Why Some Professional Photographers Aren't Successful

Have you ever wondered why some photographers have excellent photo-taking skills but can’t seem to get any business? Or perhaps you've noticed some photographers don’t seem to have adept technical skills but are getting a bunch of business. This may be why.

I’m sure we’ve all come across successful photographers within our local market with lots of client reviews and what looks like seemingly mounds of business who have, to say it nicely, less than stellar portfolios. We’ve all also probably come across photographers whose work we admire, but who can’t seem to get any business — or worse, we’ve seen photographers with exceptional photo skills who’ve given up on running a professional photography business because they weren’t able to bring in many paying clients. There is a distinction here, I’ve realized.

Three Types of Photographers

I’ve noticed, within the world of the professional photography industry, there are three types of photographers. 

  1. Photographers who are great at running a business, but haven’t taken the time to master their skills.
  2. Photographers who have mastered their photo skills but haven’t taken the time to learn how to run a business properly.
  3. Photographers who have mastered both their photo skills and how to run a successful business.

Of the three, which do you think is the most successful? Obviously, the third type, photographers who have mastered both their photo skills and how to run a successful business, are the most successful. This is because running a successful photography business requires the photographer’s attention be split between continuing to grow technically with photography as well as improving business knowledge and best practices.

The Many Hats of a Professional Photographer

In his book, "The E-Myth Revisited," author Michael E. Gerber outlines why most small businesses fail: it’s because when we go from being a person with a passion for something we love that we want to turn into a career, we go from wearing one hat (the photographer) to wearing multiple hats to make our business work. To be successful in professional photography, we also have to learn how to manage ourselves, our time, and our business, and we have to become an entrepreneur. This can be hard for anyone who doesn’t have a business background or a business mindset. However, if you want to be successful with running your photography business, you have to adapt.

How to Make Your Business More Successful in 2018

Are you one of the photographers I mentioned earlier who has focused mainly on improving your craft and not on growing your business knowledge? This may be one of the leading causes holding you back from having a more successful photography business. Taking time and learning some of the business aspects of being a professional photographer will ultimately help you to run a more fruitful business. It will help give you a clear vision for the future of your business and will help you attract the type of clients with whom you'd most like to work.

What has been the biggest struggle for you in transitioning from a hobbyist to a professional? Let us know in the comments.

Lead Image by Gerd Altmann via Pexels.

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thomas Palmer's picture

Luck is also a thing, you can sometimes just not be the right person at the right moment :/

Dave McDermott's picture

That is true. I got my first paid job with a clothing company after the original photographer cancelled. The model involved was someone I had worked with before and she recommended me. That led to a few other jobs down the line.

Vincent Alongi's picture

I'm a believer in creating your luck. That comes with preparation, relentless drive and networking with the right people. Networking and marketing to the right audience through the right channels. While chance may play a part in meeting the right people, the difference can be cultivating a great relationship with everyone you possibly can. Time being a factor in everyone's life...

I shot a young model. Who had put in a good word for me with a fashion photographer, which led to getting an invite for fashion week (ok, not paid); but it opens doors in building up a portfolio and meeting the right people. Now, it's time to cultivate from there. Taking pictures of pretty people is much better advertisement and better for your website than taking pictures of average looking people.

I'm an amateur, 2 years in from picking up a camera and shooting pictures of ducks and lakes. I have designs on 2018 being a key year for portraiture and modeling. The goal is to commercialize myself through relationships, word-of-mouth and building up the visual resume. But the business side... yeah. That's the secret sauce.

Jannick Clausen's picture

I would definitely put myself in the number 2 type of photographer. I’m currently working on a new website and got a business coach to help me turn things around

Paulo Macedo's picture

Well, I've somehow mastered the photography thing. I believe my folio is good and I can almost shoot in any situation. Years and years of practice.
But as for business, I've actually created a website, facebook page, group. But somehow I can't get a client. It's been like 3 years since I photographed my last wedding.
Can't seem to understand what I am missing, specially when I see poor porfolios making big money.

thomas Palmer's picture

I could take a look at your website, but probably the problem is in marketing in the right places

Paulo Macedo's picture

Which places you believe to be good? Some help would be nice. But remember, I'm on a completely different geography. Europe, Portugal.

thomas Palmer's picture

I'm in france but I don't believe it's much different. The good place is where your audience is, period =)

Kyle Van Alstyne's picture

Im a successful photographer I would say but just not a savvy business person. I have tried to make that step to be both but it's hard. I just try to be open to things and that works on occasion.

Jason Lorette's picture

I think I sit firmly in the "trying to get better at both at the same time"...

David Peruzzini's picture

Yes luck is also important, money and funds also, I had a friend who bought white lightnings years ago, 3 units all top line, all the accessories, softboxes etc, something that at that time i couldn't think to do with young kids and a growing family. His first job was through a work friend of photographing a large gospel choir, everyone bought multiple prints (it was that long ago, negative film). No one in a large group such as this bought 4x6 prints because you couldn't make individuals out as your head size was so small, so 8x10 and up were the norm. He paid for everything he bought in that one first job. Lucky to fall into that? Yes, but he also had a business sense. He set his prices rather high for a first job, so he had that instinct of not giving away the farm because he was new to the business.

Deleted Account's picture

The best product usually doesn't win out if it's going up against the best marketing. A bad photographer will often be more successful in their career if they're REALLY great at sales and networking but if you have the opposite skillset and lack any business knowledge you'll be lucky if you find success.

George Loch's picture

Websites, business cards, FB pages, et al don't make you a business. They are the task elements of a business - part of a checklist. In fact, your portfolio is just a given that has to be good. What brings the work in consistently is the value you provide or the problem you solve A beautiful photo isn't enough. You have to have a fan club. You make a fan club by solving problems and establishing relationships.