Photography Success, Chasing The Wrong Dream?
What is success in photography? Jump online and you’ll find countless articles detailing strategies to effectively use social media, out hustle the competition, and build your online following. We’re told how to be successful, not what that actually means and if it’s worth it.
Defining photographic success?
For most, the idea of being successful as a photographer boils down to fame and fortune. This includes everything on the spectrum from making a comfortable living to making millions. The fame could be a large social media following or becoming a “Photography Celebrity”.
Honestly, there is nothing wrong with that mindset at all. Personally, I have days where I think it would be terrific to be able to have a huge photography income. It would be fantastic being an Official Fuji X photographer, Vanguard Pro, or any other such designation from my favorite companies. I’d love being known as an expert in my craft.
Seems pretty straight-forward, let’s do it!
Great idea! As they say, it’s all about putting in the effort. Not just any old effort though, this will require “hustle”.
I hate that term.
It reminds me of con-men and pool sharks.
Urban Dictionary defines it as follows:
To have the courage, confidence, self belief, and self-determination to go out thereand work it out until you find the opportunities you want in life.I need to hustle to make it as a musician.
You gotta hustle to get that job you want.
I read an article recently talking about the truth around “hustle”. The idea being that those big names and influencers talk about how hard they work, but we aren’t seeing the whole picture. We are only seeing a highly curated highlight reel designed as a marketing strategy. It’s not real life.
But, with no hustle there is no success!
Don’t get me wrong. To achieve that type of success takes a ton of hard work and dedication. I’m not here trying to convince you that it’s all a scam and that you shouldn’t pursue it. I just want to point out that that version of success may not be the only way to be successful as a photographer.
Put it this way. As much as I’d love those things I mentioned above, I also have days where the thought of that hustle and the sacrifice involved to make that happen terrifies me. Not because I’m afraid of hard work. Certainly not because I am looking for a magic shortcut to the top.
I’m just not willing to sacrifice family time to that degree. Which means, by the fame and fortune definition of success, most would say that I’ll never be successful. I don’t have enormous instagram/twitter/facebook followings, so the brands just don’t come calling. The social media game has left me feeling burnt out and exhausted just trying to build the humble little following I do have. I know it has impacted my creativity and at times stifled my voice and vision.
It’s forced me to re-evaluate the idea of success and what it looks like for me.
Success isn’t just fame and fortune.
Like I said, fame and fortune is what is commonly viewed as success. That’s the problem. Gauging success purely from a monetary stand-point is a bit foolish in my opinion.
My Dad has always told me that while he may not have the most money in the world, he feels like a rich man because of all he has. What he’s referring to is his kids(yep, even me!), his grand children, his family. Even though I feel the pull of temptation for the fame and fortune version of success, his words always bring me back to earth.
Success is often measured by outward appearances. The tangibles like money and perceived power. Those metrics that are measured up against other people on a scale of who’s better than the next. It’s superficial and doesn’t get to the personal level of satisfaction.
Don’t let your perception of success be based solely on the superficial.
While money and notoriety certainly have their place, success, to me, is more about my own feelings about the quality of my life. Am I happy with the work I’m doing?
Does it satisfy me?
Am I doing that which I find most important?
Do I have balance between work and family?
Am I happy?
Success is too often a matter of comparing bank accounts, Instagram followers, and titles. Pardon the language, but it’s the proverbial dick measuring contest. Mine is bigger than yours so I’m more successful. At the end of the day it. doesn’t. matter.
Of course we need money to survive, that’s not what I’m getting at. There’s a problem with letting others decide how successful you are based on their criteria. When we allow others to tell us if we are successful, we have lost our sense of self value.
That’s very dangerous territory.
It does nothing but breed a sheep mentality that quickly finds us simply trying to fit in.
We lose our unique vision and voice.
Worse, we lose our passion, joy, and happiness.
Even if we make millions of dollars and are famous, if we don’t change our mindset about success our self worth is not in our control. That’s when you find wildly “successful” millionaires suffering from major depression. They have everything we’ve been told makes a person successful, except they lack joy. Happiness is non-existent and their photography or creative work doesn’t satisfy them on any level.
People value them based on their money and their status, not for their personal vision or contribution to the craft.
You want success? Find your self worth and build value.
I saw this quote a while back and it’s really stuck with me.
“Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value.”
There is so much truth in that simple statement. Success can be superficial and fleeting. If you put all of your eggs in that basket they could crash to the ground tomorrow and leave you a broken shell.
If you focus on building your value as a photographer you still have a road of hard work in front of you. But it’s a balanced road built on a solid foundation. When you strive to be a person of value you are measured on more than your money or your following. You are measured by what you contribute to society. Suddenly your vision and voice have meaning and connect with people on an emotional level. Being able to have your art connect with even one person and impact their lives is more satisfying than any amount of likes or follows. Your family is then a valuable part of the equation, just as much as your happiness and satisfaction with the art that you are creating.
Be a person of value.
If you take time to build your value, your self worth, you can still be successful in the fame and fortune sense. The difference is that the fame and fortune is a by-product of a life well lived. It’s a bonus possible to truly enjoy because you’ve spent your life focusing on creating work that means something to you and to others. It also allows you to prioritize your work/life balance so that you can feel the fulfillment of a rich, full life.
It allows you to feel like the richest man, or woman, on the planet because that which is truly important to you has top priority. Not everyone has family they are close to so family isn’t everyone’s top priority. Your priority may be staying true to creating work that has deep personal meaning. Maybe it’s visual storytelling to let the voice of others be heard when they otherwise wouldn’t. It might even be creating artwork for those big brands that has so much of your own heart and soul in it that people can’t help but feel a connection to it.
It’s a cliche’, but it means staying true to who YOU are.
At the end of the day, I’d rather be a person of value than a person of success. I’d rather feel satisfied and fulfilled creatively, with work, and with family.Having all the fame and fortune yet feeling completely hollow and empty sounds miserable. As a creative, I want to always feel like I’m learning and growing. I may not always be happy with the work I create. That’s okay as long as I’m focusing on value as my ideal for success I’ll have a strong compass leading me. We can’t score a touchdown every time we touch the ball, but we can damn sure experience the joy of playing the game. Focusing on value over success means that while I’ll have some bad artwork and experiments along the journey, I’m pushing myself and trying new things. I’m not stuck in the box that everyone else claims are the steps to success.
The world needs more authentic voices.
The world needs YOUR unique voice, just as much as it needs mine.
It does NOT need more sheep just trying to fit in, becoming lost in a sea of endless background noise.
Focus on being a person of value and let being a person of success become a happy bonus you earn along the way.
I know, it’s another long one. Thanks for sticking with me!
As a reward, here’s some of my favorite images I’ve made recently. They are from an afternoon spent recently in which I was harnessing the gloomy snow filled day to capture a sense of the isolation of winter. In many ways they also kind of embody a feeling of standing out and just being me.
Enjoy and as always be sure to reach out and keep the conversation going. I’d love to hear from you.
All photos were created with a Fuji X Series cameras and lenses.
Images all processed in Lightroom Classic with the Rebecca Lily Premium Color Grading Pro Set IV system as my base for all of my custom processing.
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