The Secret Ingredient
If you've ever been to a church potluck supper, you know two things: 1) there is some mighty fine cookin' to be had and 2) there is an undercurrent of fierce competition. About three years ago, we attended our first potluck at our new church. We proudly brought a Sugar Cream Pie, the official pie of Luke's home state of Indiana, hoping to impress our new church family. Little did we know that we'd just brought a butter knife to a gun fight!
You see, Miss Janie, the reigning pie queen, makes a chocolate pie that is so amazing, it wins the annual pie contest every year; so coveted, it fetched $155 at the last bake sale; so incredible, everyone knows you don't even think about getting a plate of ham, potato salad and baked beans until you've stood in line for, and set aside, a slice of her pie.
Rich and creamy and light all at the same time, this chocolate pie had a haunting taste. What was the secret ingredient? Luke had to know. He begged Miss Janie for the recipe. At first, she was reluctant to give it out (that extra special ingredient needed to remain a secret, especially in our conservative community!), but Luke assured her that he would respect the recipe and only make it at home. No longer able to resist Luke's charms (who can?), and certain that she would be free of a potluck copycat, Miss Janie shared the recipe.
Luke set to work, making it his mission to replicate Miss Janie's pie. He followed the directions to the letter, measuring each cup, tablespoon and teaspoon exactly. And that darn pie wouldn't set. It tasted great, but had the consistency of a thick soup. After several failed attempts, Luke went to Miss Janie for more advice. Come to find out, she doesn't measure her tablespoons of flour precisely; she uses heaping tablespoons. Luke should have been nearly doubling the amount of flour he was putting in that pie!
Now that he knows exactly what to do, will his chocolate pie be just like Miss Janie's? Probably not. Will Miss Janie be worse off because someone knows how to duplicate her recipe? No again. Martha Stewart or Ina Garten do not suffer because they went on television and gave away all of their secrets -- au contraire! Their empires have flourished precisely because they shared their best techniques and recipes.
You see, recipes are just a blueprint. They are a starting point. The skill, experience, and special touch of the cook, count for more than the formula. Which brings us to photography….
Should photographers share their tips, ideas and techniques? Or should they guard them carefully like a secret family recipe?
Many people in our industry seem to come at this question from a place of scarcity: "I make my living from these ideas, and I can't afford to give them away to my competition! What if they steal all of my business?"
A quick Google search revealed that 2.3 million couples wed every year in the United States. That breaks down to nearly. Let's say there are 50,000 US-based wedding photographers--this would mean that each photographer gets to shoot 46 weddings per year. We only choose to shoot 15 weddings per year, so somebody already has extras!
The Take Aways:
- There is only one Martha, one Ina, one Miss Janie, and one Luke and Cat (well, technically, there are two of us, but you know what we mean!) The secret ingredient in your business is you. We can all use the same equipment, the same editing software, the same processing companies, but your photos won't look like ours, and ours won't look like yours. Now, isn’t that delicious?