Friday, October 21, 2011

What Makes You Different? How to Define Your Style

Differentiation is one of the biggest keys to thriving in a crowded marketplace. If your work looks like everyone else's, than there's no good reason to choose you over someone else, or to pay you more than someone else, unless someone has already developed a personal relationship with you.  When you find what it is that makes your work different and sets you apart from the crowd, you are no longer competing against anyone else- you're effectively creating your own little niche in the market.

A lot of photographers starting out take a while to find their style, and I don't blame them- I was there once too! Even when I was a musician, a painter, and a teacher, I started out by emulating someone else's style before I was able to find what felt good for me and before I had the skills to really create on my own and break the boundaries of what was traditional, trendy, or taught to me. Finding your style can be difficult to identify and may require the help of a few people who love you, but once you've identified what makes YOU different from everyone else, you can finally begin to sell yourself on your uniqueness and attract clients who love what YOU love and are willing to go out of their way to hire you for it!

Here are a few tips to help you find your individual sense of style, and what separates you from everyone else:

Go through your portfolio and get rid of anything that looks like something you've seen somewhere else, or that which is a direct copy of something you've seen before. What you're left with is what makes you unique.

Anytime you see something that strikes you as cool or amazing, ask yourself why you feel that way? What captivates you? Is it the colors? Framing? Moment? Lighting? Posing? If you have a hard time identifying it in one image, try collecting a bunch of different images that move you and look at them collectively to see if you can identify any trends that seem to appear frequently. It's often much easier for our minds to make sense of patterns than it is for us to analyze isolated incidents.

Poll your friends, family, clients, and even other photographers! Ask them for three words that they feel best describes your work or your personality. If their answers are what you were expecting, than you're on the right track. If their answers are not what you were expecting, ask more questions to help define the outward signals you're sending to others.

Once you've identified what makes you different and unique- you need to make sure your branding, portfolio, and products are in-line with your unique preferences in order to create a complete and cohesive marketing message that will appeal to people who appreciate your sense of beauty and art. Put the images and things that YOU love first, not just the ones that you think will sell best. You want clients who will hire you for what YOU do best. Share your uniqueness and you will attract others who appreciate it. Give people a reason to be intrigued, to stay longer, to explore more. Pretty is nice, but different is interesting... and interesting attracts more attention and sells better against the competition.

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and low-cost solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.