Be Who You Is

I was reading Scott Kelby’s blog the other day and this week’s guest speaker was Tim Mantoani. To be completely frank, I never knew who Tim Mantoani was and what was his forte in the area of photography. After having followed Scott’s blog for a while now, I do know that whoever he gets to guest blog, definitely do have a certain quality to them. Kelby’s guest bloggers have seen the likes of Zack Arias (of the One Light fame), Joey Lawrence, David Hobby of Strobist, Tim Wallace, Brad Moore, Matt Kloskowski (Lightroom dude) and many many more.

Anyway, back to what Tim Mantoani wrote, after reading his post at Scott’s blog, the words that hit me the most were that of this.

Ian Summers is a great business coach in our industry. He loves the quote, “Be who you is, cuz if you ain’t who you is, then you is who you ain’t.” As a photographer it is easy to try to imitate another shooter’s work and to try to be all things to all people. I am based in a smaller photo market in San Diego and often have to shoot a variety of styles to satisfy my clients. However, when it comes down to the work, I always try to give them what they want, then shoot something they way I see it. At least at the end of the shoot, you have something YOU are happy that you created. Put YOU into your work. It is important to sing in your own voice. Think of yourself as a musician. You can place a guitar in the hands of any person and it is just a box with a hole in it, the same is true of a camera. What is the sound of your photography? U2 does not sing Rap, Folk, R&B, etc… They don’t sound like another band, they sound like U2. Be YOU too!

There are people that shop for “photography” and people that shop for a “photographer”. If you are just selling photography, then the cheapest price will get the job. Make your clients buy YOU. Find time to shoot personal work and promote it.

The words just hit me on every different level and the truth of it is so real that I am completely flabbergasted. After picking up photography for almost two years now, I realized that I still have a lot to learn and I see so much more from people who started photography way later than I did and sometimes I feel that everyone else seems to be better than I do.

It could be an inferior complex that I feel but still it isn’t as easy as I would hope. I still get completely lost at “portraiture” sessions and I still find myself wondering what to shoot or even perhaps shooting the same things over and over again.

As a photographer it is easy to try to imitate another shooter’s work and to try to be all things…

Yes, I read a lot of photographer’s blog and yes I do keep sample photos in my phone as a reference. Some might call it as a source of inspiration but the tendency to overstep that boundary is also very high. Doing this, I am definitely not going to be in the category where people “shop for a photographer” but rather being able to do the same things as what others can do and be just another photographer selling “photography business“.

There definitely is a need to change the way I do things and it definitely starts from within. I learned over the weekend that “success can be a setback” and that “failure is never the destination” but just a process. But the most important thing so far which I definitely need to learn is that “character always come before competency“. So I thought to myself, what is my character? Is mine one that is very lazy and just shoots, hoping for the best or am I one who is constantly and diligently trying to learn from others, reinvent myself and be just myself? I must aim for the latter.

So from today onwards, I am giving myself about 2 months to accomplish certain goals and constantly strive to improve my character as well as my competence.

  • Being disciplined and head to the gym to work out
  • Being disciplined and work hard on post processing photos
  • Complete my personal portfolio for 2008 so that I can gauge myself on a yearly basis. This portfolio will basically be a 10R sized album with photos that I have captured in 2008
  • Reinvent myself and think of new ways to shoot
  • Shoot in smaller apertures, my mind has always been that if I shoot in F/1.4, everything will turn out nice. Of course not all of my lenses can shoot at f/1.4 but I will definitely try different styles of shooting
  • Work on creating a trolley bag to haul my photography equipment (I can’t afford those Think Tank trolley bags). I took the idea from both Alex and Grace, thanks you two!

Also in order to build myself as a better photographer, I am constantly looking for opportunities to shoot. If you are a couple and would love to have photos taken, do contact me at mark.leo [at] and we can discuss more about it. This is of course limited to the Klang Valley area only as I do not think that I have the time to travel about. I will elaborate about this a little more in another post as well.

So do check back for more updates!

8 thoughts on “Be Who You Is”

  1. Bro, very well written article. Both Tim's and yours. Everyday, I keep reminding myself the important of setting yourself apart from the rest. I remember watching a video about this famous photographer, David Oliver. He said that we should be the best that we can be and not try to copy what others are doing. And rightfully so, we will end up being different, special and unique because we are all made wonderfully and wired differently.

    This reminds me to buck up and set more goals for myself too! Thanks for the inspiration. Best read for me today.

  2. Just a thought, what if I am someone who is just like a lot of people? I mean I am who I am but if someone sees me or my work, they might say "eh thats like XY" and someone else might say "eh thats like ZZ"

    But its not intentional. Its just the way it is. At the end of the day, it is not imitation if you don't know that you are imitating right? 😛

    I think I just lost myself.

  3. Andy: I will make a blog post of it when I actually start working on it. Plan to get the luggage tonight as I saw some shops have 50% off on some bags which are quite cheap.

    Ian: Thanks bro! I definitely need more practice as well.

    Nicholas: Think of it this way, as a musician myself, I might use the same chord progression as the other masters but the feel and the style I play those chord progression will definitely be my own style. Same goes for photography, you might pose couples the same way as other photographers but how to pose them, how you set the setting and how you post process them, its all part of who you are. I can definitely elaborate a lot more on this as well 😀

  4. hey mark!! I am totally ALL for the BE YOURSELF motto in this market. When I first started years back, I felt the HUGEST need to conform – especially since I am a girl. I had the worst remarks thrown at me, and was laughed at, so I tried really hard to be 'all things'.

    now I realise, be yourself. And get your clients by being yourself! 🙂 If clients are booking you, for YOU, that is the biggest compliment. Besides, its hard pretending to be someone you are not for the next 10 to 15 years! 🙂

    And don't be down about where you are heading. Its so funny, i was just talking to some other photographers in the last two weeks, and it seems like everyone is feeling the whole 'everyone is going places, but I'm being left behind' phase…It was so encouraging to talk to them and push them along, and vice versa. TRUST me when I say that i totally believe EVERY photographer out there has these low moments… even me! I had my most recent phase last week which I hope to blog about next week… so lets pull together and encourage one another. Its not about being the best out there. The sea is too endless. Its about being the best YOU can be 🙂

  5. Hi Jenny,

    It was great to have met you as well the other time. Definitely won't be the last time. Thanks for sharing your thoughts as well 🙂

  6. Thanks for sharing this Mark. It's a great reminder to me too. I think we all go through phases and this is the stage where you are defining yourself. So enjoy the process and explore! Oh, have you built your trolley bag yet? 🙂

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