Photographers invest a lot over the years. Not just in their gear, but also in their knowledge and skills of photography, retouching, marketing, and business. We all aim to make perfect photos, but Daniel DeArco shares an eye-opening video on this topic. He calls it “the photographer’s paradox” and he discusses whether you really need “perfect” photos every time and whether you really need to use all the gear you have. You can consider it an important lesson in marketing, and it will make you look at photography from a different perspective.
Daniel would often workout at The Green in Santa Monica along with many others who exercised acro-yoga and other activities. His friend “Anna,” a former photographer, creative director, and business strategist would sometimes tag along. One time when she was there, she asked him how come he didn’t take photos of the people exercising at The Green. Daniel decided that he didn’t really have an excuse not to, so one day he brought his gear with him and spent about half an hour taking photos. He later put one of the images on his personal Instagram account and despite the fact that he didn’t make much effort: the people seemed to like it.
This is when Daniel decided to have some fun with the concept. He figured that he would take photos of his acro-yoga buddies every Sunday after their workout. He created an Instagram account with a plan to post to it consistently. Then it was the time to choose his gear… And this is where the issue started.
Daniel packed a bunch of gear: Canon 6D, 70-200mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.8, two studio monolights and a battery pack, two light stands, two speedlights, a set of Pocket Wizard radio transmitters, a tripod, and a reflector. Anna told him not to do it. She suggested that Daniel should only bring his backup camera, a kit lens, one speedlight and a reflector – and just see what happens.
After hearing Anna’s suggestion, Daniel said that he cringed. “I have all this high-quality gear. I want to bring it, I want to be efficient and flexible if I need to change and improve the images on the spot.” But Anna taught him that efficiency is “getting the highest possible output using the lowest possible input.” And this is something that a lot of photographers, filmmakers, and creatives in general struggle with.
You have all this gear that you’ve bought over the years. It’s high-quality and expensive, you have spent years investing in it and it gives you great results when you use it. You also have all the knowledge that you’ve gained, and you can’t just turn it off. Also, you may be afraid of peer judgment: if your work is not good enough, it will be criticized by fellow photographers.
So, what is the photographer’s paradox? It’s when you’re so concerned by peer judgment, perfectionism and industry standards that you hold yourself back from creating anything right now.
Daniel had all these concerns, but Anna convinced him to take just the basics and even not to edit the photos before posting them to Instagram. And he took her advice.
Having listened to Anna’s advice and brought with the bare minimum, Daniel was surprised when he got the same level of social engagement, if not more, for his photos. No one noticed or pointed out the differences in lighting quality. Daniel says it was almost like none of his investment in gear had ever mattered.
For seven weeks straight, Daniel was taking photos every Sunday. He shot in harsh sunlight, always at the same location, often with busy backgrounds and mediocre composition. But over those seven weeks, his acro-yoga account went from zero to 4,000 followers. Then it hit him why Anna made him do this.
KNOWING YOUR AUDIENCE
What Anna taught Daniel, in this case, is an important lesson about marketing. The audience for this account was made of outdoorsy people, athletes, fitness devotees, and acro-yoga people. They weren’t photographers, and none of them saw what Daniel did: not the harsh sunlight nor the less than perfect compositions.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should be lazy and take the easy way out. You should do your best, especially when there’s money involved. But it’s more about knowing your audience, what they value most and what they don’t care about.
Finally, do you really need all that gear for every shoot? Nope. Sometimes you’ll need and want to bring it, of course. But don’t be bothered too much by “perfection” and standards. What matters most is knowing your audience and applying the knowledge and skills you’ve gained over the years.