As the business of photography becomes increasingly competitive, it’s important to take a step back and look at your overall plan for success. Producing terrific pictures isn’t enough. If you’re an independent photographer then you’re also a small businessperson. In order to continue to be able to produce pictures you need to sustain yourself financially. If you’re new to the industry, you should understand what it takes to thrive in the business beyond creating great images. If you’ve been a professional for a number of years, it’s useful to reflect on how strong you really are in the areas that are important for your continued success.
The most important factors that determine your ability to succeed as a professional photographer are:
In our warm and fuzzy moments, we like to think that all photographers are brothers and sisters, facing the same challenges together and fighting the good fight. There is truth to this, but photography is a highly competitive business. To a large degree your success will depend on your ability to out-hustle your fellow photographers. It helps if you really love the process of creating images. Here’s a test: Do you view getting out of bed at 3 a.m. to catch the early golden hour an opportunity to create great pictures or an inconvenience to be avoided if at all possible?
The importance of a strong work ethic also applies to the other activities required to succeed as a photographer, such as networking, marketing, improving production workflow, etc. As an independent photographer there is an unlimited amount of work that you can be doing. Are you willing and able to work harder than other photographers?
The Right Personality
Your ability to be successful as a photographer depends to a large degree on how well you mesh with the culture of your chosen field. For example, a fashion photographer’s personality must fit well in the fashion industry. Can you interact with models, designers and fashion editors as a peer? For commercial photographers, is your personality a good fit the dynamics of an advertising agency. For wedding photographers, are you the ultimate “people person” who can relate well with almost any personality type and stay calm under emotionally charged circumstances?
Looking at it another way, if you weren’t a photographer could you still see yourself working in another, undefined role in your area of specialty? In most cases, you need to be part of the culture of your chosen field first, a photographer second. How well do your interests and personality match your area of specialty?
Do you know how to effectively promote yourself and your work? From a business perspective, if nobody knows about you then you don’t exist. All the talent and hard work in the world isn’t enough for to you to succeed if you can’t get the word out. If you don’t know how to market yourself properly, learn how. If you already have a successful marketing program, make sure it’s nimble and constantly look for ways to improve it.
Solid Business Skills
Good business practices won’t make a lousy photographer successful. But the best photographer in the world will fail to earn a living if they have lousy business practices. Fundamental business management tasks such as creating budgets, managing cash flow, reading balance sheets, and evaluating contracts are crucial to any small business. Unless you have sound fundamental knowledge about how to run a business, are willing to learn how or can hire someone to do it for you, your chances of having a successful career as a photographer are extremely slim, not matter how good your work.
Talent is a reflection of your natural gifts as well as your dedication to honing your craft. It’s important for success but too often talent is over emphasized. A mediocre photographer with a strong work ethic who fits well in the culture of their chosen field and has marketing and business savvy is much more likely to have a successful career than the most talented photographer who fails in the other key areas.
There’s a lot more to being a successful photographer than taking great pictures. How highly do you rate yourself in the other important areas? Where can you improve? Can you improve enough? The honest answer to these questions is a predictor of your chances for long-term success as a professional photographer.
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