Why Inferior Photographers Are Doing Better Than You

What do Monet, Van Gogh, and Manet have in common? They were all underappreciated in their time, thus struggling with the poverty endured by so many creative artists. Why do such geniuses of visual craft have to cope with rejection and low sales of their work?

One of the oldest truths in artistry is that the most financially successful creatives are often the lesser-skilled ones. Those who lack skills to make quality photography sometimes excel in business relations, and this can drive better photographers crazy.

If you haven’t yet explored Tony and Chelsea's excellent vlogs, I’d recommend them. The thumbnail of a recent Tony and Chelsea video on this economic paradox reads: “Do nice guys finish last?” This episode details how photographers and businesspeople who are polite and easy to work with tend to do best economically.

When you look at it that way, nice guys should come out ahead.

The turn of phrase "starving artist" can become reality for talented artists who have inadequate business or networking skills. Photographers who write persuasive ad copy, have a slick website, and know how to market their work (even if mediocre) will often produce the best business results.

Vincent Van Gogh self portrait

"I should have gone to law school."
Image via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

For the freelancer who has been at it for decades, the success of seemingly unskilled competitors can be a slap in the face. But many of these seasoned photographers never take the necessary time to learn an essential business strategy. Unless the “starving artist" gets lucky or happens to find an enormous audience, they will fall into a pit of obscurity and frustration.

This topic has been discussed here at Fstoppers, but Tony and Chelsea's video is worth sharing, as their breakdown of elements that create smart marketing provides a clear, actionable set of guidelines for talented photographers who are simply struggling on the business end.

Do you have any marketing strategies to add to Tony and Chelsea’s recommendations? Please share them in the comments section below.

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15 Comments

Sue G's picture

Take Nice Pictures and Finish Last !
Be Profund and Rise with the Stars !
Ed Weston was a profound pervert in his day
but now considered a great photographer
with prints at $10K each.

Eric Robinson's picture

What’s good or not so good is very difficult to determine in the ultra visual age we live in, especially when photographs of potatoes can sell for $1000000, like the one by Kevin Abosch.

ROBERT MOSKO's picture

I think when you start judging others work as being inferior to your work, that you are a better photographer than someone else, is where a photographer needs to stop and re-evaluate themselves. Evaluating another as inferior helps your pride but stunts your growth in whatever your profession is. One can learn new things from those who are less experienced. Less experience does not mean inferior.

Saad Khan's picture

No it's not about re-evaluating but there are photographers'who don't have fundamentals in place yet are taking away business from others. I can assure you social media has a huge part to play in it

Dominik Vanyi's picture

I think above all it is to get your work out there and be seen. It has never been that easy to do that. But that is also the crux that the barrier to entry is so low. Here is an article about one possible, yet controversial way to get your work in front of lots of people.
https://medium.com/@dominik.vanyi/unsplash-how-to-get-your-photos-in-fro...

Zoran Grbic's picture

Sorry, don’t share your vision. There’s so much wrong with Unsplash that I don’t even know where to start.

Rod Kestel's picture

As an inferior photographer, I'm okay with this.

Joseph Balson's picture

I'm even more inferior and I'm also OK

A central issue here is the confusion between business and art in the classic sense.

We flatter ourselves that we are making art when in fact we are building on the insights and advances in representation that others have made to make an income.

This is not to say that great art is impossible today but rather the innovations which we imitate today were the result of a lot of time in the craft by obsessives who may have had scant financial success because that was not what was motivating them.

If you are failing at getting an income in photography you have to ask if financial success is your goal. If it is, the avenues for success are no secret but not everyone is willing to do what it takes. Nor does it mean it will make you happy. Remember, "Beauty is in the eye of the checkbook holder".

If making great art is your goal, nothing is stopping you. Great art does not result in great income automatically, never has.
If getting recognized for that great art is your goal then you have two jobs: Make great art and market the daylights out of it.

Breakthroughs and innovations come in many ways but the vast bulk come from those who work in the field for far longer than anyone else does. They are so far down the road of creativity the landscape is nothing like the one we live in. Kind of like discussing arithmetic with a theoretical mathematician. Some membership in the same club but entirely different understandings of what the meanings are.

Rob Mitchell's picture

Articles upon articles about not judging or comparing to others and then things like this. If someone is doing better than you are, they clearly aren’t inferior, are they?
Anyway, who are we to judge that we’re better than anyone else? They don’thave ‘award winning’ in their bio? They doing do a job the way we would do it?
Too much talking about it and not enough doing it will make anyone inferior, that’s for sure.

Eric Robinson's picture

In the days of fake news and social media never have the words of Plato rung so true......empty vessels make most sound.

Eric Robinson's picture

Ed Weston was indeed one of the greatest names in photography in the 20thC, though I fail to understand the ‘pervert lable’.

Leopold Bloom's picture

Monet was well appreciated - not at first, but towards the end of his life.

Scott Hussey's picture

To be successful in the photography business, you must first recognize that in the phrase "photography business" the word "photography" is merely an adjective.

The noun is "business."

If inferior photographers are more successful than you, maybe it's because they are better businesspeople than you are.

Richard Reed's picture

The fact that this video was put out by the Northrup's is such irony. I completely respect them as YouTubers and 'teachers', but their rise and success as photography subject matter experts pretty much encapsulates the point this video makes. Very meta.