There’s no single sure way to being successful as a photographer. However, there are a handful of examples around that definitely teach you what not to do if you want to attain success.
Success in photography has many different parameters and definitions depending on the kind of photography that you do and your own personal goals. There are people who consider overall financial gain and wealth to be their form of success. Some people consider growing a considerable audience and clientele to be their measure of success, and some consider their overall happiness with the work that they have done to be what makes them successful. No matter which one of those you consider to be applicable to you, these five examples of photographers prove to be the kind that you wouldn’t want to be like if you want to increase your chances of attaining success.
1. The Excuse-tioner
One kind of photographer that you don’t want to be like is the one who would make more excuses than executing anything. This can be seen in two different scenarios. A newbie photographer in the process of learning the craft who can not accept constructive criticism always finds excuses instead of taking the lessons from the critique. Someone who is just starting out in learning photography will always have room for improvement which is why they should not be expected to get top-notch perfect output so early on in their journey. At the same time, they shouldn’t expect themselves to get everything perfectly every single time right away. Making too many excuses instead of taking and acknowledging the learning points is a sign of being too stubborn to learn and inability to accept faults. There is nothing wrong with not achieving the ultimate best quality right away but the inability to take the lessons from feedback will be a major roadblock sooner or later.
In the professional setting, this becomes even more problematic. Even as professionals, one is not expected to always get everything perfectly with one try. However, as a professional, you are more likely to be expected to know how to achieve near-perfect work regardless of how many times you try. It is important to understand that clients come to us because of a need or sometimes even a problem and that they come to us because they need us to be the solution. Most clients would not mind how many shots you actually took during a shoot. Instead, what matters to them is that you were able to get a shot “good enough” to fit their need and virtually solve their problem. This means that clients will often give feedback to help us understand what they need and want, and the one response that will not work towards that desired result is an excuse.
2. The Full-Time Critic
Criticism can often be a good thing and can be taken as a great step toward being a better artist. Criticism allows us to identify the weak points in our output and allow us to find a way to improve that. However, there are pieces of criticism that can be counterproductive.
With the widespread popularity of social media and other online photography communities, it has become way too common to see “keyboard warriors” or simply people who spend way too much time on their computers or mobile devices giving unrealistic critiques of other people’s work. These critiques can either be overly nitpicking on one specific detail that sets aside all the good things about a great photograph, or statements that tend to impose their own personal taste on the work of others. While these people are commonly just ignored by the people they criticize, the reason why you wouldn’t want to be them is the fact that they seem to spend so much time looking at the faults of other people instead of actually enjoying being a photographer and working on their own progress. If you want to be a good photographer, spending more time online nitpicking on other people’s photographs instead of shooting and practicing will be totally counter-productive.
3. The Gear Collector
We all want more gear than we actually need and there’s nothing wrong about that desire. If you’d be given the chance to have way too much gear or even way too much money to spend on gear, it is safe to assume that most, if not all of us will accept it. There’s definitely nothing wrong if you want to be a camera gear collector. However, if you want to be a good photographer, the amount of gear you have will not make much of a difference if you don’t go out to use them and practice. Yes, having more gear options and every lens you might possibly need will help you especially when you have the urge to try new things but if all your gear rarely ever get used, that will not help you become a better photographer.
4. The Competitor
Being passionate about photography is definitely good. However, being too competitive can be detrimental. As photographers and as artists, it is totally normal to look at the work and the achievements of others that we may call our peers. It’s totally normal to look at how good a particular peer’s work is and aim to achieve the same quality of work. It is also normal to look at the success of another person and hope to achieve the same things. However, if you consider everything to be a competition between you and everyone else, that is going to leave a terrible bruise who your professionalism and overall personality. Being part of a community of photographers is a good way to have a reliable support system whether as an artist or an entrepreneur and having a personality that prevents you from finding happiness in the success of others will prevent you from having meaningful connections with people who can potentially understand your struggles and even help you in certain steps of your process. It’s not a competition unless it’s an actual competition. If it isn’t, you should commune, collaborate, and connect.
5. The Gatekeeper
Gatekeepers are often photographers who have gained either recognition or at the very least a lot of experience. In many instances, they are masters of the craft who can probably inspire new generations of photographers with their body of work alone. However, things go wrong when these experienced photographers treat newcomers as if they don’t deserve the same respect or as if their opinions and/or recognitions are not valid because they are yet to prove their worth. At the same time, gatekeepers tend to be terribly insecure with the notion that they deserve a spot on top of an imaginary hierarchy and they have to somehow protect that pedestal that they are on.
The term “gatekeeper” comes from the notion that they are closing off and protecting their territory from newcomers who “do not deserve” to be with them. While you may want to achieve their level of expertise or experience, the personal effect of being a gatekeeper can take its toll on your social well-being. This mindset prevents you from making real connections with peers and wastes your opportunity to inspire and share the benefits of the craft with others. No matter how young or old you are, no matter how experienced or successful, there will always be more to learn and things to improve. Even the most experienced artists can learn something new from a newbie if they open their minds to the idea of it.
One of the best things about being a photographer is the continuously expanding possibility of learning and becoming better than the artist that you were in the past. We become photographers mainly out of our desire to create valuable visual experiences for people who view our work and provide unique creative solutions for those who hire us. There are millions of individual ways you can achieve success and greatness both as an artist and as a person and none of those involve pride, resistance to learning, and stepping on others.
Great article. It pays to be nice everytime to everyone. That's how 'doors open'. And I have had a few from fellow photographers who couldn't make a particular event for their client they have in turn recommended me. Vice versa.
Thats true. There’s a world of possibilities when it comes to possible referrals or collaborations that you can get just out of being a nice person. Cheers, Peter! :)
I actually do want to be 3. The Gear Collector. I love photography and videography, and I love the technology.
Of course owning too much gear doesn't make me a better photographer. It just makes me a happier photographer.
And it also doesn't make me a worse photographer.
Totally. Wouldn’t mind being a collector either but I’ll be sure to put them to good use.
I never understood the gatekeeping stuff. If you like a profession or hobby then why destroy it with gate keeping. Do they believe that they are single-handedly spending enough money to keep the industry afloat?
Do they feel that the world will flock to them if the rest of the industry dies?
As for excuses and critique, It is rare to see on many forums, though often when I have seen it happening, it was from a beginner who wanted to respond to everyone but some people would hyper focus their critique on aspects that were more due to gear limitations, instead of recognizing it and looking past that and focusing on the shot the individual was trying to get (provided they included info on what they were trying to capture) as well as guidance that can help them in getting the right tools for the task. When done well, good critique that didn't seek to just emotionally destroy the individual, ended up helping them greatly, while the bad ones, turned the reply section into gear talk.
The gatekeepers never think of their effect on the industry. As long as they remain on top, even if the boat is sinking, they don’t care about lifting others up.
The gatekeeper is the worst. I've worked with some well known photographers who have this exact mentality. I'd also add the "One-Upper" to this group. They are people who instead of letting your story shine and recognizing a cool experience, they have to share their story that mimics yours. Sometimes it's another story that adds to your conversation and it's appreciative but other times it feels like a more narcissistic comment meant to bring the topic back to them.
I know we are all guilty of this to some degree because it's a simple way to add value to ourselves. My way of combating it in my own life is if someone knows me or comes up to me, I'm totally aware they probably know some of my travels and stories already and I intentionally try to not talk about myself. You can also help by asking questions you might know the answer to already in hopes of letting the other photographer elaborate and share more of their story. It's almost like being a wing man in secret and allowing them to build up their own self worth while sitting in the passenger seat.
I absolutely agree. I’ve had my fair share of experience with both gatekeepers and one-uppers and I’ve learned to embrace shedding any trace of being competitive myself so most of the time it doesn’t really matter anymore.
In any endeavor, you get more by giving and you go further up when you lift others.
This is a wonderful article. Well done.
Thank you, Javier! :)
One of the best articles I've ever read on what NOT to be in photography! Well done! And I agree with all of it!
Thank you, Jack!
I’ve been, and likely continue to be, guilty of most of those in some way or another. Good reminder for introspection.
Great article! The Competitor and the Gatekeeper are the absolute worst imo, both would go like 'Oh, you work with Photoworks instead of Photoshop, that's nice. I've started with Photoshop right away though cause simpler programs won't get you anywhere, you know?' and it's exhausing. This is not a competition, nor is an amateur a threat to you, calm down maybe? I believe this kind of behaviour stems from insecurity and constant need of validation, hence the competitive/gatekeeping gestures.Not a good thing in a professional field at all.
As a military photographer, almost everyone in my office (including myself) fits most of these categories, or has at some time.
Most new guys love the "I would have used a flash but there was no time" or similar.
We also have what some of us call 'bully sessions' where we each pick a colleagues recent work and pick it apart. It's a very honest session and generally we start with something of our own and bring up points we could have improved on before some very harsh truths with others in the room.
We're all pretty competitive. At least the ones who are still aiming to be the best are. We all want to make the next hit video on our military social media pages.
The competitiveness and brutal honesty took a bit to get used to. The first time my boss reviewed my photos, he said something along the lines of "that sucks, that sucks, that sucks, that's a sick shot! that sucks..." (With more colourful language)
But part of our job is to make quick decisions to get your best stuff published on socials immediately.
We'd discus what could be improved next time and go through plenty of training. Gatekeepers really don't exist at our work.
Our selection process for bringing people into our public relations service isn't even based on photography. Coming to our corps is based on a one week trial where you just need to be able to take a well exposed shot that's in focus and the rest is just about whether or not you can take criticism and use it to improve..
Oh, and even though we get an abundance of top end gear provided, we're also all obsessed with buying more and more for ourselves.