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What constitutes photographic success? What is success for you? I’ve been asking these questions myself from the day I started taking images professionally. Here is what success in photography is.
So that I’m not accused of clickbait in the comments, I will say right away that I will not talk about some secret formula or share how I got the biggest paying clients in the industry. If your measure is the invoice total or client list, I’m not your guy. But read on, and you might find out how to see success without having photographed for Nike, Dior, or Pirelli.
I have yet to photograph a global campaign or issue an invoice with six figures on it. I openly admit that I’m not the “biggest” photographer in the world. Still, I see myself as a successful photographer. How is this possible? Shouldn’t I put my nose down and grind until I get to what I see as success? Shouldn’t we all just work work work until we “make it”? When do we even know that we “made it”?
Define What Success Is to You
Let’s define success first. I strongly encourage you to please take a break and write down exactly what success is for you. Return once you’ve done it.
If you wrote something along the lines of a concrete goal and defined it as success, this is an article for you. I also thought of success in this way.
Success = Happiness
Success is often thought of as a destination you have to get to. So is happiness. For the sake of the argument, I will link success and happiness together, as the two coexist pretty well. The general idea is that successful people are happy and happy people are successful. So, is happiness more than a goal? Naturally, if it is, it implies that currently, you are not happy, but after you pass a certain milestone, you will be. Same with success, you can’t consider yourself successful if you haven’t passed a certain milestone. That milestone may take decades to get to. I know for a fact that it will take me a few more years before I can even begin to say “I’m a big photographer.” According to “success and happiness is a destination” logic, I am neither happy nor successful. Yet, in real life, the opposite is true.
Are You on a Road to Success or on a Road of Success?
Success and happiness can be thought of as journeys. Instead of a road to success, it’s a road to success, a so-called successful ride. We enjoy things that are successful, so being on such a road will definitely make you a lot happier. No road is perfect; there will be pitfalls, roadblocks, and obstacles. Most of them will create something even greater for you. I know for a fact that I had the hardest time getting family photoshoots; I failed to get clients completely. Although at that point, I considered that a failure, that roadblock opened up a new path for me: fashion.
We Create Everything, Including Success
I said it previously and will say again: we create everything in our lives. So, when there is a roadblock, one of the best ways of approaching it is asking what’s right about it. Perhaps the universe is desperately trying to put you on a road to even more happiness than you have. Don’t refuse it, but don’t forget your agenda too. Balance the universe and your own work.
Happiness and success are also created by us. It is created from us having fun with whatever that is we’re doing. As a creative, you will know firsthand what this is. As a human too. These moments are very natural, they are also very creative. Laughter on photoshoots, crazy ideas, and silly jokes are all part of the fun we have as photographers. On a deeper level, fun comes from enjoying the process. Just like success is a journey, fun is too.
I started measuring success in terms of fun. Nowadays, how much fun I have is how much success I have. Allowing myself to be inexcusably me has led me to a lot more fun. I am a fashion photographer, but at the same time, I use this to my advantage, not as a limitation. I don’t refuse jobs outside of fashion because it’s not what I do. If a job outside of fashion seems to be fun, I’m more than happy to take it on. I’ll do it with my fashion eye.
Recently, I wrote about working for free as a photographer. I’d like to add to it: money is far from the only factor when deciding to work. Fun is sometimes the final piece of the puzzle. For me, it can sometimes outweigh the budget. As photographers, we consist of money, but also quite a few emotions. Emotion inspires us, moves us, and makes us think in new ways. I encourage everyone to ask themselves how much fun will they have at their next photoshoot. This was, for me, the first step towards moving forward in my work. I started judging less and creating awareness from each image. This translated into my life, and I’m glad to say it’s been quite a bit more fun since.
A Journey With No Destination?
You may rightfully wonder if having this mindset means setting no goals and letting the journey take you wherever. Goal-setting is a separate topic for a separate article, but I would like to say that having a goal is like having a choice between which road to take. Sure, you can go joyriding, but that would not take you farther. The final outcome is to improve while also having fun doing it. It’s not to have meaningless fun.
Closing Thoughts and Why I Am a Successful Photographer
The point of this article is to define success in terms of fun and not particular clear-cut goals. Goals are simply there to guide the journey; they can’t be the destination, though. So, if you are a little down, set a few short-term goals. Organize a fun project that will serve one purpose: have fun and get to the goal.
So, why do I consider myself a successful photographer? Because I grow every day, have fun on most shoots, and just enjoy the road photography is taking me on, all with my agenda in mind. It’s a free mindset you can always tap into, and when you do, it’s a superhighway of creativity.