Photographers, Have You Heard Of The “Co-opetiton” Method?

“Everyone you meet knows something you don’t know but need to know. Learn from them.”
– C.G. Jung

One of my favorite things about the wedding photography industry is embodied in the Carl Jung quote above. Every single person that I have met in this industry, at conferences, workshops, in bars, at parties, everyone has taught me something.

photo by Jenn Nauss of Cooked Photography 

Sometimes I will learn a lighting trick or a technical thing about my camera I never knew it could do. Others have shared editing tips or the software that saved their sanity like JPEGmini did for my ever-growing hard drive collection. Some have just been a kind ear, or a soft whisper of “me too” when you feel totally overwhelmed and burnt out at the end of wedding season.

photo by Pring Yang of Dave and Pring Photography

In our home market of Calgary, Alberta we (my business partner, and wife Abby being the other half of that we) were introduced to a term early on in our career.


the process of working together to the same end while maintaining the condition of operating competing businesses.

photo by Lyndsay Greenwood of Lyndsay Greenwood Photography 

Co-opetiton is the model of how the majority of the photography industry works in Calgary. There are no (or at least very few) secrets that anyone holds onto. We share our pricing, our flash techniques, business models, marketing schemes, whatever it takes to see as many people succeed as possible.

We don’t do this to sink our own businesses but to raise our peer’s so that their success mirrors and supports our own. Another quote (because who doesn’t love quotes) often attributed to JFK and his speechwriter Ted Sorensen says it far better than I can.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats. – John F. Kennedy, Ted Sorensen

If your pricing is fair and reflects the value of your work as well as the state of your market, then there is little fear of undercutting or price gouging. If you are able to help a friend with a flash technique, perhaps they will help you out with an accounting by Dana Cole of Dana Cole Photography (

I don’t think that this is necessarily something that is unique to the photography industry in Calgary, but it certainly is something that we are doing our best share as I personally believe it is the absolute best way that we can all band together and share in the success.

And this methodology works beyond your local market as well, by making as many friends as possible in the photography industry you not only have a healthy and active local community, but you grow an intensely supportive international community as well. People who can help you out if your gear breaks on a destination wedding, or who can suggest locations for shooting if you’re on vacation, or even a couch to sleep on if you need one.

We are all stronger together than we are apart.

photo by Jeff Cooke of Cooked Photography 

Now, some of you may be shaking your heads and thinking “Dave, this is a dumb idea, if you give all of your ideas away for free then you can’t have success as a teacher or mentor.”

Au contraire mon frère.

We are still able to have workshops and mentorships as are other popular Co-opetitionists in Alberta (such as Two Mann Studios, DQ Studios, and many others). Just because you are sharing a few things here and there with people doesn’t mean that you don’t have more to teach. And people also appreciate your openness and want to support you by taking your workshop classes or signing on for mentorships.

photo by Abby Taylor of Abby Plus Dave 

And if you don’t believe me, then in the spirit of co-opetition I’ve reached out to my amazing international network of photografriends to get their take on this idea.

“Co-opetition, Is about building each other up for the whole community to thrive.  When we build better neighbors, partners, and competitors everyone wins.  We as the business succeed through building talents and education and sharing referrals. Clients benefit by being directed to well suited, available providers.”
Cole Hofstra of Cole Hofstra Photography in Calgary, AB Canada

“… we had associates for 5 years and then we realized it just wasn’t us. So we cut them loose and now we refer to them all the time. It actually is a good thing because we feel like we helped them succeed. We kinda feel like part of success is how many people you’ve helped along the way ya know?”
Matt Thielen of Thielen Photography in Lake Tahoe, NV USA

“…I got a text from another photographer (who is here in my city) and she said she wanted some feedback on some images she was working on. She wasn’t loving the outcome, even though the light for the session had been really pretty. Once she started editing, she started to feel like the images were lacking something and, in her eyes, were not getting better with edits, they were losing some of their quality. We agreed to take the time to either Facetime or text the images back and forth so I could offer my take on them. It turned into a really great session of offering support back and forth and, in the end, by working together, she was able to bring the images to a quality that she now LOVES! Then, we started talking about workflows, etc. AND, I actually told her about JPEGmini and how it was a game-changer. So, she’s buying JPEGmini now. All in all, it was a GREAT evening of co-opetition with both of us feeling a lot of mutual respect for one another.”
Nancy Critchley of Nancy Critchley Photography in Hay Lakes, AB Canada

Co-opetition is necessary for sanity! We all need to have colleagues we can lean on for advice without fear that they’ll bash our business to future clients. There’s so much potential business floating around, why not refer to trusted colleagues? It only helps us all succeed.
Haley Shandro of Shandro Photo in Edmonton, AB Canada

In a career that is largely independent and centered around myself as the owner/operator of a creative business, I’ve found it to be absolutely critical to my overall happiness and creative well-being that I cultivate relationships and even close friendships with other photographers. In this job, we don’t have the luxury of a built-in community at the workplace. So, viewing other photographers as a means to building a social and creative network rather than as a threat to our individual business is massively important.
Isaac Marshall of Wayfarer Studio Photography in Portland OR, USA

We’ve had so many good things come from being part of a sharing and supportive community of photographers. From creative trips to Paris and Rome, where we’ve pooled together to share models, and to learn from and inspire each other, to knowing that folks are willing and ready to step in at the last minute if one of us is ever taken seriously ill (and we’d do the same in a heartbeat!). There have been some years where the majority of our bookings have come from referrals from other photographers. And as we always say, who else would be willing to drink rum with us on a Monday night?
Christina Golian of Elemental Photography in Fife, Scotland

As you can see, co-opetition works in a number of different ways, and just makes us all better. So start sharing with others, or asking them for help with what’s stumping you because we all have something to teach and something to learn!

photo by Lanny Mann of Two Mann Studios 

In the spirit of co-opetition all photos in this post were taken by some of my amazing friends (and one by my wife) during adventures, parties, or conferences with other photographers.

You can check out our wedding work here: