Redefining Success: What Truly Makes a You A Successful Photographer

Redefining Success: What Truly Makes a You A Successful Photographer

Success in photography is a fairly vague metric. Some measure it by the number of followers on Instagram, others by ratings on photography forums, and some people by the gear you use. However, none of these three things mean success. In fact, a photographer who shoots on the latest gear, gets 5-star ratings on forums, and has a million followers is not necessarily successful. Here is what an actually successful photographer is.

I had a period where I was really trying to measure my success as a photographer using the wrong metrics. I don't have a huge following on Instagram, nor are my images particularly liked on photography forums. If anything, I hear a lot of photographers saying that my work is fairly simple and anyone can do it. This led me to believe that my work is, at most, middle grade. This is because I was looking at it from a point of view that was not appropriate for measuring success. I am not the next Jordi Koalitic or Peter McKinnon when it comes to social media and photographer appreciation. If you are in the same boat, you might just feel better about yourself after reading this article.

Client List

Who is hiring you? Take this as an example. You are aiming to shoot for National Geographic, and the local wildlife magazine, as well as nature reserves, are hiring you. While not National Geographic, this is the right track to being hired by your dream client. The important thing is to have a clear distinction between who is your client and who is not. For example, someone who wants to hire you to do their LinkedIn picture, and your goal is to shoot wildlife for National Geographic, they are not your client. Unless they work within the wildlife industry and it is a good connection. This relates closely to another point in my article, niche. You need to have a distinct look and genre in your work; you can't be working with anyone who needs pictures in your city. Successful photographers have a very selective approach when it comes to taking clients and only work with the people who are relevant to the work they do. If the client is within the genre/industry you are pursuing, they are for you.

Soft Skills

Another trait I see successful photographers have is excellent soft skills. As photographers, we may be creating the most incredible work; however, at the end of the day, it is ourselves that we are selling. You need to be a memorable and ideally likable person. This means having empathy, being able to read the room, being approachable, but also not being shy to state your own opinion when asked. Things such as professional email communication, dressing appropriately, and being able to hold a conversation not about work also add to this. After all, when someone hires a photographer, they hire a human, not just a photo machine. Successful photographers are both great at their art and also good to be around. If you are like me, and your soft skills are not the best, seek help and work on it, as it will help you develop your ability to land more jobs.


As photographers, we rely on editorial content to show off our work. Be it portrait, fashion, landscape, or train photography, there is a magazine for everything. Be sure to note that it is not easy to get into the biggest magazine about any subject. People can easily spend decades before they shoot their first Sports Illustrated or Car magazine cover. Successful photographers have editorial publications all the time, be it in a small or a large magazine. The main thing is that the magazine is not read by other photographers, but the people interested in the subject of your photography. The reason I say this is because what photographers like might not be what the clients need. The amount of fake product commercials is there to show that. Just look up "epic product commercial" on YouTube, then look that product up on Google, and I promise you that the actual commercial looks nothing like the thing you saw. This is all because what photographers think is commercial photography has nothing to do with actual commercials. The analogy can be made with any genre of your liking.


Having a sense of zeitgeist and knowing if your work is relevant to today's market is another trait of successful photographers. Just look at how trends have changed in the past 20 years. We went from liking super smooth skin tones to almost no retouching. The list goes on and on. Epic lay-flat food photography got replaced by pop-art advertisements, etc. While you should not change your work to fit the pop culture, be sure to include elements of the visual style that is popular and steer in the direction of what is popular at the moment.

Niche and Style

Photographing in the style that you like is also a significant factor that contributes to your success as a photographer. Knowing what influences you and what you like seeing in visual imagery is crucial. Creating personal work that follows your visual aesthetic is one of the components that will help you book bigger clients and get more money. Take Elizaveta Porodina's approach. She considers herself an artist and photographs campaigns, editorials, and personal work in the same exact way and approach. The same applies to every other successful photographer. You should not be able to tell that it's a campaign if the photographer was hired for what they do rather than for the ability to set a light and press a button.

Don't Let Your Ego Get in the Way

One of the things I hate about modern success culture is the amount of feel-good content. It is crafted in the most generic way to make anyone feel good about themselves. This results in a bunch of lazy folks who just feel good about themselves. It's almost like watching a motivational video instead of doing something about your life. This article is not one of those feel-good pieces. I strongly encourage you to swallow your ego and be as humble as you can be. In other words, you are as special as the next person. Keep your ego down, and remain an approachable person. Even if you are told that you are great every day. Don't let the hype get to you. As an artist, you must question yourself all the time.

Closing Thoughts

So there you have it, success in photography is measured by the people you work with, your ability to sell yourself as a photographer, how relevant your work is in the current market, as well as which market publishes it. Last but not least, it is also important to have a niche and style, which are perhaps the most important factors to your becoming a successful photographer.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light. Illya's work can be seen in magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, and InStyle.

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1 Comment


I wholeheartedly agree that it is important to think about how we define success, and to not just go with whatever vague impression of success we have picked up from others.

However, I define success very differently than you do. For me, photography is all about personal fulfillment. Sure there is a need to earn some money from my images, but money and anything career-related has nothing to do with true success.

True success is determined by how I feel about the images I am creating; the level of fulfillment I get from those images. Do my images make me happy? Can I spend hours looking thru my archives and marveling at the wonders that I was somehow able to capture? Does the image I take match the image I had in my mind's eye when I was taking the photo? Did I accomplish what I wanted to accomplish when I set out to take a given photo of a given subject at a given place?

If I work with wonderful people and have great working relationships with them and sell a bunch of cover shots for tons of money, I am still not successful unless I am truly pleased with the images I have taken.

Conversely, if no one but me ever sees my images and I don't make a penny from them and I never get any positive feedback from anyone, I can be immensely successful, if the images are pleasing to me and if they match the vision I had in my mind's eye when I endeavored to take them.