What is Your Legacy?

A practical guide to finding your style

What is Your Legacy?

When you first find a passion, wherever it may be, there is so much excitement to create. Whether that is in photography, modeling, art, or music, there is something so exciting about exploring this unknown territory of creativity.

After a few months of excitement, however, more common than not, you will find yourself asking yourself “who do I want to be in this community?” If you’re a photographer, the question might be looked at as: Do I want to be a landscape photographer? Or a portrait photographer? Do I want to shoot black and white? Or color? Who do I want to be? What is my legacy here?

No matter how many answers you find to that question, whether you’re on month 3 or year 3, that question will always return again: Who do I want to be? What is my legacy here? We find answers, we make changes, something changes, and we ask again. So the cycle continues. During these times, we question ourselves. Always asking “was this the right decision?” After 6 years of being a professional photographer, and being involved in countless other art forms and businesses, I’m here to provide a guide to making the best decision so that you can go forth confidently and fulfill your legacy.

Step One: Honesty

The first step in deciding your legacy is complete honesty in asking yourself “What am I doing this for?” You need to be honest with yourself. Is it money? Status? The social aspect? To be creative? Just for fun? A mix of several of these? You need to know this first and foremost. For me, it began just as a creative thing to do with friends. But as I worked at it, I deliberately decided that I wanted it to be a mix of all of these. If you are unlike me, and are just doing this for fun and to be creative, then that’s amazing! That will be the legacy. There’s no need to read further. If you want to make money, grow your sphere of influence, connect with cool people, maintain your freedom/happiness, and be creative while doing all that, then continue to step two.

Step Two: Brainstorm

Next, list the forms of your art that you’d be happy creating and the styles in that form. If that was a little confusing, let me explain: If you’re a photographer then you might say something like: I love portraits. Within portraits there are close up portraits, fine art portraits, adventure portraits, lifestyle portraits, studio portraits, urban portraits, and many others. So decide what you like and then decide on a couple of the styles within that genre.

Step Three: Market Evaluation

When you decide what you are happy doing, next is to assess what the actual demand is for those styles of portraits. What you will do is find 5 to 10 of the biggest photographers of each of those styles and see what their following size is. So it could be: 5 to 10 of the biggest urban portrait photographers, 5 to 10 of the biggest lifestyle photographers, and so on. After that, find the average.

For example: if you find the top 5 lifestyle portrait photographers and there followings are:

225,000

182,000

101,000

82,000

76,000

Take those numbers, add them all up, and divide them by the quantity (in this case being 5). Added up they are 666,000 and divided by 5 they equal out to 133,200. After that you take the other categories and do the same. At the end, you might end up with a list like this:

Lifestyle photographers: 133,200

Headshot photographers: 67,000

Adventure photographers: 289,000

And so on.

Just to clarify, these numbers are completely random and for the sake of example. They do not accurately convey the real values of these categories and shouldn't be assumed to be true.

Once you have these numbers, then what you have is a good indicator of the demand for that style of photographers. The average of the most popular and biggest photographers in a given category equals the demand for that style. Bigger the average following, the bigger the demand. So if you’re doing this for status and business reasons, then this is an important metric and should be taken into account when deciding your direction.

Step Four: Mentors

Instagram gurus and Youtube heroes are great, but there’s nothing like meeting the greats in person and seeing everything for yourself. I never made more than $1,000 from a shoot until I saw a mentor personally make $10,000. Seeing it first hand changed me and so will it do the same for you.

Once you have found the style that has the biggest demand, take the top 3 to 5 in the style, the ones that really inspire you, and start trying to emulate them. NOT IMITATE. Don’t steal their ideas, but do your best to emulate the way they shoot, edit, and work. If you can, do a workshop with them, connect with them, and ask them questions. Find a way to get around them as frequently as possible. Whatever you can do to better connect with their energy. We become the people we surround ourselves with. Surround yourself with the greats, and you too will become one of the greats.

Step Five: Speculate & Differentiate

This step is the most important but also the toughest. You must deeply analyze the “why” of the success of the people you’re looking up to. Try and understand why they succeeded. What made them different? From there, try and brainstorm why those differences were important. Was it the timing? Was it the fact no one else was doing it? Was it because they were so much better than others? Was it just much more valuable than what others were providing?

Why was that differentiation so important?

After you’ve speculated, it’s time to decide what is going to make you stand out. Try and stay away from ordinary sayings like “I’ll be better than everyone else.” or “I’m going to be more active with my audience.” You’re a liar and full of it. There’s always going to be someone better with more time on their hands, some come up with a good and legitimate reason. For me, I came up with a phrase that I have in my bio:

“If you’re looking for something basic, you’ve come to the wrong place.”

For me, that’s my north star. 90% of the time, when I am shooting, editing, or planning a post, I ask myself “is this basic?” That is my test of if it’s on brand with what my mission is. If you want more of the psychology around why that phrase is so important, I got into great detail in my course, “Instant Influence” which you can check out by clicking here.

Step Six: The End

This is the question you must now ask yourself:

If I reached my goal, what are the ramifications of that?

For me, I always wanted to provide helpful knowledge to people, but I shot myself in the foot because the photos I take are of pretty women. With that comes assumptions about my character and my level of knowledge. It’s unfortunate but true. People who shoot the kind of content I do are less likely to get brand deals and appear credible in their line of work, however I they grow audiences quicker. That is the give and take. For some travel photographers I know, they get to travel all over the world for free and get great brand deals. On the other hand, many of them get very lonely and homesick. Their bodies never acclimate, they are always uncomfortable, and sometimes are put into dangerous situations without access to good healthcare, medical assistance, or even cell reception. The sad truth is that if they go home and stop traveling the brand deals stop, the audience stops growing, and everything they’ve worked for falls into shambles. These are the ramifications of those choices. For whatever you’re trying to do, make sure you consider all the ramifications that come with it. If you do choose to go with an industry that doesn’t have good longevity, make sure you have a good exit plan. Know your move afterwards and how that will connect to what you’re doing today.

Step Seven: Initiate

Now that you know your plan, you know your legacy. You have thought the idea out properly and you can go confidently forward, knowing that you have made a great decision. As long as you stick with that plan, you will never be led astray and, in turn, leave behind a legacy.

I hope this guide has helped you find what you're looking for.

Warmly,

Nathaniel

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Nathaniel Dylan Gerdes
Nathaniel Dylan Gerdes
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