Develop a Competitive Mindset for Success

Your biggest competition? Yourself! How do you beat your last effort?
By Simon Burn – subscribe to Simon’s YouTube channel

Whether you’re a professional photographer or a hobbyist, I believe that developing a competitive mindset will result in significantly better photos.

Today, it seems like everyone wants to be a photographer or filmmaker, particularly in the outdoor / landscape / travel genres.

It’s fun to get paid to travel and photograph cool places, or wander around in nature looking for compositions. Who wouldn’t want that?

A Competitive Mindset is Your Advantage in a Saturated Market

With so many people wanting to work in these genres, it’s tough to create a sustainable full-time career. Here’s where a competitive attitude gives you a boost.

I’ve learned from many kinds of businesses first-hand – having worked for hundreds of start-up companies – that most people enter a market and look at what their peers are doing.

They basically emulate that and use it as a template for their own business.

So, we end up with dozens of businesses all looking the same, saying the same things, offering the same products and services.

If your business is the last one to join the pack, one that’s already established with some traction, how do you think that’s going to work out for you?

My attitude is you need to take a competitive approach and figure out how to be better or different to stand out from the crowd.

A Competitive Mindset Creates Energy

I’ve been sent on many photographic assignments over the years. Every time I go out, I think, “What can I do to bring back something more exciting than what they asked for? How can I wow them and make them glad they chose me for this project?”

That attitude really energizes and challenges me.  It makes me focus on what I need to achieve. It definitely helps me get better images.

The classic view of Charles Bridge at first light

Here’s an example:

A publication sent me to Prague for a week, to shoot a feature article on this wonderful Czech city. They knew how the article was being broken down and gave me a shot list so that I cover the essential landmarks.

If you know Prague, you’ll know that you can’t talk about the city without mentioning the iconic Charles Bridge. 

When I did my pre-trip research I found endless images of the bridge. They were generally the same views, and after a while, I got bored looking at them.

How to Get a Fresh Photo of an Icon

The first thing I asked myself is why only these views all the time? In many cases, photographers are limited to where they can stand to shoot. But there’s also laziness.

For this particular shot, I needed to find out for myself, and was determined to do better than what I was seeing, as this was the defining shot of the assignment.

My competitive attitude challenged me to get more interesting shots. For me, that equates to a lot of fun! 

Dark, Rainy and Cold… Perfect!

The day I was going to shoot the bridge, I woke up while it was still dark, and looked out of the window. It was raining, cold and gloomy, the kind of day to stay in bed.

But as soon as I was awake, my adrenaline kicked in. I rushed to dress and practically ran down the streets toward the bridge, about an hour before sunrise. I was all alone in the darkness. I was all set!

Competitors Show Up to Shoot Early

The key lesson here is to get to your location early and scout it out. This often means you’ll be the first to arrive and can choose the best position. Since the Charles Bridge is a honeypot location, I expected other photographers to show up.

I wanted to make sure I got the “classic shot” from exactly where I wanted. This shot would be my insurance, so that if I couldn’t come up with anything better, I’d have it in the bag. After all, this is what the client was expecting.

I got the shot, and was happy with it. When I looked up, about a half hour before sunrise, there were a dozen photographers around me, jostling for position.

The classic view of Charles Bridge, from exactly where I wanted to stand

Competitors Also Stay to Shoot Late

What I found interesting this morning, and on other mornings in iconic locations around the world, is photographers tend to turn up, shoot the classic shot, and then pack up and go.

After about 30 minutes, I was alone again. I suppose everyone else went back to bed or to find breakfast.

But for me, my competitive nature was on fire, and it was time to figure out how to be better than the rest!

I walked around, from one end of the bridge to the other, and back. Then I walked under the tower on the main city side. That’s when I noticed the ornate frescos lit up inside the tower’s curved ceiling. I’m sure very few people notice these because they’re too busy looking at just the bridge.

This morning the light was terrible, there was no colour in the sky and it was overcast. By now daylight was quickly approaching and as the deep blue sky slowly faded, it revealed the cathedral and all the ancient buildings around it. 

A unique shot of the bridge takes a little more effort

A Fresh Composition Reveals Itself

Walking around, I discovered I could compose a shot that included the architectural details of the tower ceiling framing the bridge and buildings on the hill too.

The result was an image of the famous Charles Bridge shot from a completely different viewpoint. To this day I haven’t seen a similar composition.

I managed to get a few shots before the light in the tower switched off and the ceiling frescos vanished into the shadows.

I achieved this all because I wanted to create a better, different image.

This lesson applies to every aspect of my business: The status quo isn’t good enough. Just because that’s how something has always been done, isn’t reason enough for me to accept it and follow suit.

I wasn’t done – I went back in the evening to shoot this low-angle view


Where Does the Competitive Spirit Live? Just Outside of Your Comfort Zone

There is a quote that goes, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

I have changed this to “Business succeeds when you continually step outside your comfort zone.”

What I’ve found over the years of running successful creative businesses is that we can put a lot of effort into actions that take us a step further, and that often results in regular work.

It’s like a trick we know how to do, so we keep repeating it. Soon, we get comfortable. We’ve mastered that trick and can take it for granted.

The fact is, we’re practically sleep walking. Our competitive edge has slipped away, because well, why bother? We’re good at what we do, so let’s just do that.

I think this is a terrible mistake.

Photo Mastery Becomes a Rut

We need to continually maintain a competitive attitude and keep pushing ourselves forward. Standing still actually means going backwards.

The reality is, the world keeps changing. Every day, there are new technologies, new ideas, and new competitors coming up right behind you. 

If you stop seeking creative challenges, your enthusiasm wains and eventually so does your relevance. Along with that goes your income.

Being competitive, doesn’t just mean being competitive with our peers and other photographers, but with ourselves.

Years ago, Apple summed it up for me in two words: “Think different”.

Simon Burn

Simon has been a photographer and creative director in the UK and Canada for over 25 years.

He worked with Andy for multinational corporations and brands before veering off to work on travel, tourism, food and lifestyle projects. Simon has travelled all over North America and Europe, working with consumer brands, tourism associations, and resorts. His work has been published in books, graced the covers of magazines, featured on TV; and he’s also worked with other photographers in the role of creative/art director and photo editor for publications and brands, in addition to being a photography competition judge.

In 2018, he started his own YouTube channel to share his love of travel and landscape photography and filmmaking.

ExploreDiscoverShoot is borne of Simon, Andy and David’s combined creative, business and technical skills, a strong entrepreneurial flair, and passion for photography and content creation.

The opportunities to work with other creators, share ideas, and promote creativity and knowledge, is a driving force with infinite possibilities.

Simon Burn

Simon has been a photographer and creative director in the UK and Canada for over 25 years.

He worked with Andy for multinational corporations and brands before veering off to work on travel, tourism, food and lifestyle projects. Simon has travelled all over North America and Europe, working with consumer brands, tourism associations, and resorts. His work has been published in books, graced the covers of magazines, featured on TV; and he’s also worked with other photographers in the role of creative/art director and photo editor for publications and brands, in addition to being a photography competition judge.

In 2018, he started his own YouTube channel to share his love of travel and landscape photography and filmmaking.

ExploreDiscoverShoot is borne of Simon, Andy and David’s combined creative, business and technical skills, a strong entrepreneurial flair, and passion for photography and content creation.

The opportunities to work with other creators, share ideas, and promote creativity and knowledge, is a driving force with infinite possibilities.

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