Comparison Kills Creativity – What I Learned

Well, my personal month-long challenge to not look at any competitors’ work has officially ended. Yes, I did mess up a couple of times out of sheer habit and looked at videos I wasn’t supposed to look at. But every time I caught myself and stopped. In the end I learned a valuable lesson. I thought that maybe I’d have some fantastical discovery of new ideas and out-of-this-world imagery. I thought that I’d come out the other side a whole new person, a new “artiste.” But you know what happened on the way to “discovery?”  “Revelation!” I learned that the artist already in me was a pretty darn good one at that. I gained a new level of appreciation for the work I was already doing. I am wired in a certain way that results in a certain kind of look and imagery. I tell stories in my own, unique way. And a certain set of people and clients connect with it. And they love it. Yes, I will continue to improve my craft, and seek out new ways of evolving. But, in the process, I don’t have to try to be like anyone else, and I definitely don’t need to envy anyone else. They are blessed with their gifts, and me with mine. That is a pretty good feeling.


I particularly came across this revelation this past weekend. I don’t do too many weddings a year anymore, but this past weekend I had one in Napa, CA (can we say hot!)  I was with the bride going through the usual rigmarole of capturing the moments as they happened. When it came time to get a shot of the dress, my first instinct was “Hmmm. I wonder how so-and-so would shoot this?” I immediately remembered my challenge and changed that thought to, “Okay, let’s do something completely unlike so-and-so.” In fact, I totally went in another direction. Shots of the rings are always a popular thing to get. I purposely decided not to get any up-close ring shots, but instead focused on other items I knew were important to the bride and groom (e.g. the petal on the shoes below were part of the bride’s mom’s reception decorations many, many years ago).


By the end of the day, when I had reviewed the footage on back of the 5DMarkII (I’m lovin’ the tapeless workflow), I had a great sense of esteem. Not in a prideful, “Oh look at my cool shots” kind of way. But in a way where I was excited about the talent and vision I have and my decision to go with whatever my gut told me.

Steve Jobs was quoted as saying:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

So true. Go with YOUR gut. Embrace the talent and vision you already have. That’s not to say you shouldn’t look at the work of your colleagues. Even admire it and get some ideas. But, don’t envy them. But wish to BE them. And certainly don’t copy them. Listen to your heart and follow your instincts. Chances are, you’re a better artist then you give yourself credit.


On my first CKC update (Day 11), I posted this shot:


I asked people to tell me what they thought it was. Here’s the answer and the original shot. It was taken with my iPhone. It is indeed a reflection trees. I flipped the shot upside down (making the trees right-side up) and added a poster edges filter in Photoshop to give it a water color look. It was fun little project that got me to push my creativity.


13 thoughts on “Comparison Kills Creativity – What I Learned

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience! We all need to be reminded to be satisfied with who we are and what we do instead of chasing after being like someone else and their work.

  2. I, like you, made it thru with only a couple of mis-steps. And because of it, I feel a much happier person. Sometimes we get caught up chasing others instead of just being (and believing in) ourselves. I honestly can say I don’t miss looking at others work and may try to keep it up awhile longer.

    On a side note, I had a client from several years back ask for another copy of their dvd. So, while making the copy, I decided to take watch a few minutes. Know what…? I started admiring my own work. Sure, it was several years old and I think I do much better work now, but there were elements to it that got me thinking “that’s a cool shot – why don’t I do that anymore…?”

  3. @lee – your point about admiring past work is so right on. I’ve recently gone back and looked at some of my earlier stuff and there’s a certain quality and edginess in most of it I don’t often see in my current stuff. Just another proof that a source for great ideas can be YOU. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Your posts are always so refreshing & inspiring, Ron. It seems that so many blogs out there nowadays are all about self-promoting, which I don’t fault because it’s just the nature of business, I suppose. (This alone has made it a lot easier for me to stop looking at other people’s work.) 😀

    Getting back to the topic of comparison killing creativity … I completely agree with you. In the past few months, I’ve read a LOT less blogs, and limited my time on Twitter & Facebook. During this time, I feel so much more free. Not only free in that I’m consuming less minutes & hours on the internet, but free as in liberating. Liberating …. like I can hopscotch in the park as a grown woman, and not care of others’ reaction or judgment for my juvenile behavior.

    And it’s the feeling of liberation that gives me the most creativity, my friend. 🙂

  5. Ron, I think you nailed it on the head when you said “I tell stories in my own, unique way. And a certain set of people and clients connect with it”. This is the essence of my marketing strategy in the digital economy: what convinces people to hire me over someone else in a sea of photographers. I play the numbers, because the internet has revealed that that “certain set” is seemingly everywhere and they have the tools to get a “sneak preview” of me before they even hire me. SO glad I'm not operating my business in the days of the Yellow Pages and mass mailings where I was just another impersonal ad with no possible way for people to know WHO I am and what experience I can give them. The more we promote who we are, the better it is for the client and us. It's a win-win.Comparison kills Business.

  6. So true John. I just had a client call me a couple of days ago asking me that magical question “Can you send me your price list.” Only, this time, she even specifically said, “We want to compare you to the other two companies.” Clients and prospects have to compare, in reality, that IS how they make a selection. But the more WE compare ourselves to others, trying in essence to be like the respective “so-and-so's” in our industry, then the easier we make it for prospects like this woman to NOT pick us based on what truly sets us apart, but strictly on price. Then, we're reduced to a commodity.Thanks for sharing.

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