I’m always quick to smile and say hi, to share the location so that both of our clients can get the best photos possible, to not walk behind your clients when you are shooting, and heck, if you have an emergency and need a reflector or an extra hand, I will be MORE than happy to help. If I see you drop an SD card, I will run across the beach to make sure you get it back. If we are at the same location and the toddler or dog in our group isn’t having it, I’m happy to stand behind you and do a dance or make a silly noise as I walk by to help you get some eye contact if you want me to. And if you see me in this situation you are more than welcome to join in with us and sing the baby shark song! I even love to exchange business cards at the end of our sessions and talk shop as we pack up our equipment. I’m always happy to make new photography friends! Occasionally this grows into something more. There are so many photographers in my area and outside my local market who I have formed stronger relationships with. Those photographer friendships have become some of the best and strongest friendships that I have and I don’t know what I would do without them. We chat every day, support each other, have real conversations about our hardships and successes, we share locations, marketing strategies, and shooting and editing techniques. We shoot together, hire each other, and even refer clients back and forth to each other. We check in with each other to make sure the other is ok, that business is good, and to schedule coffee and wine dates. These are photographers that I would lend props or equipment to. They are photographers that I take time out of my day to help when they need it. This type of Community Over Competition has to be not only earned, but maintained and it has to be mutual. Community Over Competition is a two way street. But here’s where this phrase that we used to know and love has been warped and manipulated into something completely different… It’s been taken and rebranded into #Communityovercompetition and twisted into a tool for some photographers to demand that established photographers show them that deeper level of Community Over Competition without earning it. So many new photographers feel entitled to be handed everything they need to learn to take photos and run a photography business on a silver platter without putting in the hard work themselves. I can’t count how many times I have seen established photographers get asked to take time away from their clients, drop what they’re doing, and hand over information or digital products like workshops, tutorials, or software that they either paid for, took years to learn, or both. For free. By someone who is competing for the same pool of clients. And when we don’t. Or we even just don’t respond quickly enough, we are labeled as rude or elitist for not wanting to share our trade secrets with new direct competitors for free.

Community Over Competition does not mean that someone is entitled to something that someone else worked hard for. Its not being entitled to another photographer’s locations, techniques, or equipment. Am I happy to help and do I give free resources to photographers every day? Yes, absolutely! But we are not rude for not giving out every aspect of my businesses. How many times have we seen this comment in photography groups? “I messaged all the photographers in my town and asked them to mentor me but no one was willing to teach me for free.” For many of us, our photography businesses are our careers, our livelihoods and our families’ financial stability and we shouldn’t be required to give that away. And here is the MOST IMPORTANT PART. Community over Competition is a TWO WAY STREET. It has to be earned and it should be mutually beneficial. There are a few things that automatically disqualify you from Community Over Competition. For example, if your business isn’t legal, if you aren’t paying taxes, if you are constantly poaching other photographer’s clients, stealing photos, pricing below a profitable and sustainable level, or trashing other photographers, then you have not earned Community Over Competition. It’s selfish and entitled to do run your business without integrity and ethics and then claim that you deserve #communityovercompetition from your local photographers. Or any photographers for that matter. If you want to earn a place in this community, get out there and contribute to the community they want to be a part of.

So how do we fix this? How do we educate photographers that this level of community over competition has to be earned by running your business respectfully, ethically, and legally? Maybe we need two different phrases. Or maybe, just maybe, if we have enough voices out there educating others, we can make a difference. Don’t be afraid to let people know that Community Over Competition (past a general professional respect that everyone should give to one another) has to be earned. Don’t hesitate to explain the difference to a new or not so new photographer. And don’t be afraid to lead by example.

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