Let’s address an issue I’ve seen more and more of lately. A few years back, a local “photographer” launched her business. It was clear, from her Facebook page, that she wasn’t using her own photos to promote her services. Instead, she was taking other photographers’ images and passing them off as her own. In some cases, even stock photos were used.

How was it this obvious? Simply put, there was no consistency between the style of photos.

I reached out. Several other photographers reached out too. She said that she was doing it to “show what was possible.” We encouraged her to stop doing what she was doing, saying that the photos she used should show what was possible from HER, not from other photographers. Eventually, she agreed, and I believe that she’s no longer calling herself a “photographer.”

I recently became aware that this is happening more and more. In no world is this OK. If you’re struggling with this, this isn’t meant to be an attack, more some advice on what to do instead.

Why is this wrong?

If you went into a McDonald’s after seeing an advertisement that showed a glorious, stacked Big Mac, would you be disappointed when you received a flat, messy patty? Sure. The reason you don’t see glorious Big Macs in advertisements (though they do doctor them up) is that they’re regulated. They can’t show a burger that doesn’t represent what they serve to customers.

The same thinking should be adopted by photographers everywhere. You need to show off photos that represent you.

People pick you as a photographer for a few reasons. It can be your style, your services and offerings, your price … the list goes on. But nine times out of 10, potential customers look at your portfolio or social media accounts, to see what they can expect.

If they book you for a photoshoot, and they don’t get what they expect and what you advertise, they’ll be disappointed. It won’t help you grow as a photographer or grow your business … it’ll do the opposite.

What should you do if your work doesn’t show where you want to be as a photographer?

Just like most creative industries, you need to practice. Pull aside friends and family and play around with different techniques. If you’re struggling with lighting, use it more. If you’re having a hard time getting a good pose, pose those friends and family.

Learn how things work. Learn the exposure triangle. Learn the basics of photography before you move on to more advanced techniques. Expecting that you’ll pick up a camera and immediately be worthy of getting clients is unrealistic. We all go through a period as a beginning photographer where we’re trying to figure out who we are. You have to walk before you run.

Once you have a few practice photoshoots under your belt, that’s when you can start promoting yourself. Use those practice photos you’re proud of to promote your services. You’ll be happier for it, as those photos represent who you are as an artist. As you get more work, you can replace those practice photos, and continue to build your skillset.

Be you, not someone else

Picasso said that “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” But he didn’t mean that literally. Steal that way someone uses their lighting. Steal the way they pose their clients. Steal the way they go about their day in a positive attitude, and bring that into every photoshoot.

But don’t steal their work and pass it off as yours. Doing so will only lead to trouble for you as a photographer. Clients will be disappointed, leave you negative reviews and you’ll have a harder and harder time finding clients. You won’t grow as a photographer.

Instead, build your work over time. Make photos that you’re happy with, and clients will follow.