Keep Up, Jones!

Profile of a Cousin by PhotoGraphicGirl
Profile of a Cousin, a photo by PhotoGraphicGirl on Flickr.

For five years I ran a large photography Meetup group in New York. One of the lessons that I took from the group still resonates with me today: Don't bother to try to keep up with the Joneses.
If you haven't heard the phrase, "Keeping up with the Joneses," it basically means that you're trying to advance yourself at the same rate as others in your life. Which, for most of us, is a pointless endeavor because everyone's life is different, with different challenges and needs.

I recall countless members purchasing new equipment when they hadn't learned how to use the previous piece. Not being a professional photographer, I often said nothing, but tried to absorb the information they'd happily give, and I'd be grateful for that.

Most recently I realized that I too was trying to keep up with the Joneses, but not with equipment... with the end result. I'd peruse galleries on various sites, find another photographer to idolize and try to replicate the look of their images when shooting my own. All in the name of education and advancement. Well... keeping up with the Joneses.

What a frustrating endeavor.

The result of trying to keep up with the Joneses was usually an awkward result that never past the line of amateur into professional. You know what I mean by "professional," the feeling you get when you see a professional image? It makes you feel almost celestial. You realize you're thinking more about the subject or circumstance of the photo than the technicalities of the image.

So I took some time to examine my photos over the years. Turns out my ninth-grade photos from 1986 were better than some that I shot during my years with the photo group. Why? Because I was paying attention in high school. I had a thought process. I concentrated. And the photos were mine. I wasn't trying to make images that were similar to others'. But while shooting with the photo group, I was gunning for quantity. There. I said it. Quantity was what the Photo Joneses were worried about, and I fell into that trap.

While I miss most of the members of that photography Meetup group, I don't miss the feeling that if I didn't shoot and upload over 150 images, then I failed. I don't miss the equipment comparisons or uneducated, over-arrogant photo critiques.

If you find yourself with that anxious feeling that technology is getting away from you, I urge you to stick to your guns and take your own path. When I left the photo Meetup, most of the members weren't very happy; we knew the group would never be the same. But I saw the amount of time that I was putting into the group, and I knew that it was time I should have spent not on quantity, but the quality of my images.

The entire scenario reminds me of the famous Robert Frost poem:

TWo roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

When you find yourself saying, "... but THIS is what everyone else is doing..." go the other way. Take the path less traveled. It'll make all the difference.

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