As a small business owner, I have found that networking with other photographers to be extremely helpful to my personal and professional growth. I enjoy getting together with photographers who do work that I admire and run businesses with reputations that I admire and “talking shop.” As relationships grow it can turn into a safe space to talk about roadblocks that we all experience.
I sometimes look around at photographers I know in awe, thinking things like “how will I ever be that good?” or “how does she find the time to be such a superstar?” or “I could never blog that much so I’ll never be as successful as him”. I know it’s not advised to compare yourself to other but it’s a bit of an unavoidable human characteristic that many of us find unavoidable. Add a healthy dose of social media that is always showing us everyone’s successes, triumphs, awards, and amazing imagery that just seems to be getting better and better and it’s easy to start doubting yourself.
Recently, I was with a group of photographers that are very well respected in my region and somehow we all got onto this very topic. I was flabbergasted when one woman that I highly admire said how she often feels inadequate. She has a studio with an amazing reputation. She does gorgeous fine art work that people come from all over the world to commission her for. She’s highly sought after for bookings. I can’t fathom how she, of all people, feels like she isn’t “successful enough”. Everyone else I was with that night began to chime in. One feels like she won’t be successful until she wins more awards. Another until they get big name sponsorship. Another until they have a certain number of bookings each year, another until they get more social media followers. Name the reason and this group of photographers felt the pressure to be the best at all of it.
I couldn’t believe that these strong, creative, talented photographers (who by all accounts “have their stuff together”) were all struggling with the same insecurities of comparing themselves to what they see The Masses says is success. Somehow, we’ve created an industry where It feels like you have to have the best blog entries, the most bookings (at the highest price of course), speak in front of the biggest audiences, all while willing the most awards from the best contests in order to be successful. Well I call bull on that.
It makes me mad to see such amazing photographers and business people struggle with feeling successful when they are truly doing great things. And it makes me more mad that there’s this undercurrent that we all feel we need to conform to a certain standard in order for others to see us as successful. No one needs that kind of pressure on them. What good does it serve if we’re all trying to be successful in exactly the same ways? We’re an industry of vision and individuals who pride themselves on being unique, so how does us all going after the exact same benchmarks of success make any sense?
We should be revisiting the feelings we had that drove us to starting our own businesses in the first place. Why did you want to do it? Why did you choose photography to make a living? What is success to you?
For me? I wanted to do photography because I fell in love with how it made me feel. I chose it to make a living because I wanted to bring that feeling to other people. Success to me is having clients that are thrilled with the work I do for them, running a profitable business, industry peers that respect my work, and the ability to live a life that affords me a schedule on my terms, time to vacation with my family, and a home that I enjoy living in.
I feel that my answers are pretty simple. They’re certainly not in line with what the industry “chatter” would be saying is success, but I need to learn to let that pressure go, and I think many other photographers do as well. When I sit and listen to these photographers lament not being successful enough I ask, well, why do you want to win that contest? Why do you want to speak there? Why do you want to have that insanely high number of weddings per year? If the answer is anything other than because it is what their passion is driving them to do, then, I ask, why would you do it?
There are leaders in our industry who are amazing speakers, competitors, judges, business people, etc. and I suspect it was their own personal passion for their particular niche that propelled them to the top, not some oppressive feeling of what they “should” be doing because everyone else is doing it.
So the next time you’re feeling down on yourself like you aren’t ever going to be good enough, I challenge you to go back to those reasons why you started photography in the first place. Really think about what success means to you. Once you more clearly define that for yourself, you can set out on the proper path to get there. More importantly, you can stop beating yourself up for not living up to the “successes” that aren’t the ones that truly drive you. No one has time to waste unnecessary energy on things that aren’t their passion. You need all you have for what IS your passion.
Lisa is a D.C. area based wedding & boudoir photographer. Follow her on & check out her website.