The Top 4 Factors That Determine Your Success in Photography or Any Creative Field

So, you want to be a successful photographer? Or retoucher? Or art director? Or just about any other creative field imaginable? It is a treacherous road, ranging from emotional bliss to hopeless depression. Be prepared to battle the fiercest of foes with nothing more than obsessive determination and your arsenal of skills.

There is a tremendous challenge in building a successful career in any creative niche that almost always comes down to four primary factors. In order of importance, they are:

4. Talent

It is pretty obvious to most that talent plays a crucial role in your ability to build a creative career. You have to be fairly good at what you do in order for customers to hire you to do it. What most people don’t realize is that there is a lot more to talent than just some base skill that you are born with.

Everyone enters their field with a different level of innate talent based on their own individual growth throughout their life and the creative capacity of their minds. However, just like the muscles of athletes, talent is something you build.

A natural athlete who never strives to improve their physical capacity is no athlete at all. Furthermore, someone who is not naturally athletic but puts tremendous effort into building their physical capacity can become very successful.

Talent is exactly the same; it’s not some mysterious entity that we are gifted with (or not) at birth. It is an ever-changing aspect of self that we earn through the determination to improve our craft.

One of the best ways to build your talent is to invest in the education to advance your mastery of your craft.

3. Luck

It would be folly not to accept that random chance often has a role to play in the development of your career. It is unavoidable: being in the right place at the right time can often springboard everything you have worked for to a completely new level.

I have a secret to tell you, though: luck isn’t actually all that much about random chance and getting “lucky.” Virtually everyone experiences good luck and bad luck. The key to being lucky isn’t in some mysterious power that you have no control over.

Those who seem to be “lucky” have three very real skills that they have developed to make random chance work in their favor.

Lucky people stack the deck in their favor. Being in the right place at the right time begins with being in the right place. Lucky people know this and become skilled at putting themselves in places where they are likely to encounter the opportunities that luck seems to bring.

Lucky people know how to make the most of good situations. We all encounter many fortuitous opportunities that make an impact in our own lives, but most of the time, we drop the ball and don’t take advantage of them. Lucky people know how to best maximize the benefit when Lady Luck comes calling.

Lucky people know how to minimize the fallout from bad situations. With good luck also comes bad luck. Everyone has it. Yet, some people never seem to get unlucky. This isn’t because random chance always seems to favor them; it is because when lucky people get unlucky, they have mastered the ability to mitigate the poor luck so that it doesn’t have nearly as much negative impact.

2. Sales/Marketing

You could be the most talented artist who ever lived, but if you can’t convince anyone to buy into your work, you will be forever poor, just like many of the other great artists the world has seen over the centuries.

Being a great creative does not guarantee success, but being a great salesman almost certainly does. I’ve worked at and with many creative agencies in my career and one thing has remained consistent throughout: the agencies that are successful almost always are run by entrepreneurs who specialize in making sales.

Some people are born with the bravado of a great salesman; others are not. But that doesn’t mean you can’t earn that skill. Others certainly may seem to have it easier, but that doesn’t really change anything for you. If you want a successful creative career, you need to learn to master selling both your work and your ideas.

This video is a great place to start!

1. Hard Work

You probably have started to notice a trend in the first three factors, which is that they are either entirely or mostly under your control, if you are willing to invest the time and effort into making the most of them. That, among countless other reasons, is the reason why hard work is undoubtedly the most important factor in being able to find success in a creative field.

The best advantage you can arm yourself with is the willingness to work harder than your competitors. Don’t go home at the end of the night and lounge around watching Netflix and don’t sleep late on weekends. Invest as much time as you can physically and psychologically manage into your career or you may lose your chance at success to someone who works harder.

That said, maximize the effect of your hard work. Just because you are putting in the time, that doesn’t mean you will be able to reap the rewards of it if you are investing that time poorly. Be smart about how you are working. Work hard on things that are likely to pay off and be keenly aware of things that carry a tremendous burden of effort, but offer very little benefit in return.


Your success is in your hands; so, make every effort to maximize it. Remember every day that success is a journey, not a destination. It is the byproduct of how well you learn to master your own choices; so, don’t ever give up, only get better!

I will leave you with a quote by Sir Winston Churchill:

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Now, get out and start making success instead of waiting for it!

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Scott Weaver's picture

Forgot to include: they like working with you.

Ryan Cooper's picture

That isn't nearly as important as it may seem. Certain niches, for sure, but there are so many industry leading creatives out there who are notorious for being a nightmare to work with.

Justin Sharp's picture

So very true.
Great article.

Chris Adval's picture

The talent part is very subjective, but honestly some photography businesses' "talent" is the business and not the photography sad to say.

Chris Adval's picture

Let's not forget networking, not sure if thats part of the sales/marketing but I've seen some photographers become an overnight success by knowing "famous" people or just people who have a lot of pull to give your career a thunderbolt!

Chris Adval's picture

Sales, I agree it is important. Heck I may need to get a creativeLIVE course or something for the photography industry. While I did watch the free live ones like for senior portraits, and even got a book with it. It just seems like the best salesman are the very aggressive ones. To me personally I strongly dislike them and this tactic and finding other tactics that are strong or stronger than aggressive sales techniques has been tough.

Chris Adval's picture

"“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Now, get out and start making success instead of waiting for it!"

I totally agree, but honestly sometimes the lack of funds can dramatically slow down your growth such as to marketing and only relying on "free services" like some social media. Heck even marketing/advertising services that cost only $50 a month on total budget still won't be enough to "get out there" and be able to compete over your competitors as to level exposure, EVEN if you have a superior product (image quality) and services (customer service). Even working in a weak market where your prices and quality will not be justified and you have the only option of moving or re-educating that market in the years and years to come.

Doc Pixel's picture

In reply to all of your above posts: Chris... I really do hate to say it... but you are your biggest wall to any success, regardless of your work ethic or talent. You just wrote 4 posts why you "can't". Do yourself a big favor, and tell us... and yourself... why you "CAN". OK?!

Chris Adval's picture

I can say anything, but I have to put myself into reality. Everything needs money to move. All I can do is use any resource I have that doesn't cost me any money or very little money compared to my competitors I am no match as for resources and exposure to reach my audiences. Even though a lot of people say quality trumps everything, which I totally agree, but the markets I'm in disagrees and prefers the relationship/networking builder to do business with. Which I can do, just accessing the key people to network with is not free, and would be a bit awkward to do that old school door to door thing. It sounds like excuses, but I prefer to live in reality. So all I can do is wait until I have cash to risk with my business which is very rare.

Doc Pixel's picture

Awkward? Really? That's your excuse? The only way I can see that being somewhat embarrassing is if you've already made claims that you can't truthfully backup with your work ethic or portfolio.

Tip: make it a point to go out at least 2 (3 or 4) times a week to talk and meet people. It doesn't have to be a big wig... it doesn't have to cost you a lot of money (bus fair), take your camera along for the ride... and start SHOOTING anything and everything (except little kids!). You'd be amazed at how many people are attracted to someone with a camera and will start talking to you without having to hit on them first. Did ya make sure to print some cards, maybe a small accordion-style credit card portfolio of your best work? Get it into the hands of people.

I mentor a lot of young folks and run across the shy types quite often. The only way to stop being the shy-type is to tackle your fears head on.

Writing about them and serving up excuses is not getting you anywhere, is it? Proclaiming your "right" to state them HERE.... is getting you nowhere.

Maybe my tip will? But that's up to you now isn't it?

Cornelius van Schaarn's picture

Captain Obvious to the rescue!

Jennifer Kelley's picture

I will be the first to tell you that I'm absolutely horrible at marketing myself as an artist. You need a business consultant or a project manager? Here's my resume and I'll talk your ear off about how wonderful I am. I've never not been offered a job or opportunity after a meeting or interview. I have some mental block when it comes to art or something.

Ryan Cooper's picture

If I had to guess there mental block is probably that you "doubt" the quality of your work so struggle to sell it with confidence because you have a lack of confidence in it. It is pretty common, unfortunately, and one I share.

Jennifer Kelley's picture

I've considered that possibility and I don't think that's it. My CV is pretty solid, I have a good education, and good portfolio that I'm constantly working on. I think it may be because I'm not a full time photographer and am not going after commercial/editorial work which ironically is probably where I'd excel at the sales pitch. I prefer to have pieces in galleries and shops in high tourist areas, to work with architects and local governments for documentation, etc. But I know the architects and local governments through my actual job or the gallery and shop owners are flighty and looking for something so specific I either have something they want or I don't. I have a notebook full of projects that I've either thought up or am currently (and slowly given that I have a full time job) working on. If I could get in front of someone to sell a project, I'd be golden.

Ralph Hightower's picture

Some of the factors in the "Luck" section could be attributed to preparation. But for outdoor shoots, weather plays a big factor as Lee, Patrick, and Elia encountered during that dismal photo shoot in New Zealand (Episode 7)

Geoffrey Badner's picture

Talent should definitely be 4th on this list. I also think that "being nice" should be on here somewhere. You can be a hardworking, talented, lucky bastard who could sell ice cubes to an eskimo, but if you're an ass nobody's going to want to work with you... either as your client or on your team. I've seen several photographers fail for this reason. Talented guys too.