It may seem a redundant question – of course we work for our clients, but many people are also very conscious of how they appear in front of their peers. We know that your peer group is perhaps the single most influential force on shaping your personality, but how much does peer pressure also play into how we perform in our daily work life?
As a photographer I’ve noticed an unattractive quality in many of my peers to hack on other photographers. I suspect it is a sign of the general pressure many photographers feel that makes them lash out, and not because they are inherently mean-spirited. Photography is a profession, like many others today, that requires a special blend of craft, technical knowledge, artistry and creative business savvy. It is not as easy as clicking a button and snapping a shot, but the apparent ease with which photographers perform their work gives some people the impression that all it takes is some gear and presto! You’re a photographer!
In ancient history when I was doing my MBA, this was called a low barrier to entry. In industries with low entry barriers, competitive pressure is intense and I believe this may have something to do with why so many photographers are ready to slag another shooter’s work. I was recently sent a link to a story about a contract dispute in Texas between a wedding photographer and her clients over an album cover charge. The story itself was interesting in the way looking at a car crash can be – it seems one of the things the internet powerfully enables is the all-too-human tendency to enjoy observing other people’s troubles. A touch of schadenfreude perhaps. But what struck me, more than the story itself, was the length to which the commentators would go to by and large trash the photographer. They attack her work, her style, her skills – going far beyond the remit of the actual story. I took a look at her work and was certain she has delivered quality work to many satisfied clients. But the commentators – mainly other photographers – had at her as if she were the worst hack in the industry and I just thought to myself, how petty.
What it reveals though, aside the challenge that many working photographers face daily trying to earn a living practicing their trade, is that there can be a big disconnect between how your clients perceive your work, and how your peers do. While I am all for constantly seeking to improve oneself and learn new skills to enhance one’s ability to perform one’s work, I believe that the most important person to please is not the person standing next to you trying to do the same thing as you, (“only better”) but the person who’s selected you to do the work they’ve given you. In other words, the customer is the most important person in your profession, and what they have to say should be given far more weight than any sniping you hear from your peers.