I just finished the most important job interview I’ve ever had. It was for my dream job in photography. Man, they asked some grilling questions. They didn’t just ask me what my biggest weakness is or other canned interview questions. They asked relevant stuff that makes you sweat and makes you think — in that order.

They asked, what’s my greatest strength in photography?

Naturally, I said, “My skill at pressing buttons on cameras and computers is my greatest strength.” No, that’s not what I said. At least not today. Ten years ago, I may have been fooled into thinking that was true. I may have thought I was a good photographer because of my photos.

Levi, that’s dumb! What else could possibly make you a good photographer?

A finished portrait can only be as good as everything that went into it, right? Duh, that’s why camera work is so important. You’ve got to have terrific light and the right camera settings. You’ve got to have posed that person and made sure her hair was in the right place. You’ve got to be sure the light is positioned just so and that the camera is in the perfect position. Right? That’s the stuff that makes a great photo.

Wrong. That’s all button-pushing. Any monkey can learn to press buttons.

Your greatest strength can’t be sold

If button-pushing was all it took to make great photos, then I could have sold my business twice when I moved cities. I could set up in the mall and push buttons for all the moms who bring their families by. But rarely would I make a great portrait.

Great portraits come from great opportunities, and you only get great opportunities when you’re not behind your camera. Great opportunities come from making friends and peddling your business and helping people feel comfortable with you as their photographer. Those are skills that can’t be sold when you move.

Great photography has little to do with photos

When I was active in the Chamber of Commerce in my last town, I went to every meeting and helped set up and clean up and helped wherever needed. I had learned from David Zeiser that “being the best photographer in town has little to do with your pictures.” I learned that it has everything to do with being the person whom people want to do their photography.

After six months in the chamber, other business owners — who had never seen my pictures — would introduce me to someone new and say I was a marvelous photographer. Even though they’d never seen my pictures, they knew I was the person they’d choose when they needed pictures because I was helpful and kind.

You can’t make great photographs if you can’t get the opportunity. After I thought about it for a second, I told the interviewing committee that my greatest strength in photography is my interpersonal skills. My ability to make a flattering picture of anyone is second to my ability to convince anyone to be in a picture in the first place.

If you think about it, you’ll realize that your greatest strength has nothing to do with cameras, either.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.