What Makes You a Successful Photographer?

I once had someone ask me at what point did I know I was a “successful” photographer? Good question. Actually, a great question. In these days of a hard economy, competition everywhere, new technologies running at us, price pressures, is there a point where you say “Ahh, this is it?” Just where is the goal line?

So the question is: How do you know you've become a successful photographer? Before I give my answer to that question, I have to say that when you do find yourself a “success” as a photographer it’s not an overnight thing, where one job, one photo, one campaign, one event gets you over an imaginary line and- poof! – you’re a success. I’ve said it and I’ve heard it repeated by many other photographers that the road to success is a long road, takes time, and rather than crossing a border marker, you suddenly stop, look around, and say “Hey, this is it.” But be careful, it’s sometimes hard to spot. Some people have been successes and they feel they still have a ways to go. It’s always just around the next corner. They just need to work a little harder. Meanwhile the rest of us are fainting at their sight, because they’re Mr. or Ms. SO SUCCESSFUL.

It’s true that the ride is just as enjoyable as the destination, especially in this field. And the great part, we have photos to document the entire journey. It’s wonderful and magical to be able to see your work, your photos over an extended period of time. It’s the beauty of photography. Some photos are good, some great, some not so good, and a few really bad. And be realistic. If you don’t have bad photos, you’re just not trying hard enough. So how did I answer that question after more than 30 years of slinging a camera for a living? What I said was “When you can say ‘no’ to a job and walk away happy. Then you’re successful.” It’s a word that few photographers can say and I think as a result, we’re an industry that gets taken advantage of by clients. I did get to the point in my career where I did say “no” to bad deals. I was lucky to have a great agent at the time, the late Elyse Weissberg, who never questioned when I did. That’s when you know you have a good agent. When you can both say no to a bad deal and know you did the right thing.

Just say no!

                                  That's not a yes.

                                  That's not a yes.

Now you may say this sounds very simplistic, what’s the big deal? Well, too many photographers try and figure out how to work within a bad deal. What corners can they cut to make this happen? They don’t want to lose an assignment, even if it costs them money. I’ve seen photographers who work for a client, not get paid, and them accept ANOTHER job from that client, because “it’s a good job”. No lie, they get ripped off and then line up again thinking they’ll get paid. It is not in their DNA to say “no”. That chromosome was removed somehow when they became a photographer.

Just say no.