It’s something we hear all the time. We know it’s essential to our brand. But how exactly do we go about it? The easiest way for me to explain how I learned to stand out is to tell you my own life story. But don’t worry, I’ll give you the condensed version.

I started out as a singer at age 8 and was in several boy choirs. We performed at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., for the President and sang for the Queen of England. This involved a lot of pressure and discipline from a young boy, especially for me. Over time, I moved up in the ranks to All-State Choir in high school. Afterwards, I received a scholarship from Southern Methodist University for their Opera Performance degree program. To me, it seemed that my path was clearly laid out for me.

All of that changed one day…
I had what I called a “young life crisis” and asked myself if I was doing what I wanted or what was expected of me. It was time to make a change. Several years later, I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Photocommunications degree from St. Edward’s University. My grades had improved and I was finally doing what I loved. So, for the next 15 years, I photographed weddings, portraits, commercial and editorial photography. All this time, I wondered if I had made the wrong decision to become a photographer and that I may have thrown away my opportunity with music. But someone told me something that would make me feel like I could stand out from the crowd. Something that would change my life.

Several years ago, I was teaching a wedding photography workshop and, at some point, had mentioned being a singer in a past life but apparently gave the impression to my class that both my previous life and my current career were completely separate. After class, a student asked me why I never mentioned my music background to my clients and why it wasn’t on my website. I had no answer for him.

That student explained to me that my opera and performance background made me different from other photographers he had met. He explained how that, instead of being ashamed of changing career paths, I should appreciate how it helped me to become the photographer I am today. I was dumbstruck. His observation stuck with me for weeks as I tried to think about my life decisions, my past, and my suppressed talents from a life before photography.

I began reviewing my photos and started to notice a pattern. My lighting techniques, posing suggestions, composition, interaction with clients… all were influenced by my past. Suddenly I was no longer ashamed and felt as though I had “found myself” again.

My stage experience had taught me about lighting and how to place people in a visual environment. Imagining how my subjects would appear on stage, it taught me how to pose them to create the best look from the audience’s perspective (or, in this case, the viewer’s perspective). My past skills had also influenced how I worked with people and helped me to bring out emotions to help them feel “in the moment” and “be themselves.”

As you’ve probably guessed, I can talk a horse into thinking it is a giraffe and have been known to talk so much during a session that I lose my voice from time to time (ironic, right?). However, by talking to my clients, I’m making them feel comfortable in front of my camera instead of feeling like they’re under a microscope. My loud voice also comes in handy when working with large groups.

Finally, both halves of my world had come together. No longer did I regret my past or my future for that matter. It gave me the confidence to realize I was truly unique and that I could “stand out from the crowd.”

Since that time, my philosophy of taking pictures of people is, “Whatever your client is feeling when you photograph them is exactly how they will feel when they look at their pictures.” If they enjoy the experience of the photo session, they will feel the same when they see their images. However, a nerve-wracking photo session will do just the opposite and they will remember that feeling when they view their images.

Although this sounds like more of a journal entry than an article, the point is to never feel like you don’t bring anything to the table today just because you were something else in a previous life. Never feel as if you are unqualified to take photos just because you didn’t own a camera at age 5. It is your unique past and your wide variety of life experiences that make you stand out, and your ongoing story that influences who you are today.

The longer I live, the more the phrase “never have regrets” makes sense to me. Sure, I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but I’ve also made some wonderful successes and success directly corresponds with life experiences… those ups and downs, everything you’ve been and everything you will become.. that make you stand out from the crowd.

So, search your past, search your mind, and search your heart. What you will find is that you already stand out from the crowd and you always have.

Dustin Meyer is an internationally recognized professional photographer based in Austin, Texas. An active Nikon Fellowship Instructor with a passion for educating photographers across the country, Dustin has taught at WPPI, ImagingUSA, and PhotoGenesis. His work has been promoted by Kodak in Times Square NYC, featured in USA Today, and awarded the titles of both People’s Choice Award and Judge’s Choice Award in 2016 by Adobe. Dustin will be teaching “Shooting Weddings and Making a Profit” at the 2018 Texas School of Professional Photography. For more information, go to: www.DustinMeyer.com or TexasSchool.org.