Sometime early in the Fall of 2017 I had decided to take a chance and submit my application to become a contributor to Stocksy United. They had just opened up their doors for new applications after a few years of not taking on any new photographers and I jumped in feet first.
For those of you who don’t know what or who Stocksy United is, the super quick version is that they are a stock photo agency with a focus on the non traditional stock photo style.
In their own words:
Raising the bar—and the industry’s expectations—of stock photography and cinematography.
Stocksy is home to a highly curated collection of royalty-free stock photography and video footage that is beautiful, distinctive, and highly usable.
Truly, they have some beautiful work and a very talented base of photographers as contributors. Don’t take my word for it though, head over to Stocksy and browse their collection for yourself! Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
Hey! You made it back, pretty awesome stuff isn’t it?! Where were we… oh yeah, my application.
I submitted the initial 20 images they required, picking through some of what I felt would be in that combination of some of my stronger work as well as stuff that I thought might actually be salable.
Which brings me to the first thing I learned.
I had a hard time selecting my images. In part because it’s hard to edit your own work. I don’t mean edit as in lightroom/photoshop, I mean edit as in deciding what work is good and what is not, what fits and what doesn’t. But I also struggled because over the years my photo library has been neglected badly and things are not organized very well, something I’m slowly but surely working to correct now. Nevertheless I made the choices and hit upload, I added my tags and info on each image and that was that.
Then I waited.
This was the second lesson I learned: Patience.
Stocksy had been absolutely slammed with submissions and impressively they were taking time to review each application in detail, one at a time. It took a long time. In fact I didn’t get my rejection notice until early January, roughly 4 months after I submitted. Waiting is hard and I felt like I had very little chance of being accepted. Yet I waited, trying to be cautiously optimistic while feeling like that rejection letter would arrive any day.
I think we all could learn to practice this one a little more. Patience in today’s photographic society is largely non-existent, I’m no exception.
Patience brings Perspective.
While I waited, I thought about the work I had submitted. I looked at that group of images often. I started working through my huge back catalog of images that I had done nothing with and I did so with a slowly changing perspective. I started to see patterns, sets of images that my mind was now able to start putting together in these loosely grouped themes. Patterns of mistakes I seem to be making with my work over and over…
Most importantly, patterns of some things I really like about my work, things that I can build on as I clean up those mistakes. Like most photographers, I’m very hard on my own work and I struggle with feelings of self confidence in my photography at times. At times it can be almost crippling, to the point where I don’t even want to pick up a camera because my mind tricks me into thinking “Why bother, I can’t make a good photo anyways.” But, that isn’t true. That’s nothing more than negativity feeding negativity.
It’s a work in progress, but this rejection from Stocksy has allowed me to start shifting my mindset. We all have those doubts about our work, we see the flaws and mistakes. The key is putting our energy into getting better at not making those same mistakes without dwelling on how much we feel like our work sucks. This was possibly my biggest take-away from this entire process and I’m very thankful to Stocksy for inadvertently helping me to learn this.
Finally the day came when that email came through. Ironically, I had posted a tweet about waiting.
The worst part about waiting to hear from @StocksyUnited is trying to decide if I should post newer work on my own or save it up for submission with them if I were fortunate enough to be selected as a contributor!
So far I’ve been hoarding work with fingers and toes crossed 😬
— Dave Szweduik (@daveszweduik) January 12, 2018
Within 2 minutes I had my rejection email…so I had to update the tweet as I felt like a complete idiot!
Well, timing is everything lol! https://t.co/6bEApIMNBa
— Dave Szweduik (@daveszweduik) January 12, 2018
To be very clear, my tweet wasn’t what spurred the rejection email. That thought hadn’t crossed my mind! All I could think about was how I should have just been a little more patient. I felt pretty stupid about the fact that I received my rejection letter minutes after tweeting about being hopeful it would get approved.
But, something interesting happened.
Because the email was sent with that crazy coincidental timing, I very quickly had a follow up email pop into my inbox from the editor at Stocksy that had declined my application. She felt terrible and didn’t want me to think that my tweet had caused them to reject me.
I was amazed at that level of service and that they had even felt a need to reach out to me to let me know that my tweet to them was not what caused the rejection.
That follow up email she sent became the final lessons I learned in this process.
First, the importance of taking time to talk to and respond to people and how powerful that can be. Second, she was able to give me some great feedback about why I was rejected and you know what? It wasn’t because I sucked as a photographer or had submitted horrible images.
It was simply that they already had a lot of the type of images I submitted and were looking for something a little different. In fact, she took the time to browse my website and send me a link to a gallery of my own work that was what they were looking for at this time. She encouraged me to focus on more of that kind of work if/when I resubmit because they’d like to see more of that.
How about that, they actually liked my work. They just had too much of the subject matter I had submitted and encouraged me to re-submit, PLUS they showed me that I already have the style of work they are looking for on my own website!
I do plan to re-submit my application with new work. It may take a little time because I want to shoot some new stuff and it’s by no means a guarantee they accept my application when I re-submit, but I know I need to try.
It’s the trying, the failing, the picking yourself back up and learning from your mistakes, the desire to always push forward and try to be just a little bit better today than you were yesterday. That is what should motivate us as photographers and creators. I need to replace the thoughts of “not being good enough” with “push forward and keep learning”, because why dwell on the negative when there is so much positive to be enjoyed?
Funny thing, the more you push yourself to learn every day, to get better every day, to enjoy the positives…the more positivity you seem to find.
Here’s to searching for more positives as we create and thank you Stocksy for helping me to be a little better than I was the day before.