Matt examines the myths and misconceptions that surround the idea of being a successful photographer
Whether you’re discussing photography with your peers, reading an article or attending a talk, there are a lot of people out there willing to tell you why you and your images are not yet a success.
Without getting bogged down in quantifying what a ‘success’ even is, we thought we’d debunk why some of the most commonly used explanations and excuses aren’t things that should hold you back. That’s not to say they aren’t factors to consider, but they certainly don’t decide everyone’s road to success…
1. Myth: You need to be a master of self-confidence
Reality: We are all the biggest critics of our own work and we are all filled with self-doubt from time to time; some of us are just better at hiding it. It’s how you deal with bouts of low-confidence that determines the strength of the work that you produce, and in turn how you’re perceived by peers and clients.
Not everyone is naturally a smooth-talking salesman, and it’s ok to be more reserved in how you present yourself and your work to the wider world. Many professionals are quietly confident, while a lot of those who shout about themselves the loudest are masking their lack of ability.
It’s also worth remembering that a lack of confidence be a fantastic thing for developing your skills, constantly encouraging you to try and better your own work and push onwards towards greater things. There’s always room for improvement and there are always new approaches and techniques to try.
2. Myth: You need to own a certain DSLR / lens / your own studio
Reality: As photographers cameras and lenses are our tools, and as the age-old saying goes, only a bad workman blames their tools. Sure, having kit that’s well suited for a specific shooting situation can make the capture of a particular image easier, but if you take a creative approach, stunning photos can be taken with virtually anything.
Sometimes it can feel like we all need to own flagship camera models and a studio space in order to be deemed a success by others, but there are now hundreds of photographers around the world paying their bills using nothing but a smartphone. Let your images do the talking and ignore the tech heads.
3. Myth: You need to have lots of money
Reality: Like all industries, money can help to make things easier to achieve, but money alone isn’t enough to ensure success as a photographer and certainly isn't a prerequisite. You can’t buy an eye for a striking composition, an inspired approach, hard work or dedication to a subject matter.
The only thing you really need to invest in your work is yourself – remember that there are many photographic competitions you can enter (including our own #WexMondays) which are either free or charge a small nominal fee.
4. Myth: You need to take world-beating images
Reality: While in an idealistic world this might be the case, in the real one, just being better than average can often be enough. Many of the world’s most famous photographers are arguably not its best, but they are fantastic at marketing their work and networking.
With billions of photos being taken every day, stunning images get overlooked all the time. The real challenge is getting spotted in the crowd by the right people.
5. Myth: You need to have formal training and qualifications
Reality: College/university courses and workshops with pros can be a fantastic source of knowledge and can certainly help you to start moving in the right direction, but are they essential to success? Nope. The list of respected photographers who have developed their skills through practice and their own research is huge.
While having a respected qualification can help you give some clients confidence in you, ultimately it’s the skills you exhibit, and not how you acquired them, that will be the deciding factor for most people.
6. Myth: You need to have lots of spare time
Reality: Some of the world’s most prestigious photography awards have been won by images taken during commutes and lunch breaks, and many working professionals started their own photography businesses while also holding down full-time jobs. If photography is your passion, and you do it for the love for it rather than an instant financial gain, you’ll always be able to find the time to pursue it.
Of course depending on your chosen specialism, subjects may not always be on your doorstep, but potential projects closer to home are everywhere, and you could always try diversifying your portfolio in the quieter spells.
7. Myth: You need to shoot in Manual and RAW
Reality: Amongst some photographic circles there are those ready to quickly tear into anyone not shooting in their camera’s manual mode or with their file type set to something other than RAW, denouncing those who don’t embrace them as amateur.
There are also those who continually use these settings and couldn’t take a good image to save their life. Being technically proficient can undoubtedly help you to produce better images, but there are no ‘secret’ settings that have to be used for a shot to be deemed great.
Without naming names, I’ve met several highly successful pros who constantly shoot in Aperture Priority, and even one who revealed “It’s a rarity I ever leave auto.” The only people who care how an image was captured are other photographers, and they’re probably never going to hire you anyway.
8. Myth: If you want to be successful, you need to stop working for free
Reality: While there are numerous very good reasons as to why you shouldn’t make a habit of working for free, there are always exceptions to any rule. Whether it’s a personal project that you take on for fun and share with those taking part, a set of images that you shoot knowing they’ll raise the quality of your portfolio or something that you do charitably for a good cause, working for free can be a positive, rather than a negative experience. This remains the case no matter how successful your work has become.
While you should always be wary of working for “exposure” or “credit” on behalf of a client that you’d expect to have a budget, only you can honestly say whether a proposed deal is fair to both you and the wider industry.
9. Myth: It’s who you know, not what you know, that matters
Reality:Knowing a few influential people can get you a long way in photography, as in all walks of life, but all the contacts in the world won’t mean a thing if you can’t back it up with some substance.
By the same token, if you market your images in the right way, the internet is a fantastic place to widen your existing network and get yourself on the radar of thousands of prospective new clients. Being an active part of industry conversations and discussions online and at events, and sharing your knowledge with others will also soon see you at the centre of a circle of contacts and clients.
About the Author
Matt Higgs is Wex Photographic's Technical Editor for Photography. As a journalist he's worked for Practical Photography and Digital Photo magazines, and his live music images have been featured in numerous respected music publications including Rocksound, Guitarist, Guitar Techniques and Akustik Gittare. www.matthiggsphotography.co.uk.