One of the hardest battles as a photographer is not with the light we chase or the equipment we carry. It is with learning to ignore the voice inside you telling you that what speaks to your soul isn't 'right' because of the laws of the consensus. Truth is, you must create what speaks to you and only you. For if you continue to listen to the will of others, you will be creating what others see, instead of forging a reputation for a vision that is true to you.
It is important to be knowledgeable in your craft, but never so much that you rely on perfection and forget to take chances. In all forms of art, it's not about the past - it's about where you're going. Each moment you capture will be a vision of the past for those in the future. Obviously, your style should evolve, but one should never allow that style to mimic others. Emulate slightly the amazing style that you adore, but always be yourself. Especially in that which you create as an extension of your soul and creative consciousness.
Sadly, one difficult reality for photographers is to fight to float above the judgments of the very 'professionals' that should be the guidance for the new generation of photographers. Many of the seasoned professionals become threatened by the new blood. There is good reason, for most newbie's tend to price their services so below market that many times people are fooled into assuming they just scored an awesome deal. Yet, where is the value? Of course, low prices for portfolio building is not the same situation. Those who truly care for their work and their clients will always work to improve, not just focused on making fast money. Well, making money is fabulous right? Yet, still...the true importance is to ensure there is value in the work you are offering. If you look at your work and see no changes over a length of time, then worry. Stop shooting and start examining why your work has yet to evolve. Even the professional with the immaculate portfolio takes on new projects. Why haven't you? Seriously. Sit down, examine your work and begin to plan some new projects. Oh, but what could I possibly imagine? Well let's see...what speaks to you in your world? Maybe you love dolls or cars. Maybe children or elderly. Only you know that. Find the subjects that inspire you to endlessly create, then utilize those subjects as a project. When you start shooting subjects that are important to you, true creativity is unleashed and others will see that. Find a specialty that you never know you had or that has been there all along, but you were unable to realize it.
Realize, that what you see online isn't always what you get. Often times, someone has created the most incredible work ever. You even go to the trouble of checking out their EFIX (camera settings) data only to find that replicating the settings didn't create the same masterpiece. What! Seriously. You may be thinking, "Hey! That's me, why is this happening?". The reason is, you can't just copy! There's a very slim chance that you can get all the elements correct. The light, the moment, the location, the equipment...so many factors come into play that have an outcome on the final result. Don't forget the editing and post processing workflow too. Honestly, learn from that masterpiece, but do not attempt to duplicate it. You will waste your time in misery attempting to be someone you're not. Don't waste your potential. Create your own work and keep creating until you are satisfied with the outcome. At that moment of completion, you'll inspire yourself to create more for you will enjoy the satisfaction of gazing upon something that is truly you. Besides, how would you feel if someone was making money off your ideas?
You must determine a path for the future. Isolate and target your strengths and weaknesses. Stop trying to impress everyone and saying yes to every possible opportunity just because you need the money or recognition. You will be exhausted and quickly become burnt out. Your goal is to do only that which you love in order to find the happiness we all seek. By determining your specialties and strengths, you will be only shooting that which your soul loves and embraces. Your work will show improvement as you begin to explore the creative possibilities. Learn to say no. If you don't, you'll never have time to find yourself and when your work isn't consistent, others will notice. In time, it will become harder to improve your skills if you're bouncing around between subjects and specialties like an adult with ADHD (like me!). If you love children, but dislike photographing families then stop advertising family portraits. Cull them from your website, social media and advertising. Remove all mention of them too. Focus your entire 'brand' on child photography.
Lastly, many photographers still lack an online presence. I've seen a phenomenon on websites and social media of photographers of all skill levels: forgotten location information and contact details. How can you expect to be found without even a way to be contacted? Another issue is how many photographers utilize a website that is either disorganized, outdated or worse...none at all. With all the resources for free websites and an online portfolio via photo hosting companies, how can you not have a website? It is of utmost importance to have an online presence unless your local clients are so loyal that you truly don't need the additional business or interest. Even then, it can help to maintain your business in a time when the market is changing and clients are looking online for services and reviews, no longer just relying on word of mouth. Of utmost benefit is the ability to share your work and learn from the reactions what works best for you. Although there will be some who will painfully rip your work from your heart, realize that you must endure the criticism and learn from it. Despite critiques, there will always be positive words of encouragement to provide the drive to continue to improve your skills and grow into the photographer you always wanted to be.
In the end, there can be only one - only one photographer with your unique soul and talent. Embrace the reality of that truth. Realize that despite all your equipment or lack of it, you are not a Borg from Star Trek with the unstoppable lust for perfection. Instead, you are a human with a camera and a heart to capture that which speaks to you in order to inspire others. Listen to your unique voice. Go forth and determine your inspiration.