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In Photography, The Only Competition You Have is Yourself

By Chris Nachtwey on July 21st 2014

Photography has a major problem. With the digital age, anyone can make a decent picture and all of a sudden say, “I’m a photographer!” There I said it. Not everyone can be a pro, but anyone who can spend under a $1000 can get into photography, and with some decent editing skills, can start making awe inspiring images, and everyone can seem like competition.

It’s too easy to hop on Facebook, follow some great photographers and feel like your work is horrible or your business is failing. Maybe you get bombarded with statues in your news feed about an awesome session a local photographer you follow just had. You sit there scratching your head asking yourself “what am I doing wrong, why can’t I book jobs like this on the regular?” I’ve been there, wondering how to make images like that of great photographers I followed, how to book more jobs, or how to beat the local competition.

Then one day I realized…

To hell with the competition! I am my own competition and the only photographer I should compete with is myself. And the same goes for you.


Five Tips for Competing With Yourself

Limit Your Time On Social Media

Social media can be a source of great inspiration, but one of the biggest issues I have with social media is, that it’s a compilation of everyone’s best work and moments. Almost all the work you see on social media is the best work a photographer is going to put out there. They might have had a session where all, but one image was average, yet what they post is that one killer image. Now, multiply that one great image from one photographer by fifty photographers and all of a sudden your newsfeed is full of amazing images, and what looks like extremely successful photographers. None of them are saying, “this was my first session in three months;” none are saying, “I screwed up the exposure on half my images.” Those are the parts we leave out.

I’m all for showing only your best work to the world, but don’t get caught up thinking that all the photographers you follow only make great images, we all mess up. It’s normal, it’s human, it happens to all of us. Take that time you spend on social media actually shooting or working to improve the areas of your business that you know needs improvement.

Compare Your Work To Your Own Work. Not Another Photographer’s Work

One thing I do frequently: I take one image from a past session and one from the present of the same genre, put them side-to-side in Lightroom and look at what I improved on over time. I’m only going to get better by improving my own work, not staring at someone else’s work. My goal at the end of every year is to know that I improved upon the work I was creating in the past.

Couples Session in 2012


Couples Session in 2014


Don’t Compare Your Business to Other Photographers

I personally enjoy talking business with fellow photographers, but for most people, it can depress you extremely fast. It can hurt to hear that a photographer friend is booking 20 weddings a year and you are only booking 2. You need to remember, maybe that photographer has been in business for 10 years, or maybe they just got lucky. Comparing another photographer’s business to your own is not going to increase how many jobs you book.

If you do want to talk shop, keep it constructive. Talk about what you are doing for marketing or client relationships and try to pick other photographer’s brains about how you can improve your business vs. bragging about accomplishments.

No photographer to talk with? SLR Lounge is here to help. I never really had a mentor. I came to SLR Lounge long before I was a writer to help me understand what I should and should not do in business and photography. Now, I have the opportunity to help photographers everywhere get through the struggles I have or have had.


Stay focused on building your unique brand and what you can offer a potential client. You need to feel confident about your business plan and approach, if you’re worried about what a fellow photographer is doing across town, you will lose focus improving your business.

You Will Fail! Pick Yourself Back Up Quickly

This is the hardest thing to overcome for many people, photographer or not. If you relish in the mistakes and failures you have made, be it on a shoot, or in business, you will never get better or succeed in life. You need to embrace those mistakes or failures, and use them as fuel for the fire to get better. I have made plenty of mistakes shooting and in life; I try to not lament on them very long. I look at what I did and say to myself “OK, you messed up, don’t let that happen again.” I’ve overexposed what would have been great images, I’ve under priced myself, and I will make more mistakes in the future I use mistakes or failures as learning experiences to improve my business and myself in the long run.

Give Props To Yourself

Look at where you were and where you are now. Two years ago, I knew nothing about off camera flash, now I can’t go to a wedding or session and not use it. Photoshop scared me for a long time, now after watching some Phlearn videos on how to use the software correctly, I use it easily everyday. Be proud of what you have accomplished and build upon those things. Focusing on what you have yet to accomplish and not doing anything about that is a horrible thing. Give yourself props for learning and growing. Keep building on those successes.



When all is said and done, if you want to compare your work or business to other photographers, by all means do so. If it’s what motivates, you then go for it, but for me, the only photographer I’m going to compete with is myself. What other photographers are doing is not going to help me improve. I need to focus on the weak areas of my own photography and business and make them better vs. worrying about what the next photographer is doing.


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Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Keith Kynoch-Taylor

    Hi Chris,

    I have just recently sighed up to SLR Lounge, I have been running small photography business in Scotland for a year now and I am really enjoying it. I just wanted to let you know I really enjoyed your article about the only photographer your a competing against is you.

    When I started out, I fell in to so many of the traps you mentioned and at times after getting some very negative comments nearly gave up, thankfully I did not and I have a busy 2015 to look forward to.

    I am looking forward to using SLR Lounge to improve my skills.


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  2. Rafael Steffen

    Hello Chris and thanks for sharing these amazing and personal advices! One of the thinkgs that I like the most of your articles is how you explain it well and clear. I loved how you shared with us how you evolved over the last two years and how to focus on developing yourself more rather than just look at the amazing off camera flash work of Joe McNally.

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    • Chris Nachtwey

      Thanks for the kind words Rafael! Yes, focusing on your own areas of weakness and improving upon them is so important. The key to that is to just shoot, shoot, and shoot, more.

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  3. Eric Sharpe

    Guilty of just about all of that. Very motivational. I wish you had written this article a year or 2 ago!

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    • Chris Nachtwey

      Hey never to late to change things Eric! We are all guilty of these things at one point in our career…me included. Thanks for the kind words!

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  4. Gregory Davidson

    Good Article

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  5. Mathieu Nicolet

    Thanks a lot…very helpful article

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  6. Greg Faulkner

    Typo… The amount of resources available online……

    There needs to be an editing option on the site :)

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  7. Greg Faulkner

    The meaning resources available online nowadays are so good. Not just this site but creativelive ,Lynda etc I’ve sucked up so much information. For anyone starting out posing couples the couples workshop by SLR Lounge is a really fantastic starting point, I jumped from getting maybe 20 deliverable images from an engagement session to over a hundred after watching it(multiple times lol)

    Every day’s a school day :)

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    • Kevin Nguyen

      Greg, do I have to pay you to use this: “Every day’s a school day”? :) – Liked!

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    • Chris Nachtwey

      That’s awesome Greg. I’m the same way after watching the DVD my number of deliverable images doubled. I also learned how to interact with my couples a lot better and that makes a world of difference.

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  8. James Matthews

    Good points as usual, thanks Chris!

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  9. Jeff Lopez

    Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard. Thanks!

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  10. Lex Arias

    very nice Post…

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  11. Jared Stewart

    Great article. Amazing to see the change a few years can make.

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  12. Ben Perrin

    Yeah great comparison shots. I certainly wouldn’t be embarrassed by the old shot though since you’ve obviously done a lot of work to become a much better photographer. Kudos.

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    • Chris Nachtwey

      Indeed Ben! Just have to keep pushing yourself. Thanks for the kind words. I feel like we don’t see enough where I was and where I am now work.

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  13. Stan Rogers

    Thanks for posting the 2012 shot, Chris — that had to hurt a bit. Placing it alongside your current(ish) work really illustrates the difference between being an enthusiastic camera operator and a photographer. (Luckily, nothing survives of my first few thousand rolls of film.)

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    • Chris Nachtwey

      We all start somewhere, I alway say that to new photographers. Doesn’t hurt to post a shot from when I was just starting to work with clients. Serves as a good reminder to anyone who is starting out, with time and lot of practice you can get to a higher level, and I’m always trying to be better. My work this year and a half has taken a huge step forward.

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  14. Miguel Chavez

    Very encouraging write up Chris!

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    Thanks a lot Chris ….. I think SLR lounge is the #1 photography site since it has great support and mentors of photographers with amazing articles like yourself that not only build oneself but also help novice or semi pro photographers think great of their work and improve it step by step…….(Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day)

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