Five Personality Traits All Photographers Need to Be Successful

Five Personality Traits All Photographers Need to Be Successful

Every photographer is different: we all have our own personalities and values. Even with all our differences, there are five key traits that every photographer needs to have no matter what they do.

Self-Awareness

This is the most important value every photographer needs. If you don’t know who you actually are, you can’t teach yourself where you need to develop. And unless you have someone in your life who can actually tell you what’s good and what’s bad, you’re going to go through, continuously creating work that isn’t good, thinking you’re the best.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is real. People will tell you your work is great, and to them, it might be. But to other photographers and people who know more, it might be terrible. Most normal people don’t know what makes a good photo. You really need to be aware of your actual skills and where you stand on the ladder to be able to properly tell yourself what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed.

​​​​​​​I remember doing retouching videos with this photo because I thought it was so incredible at the time. I loved the concept and execution. Obviously now, I don’t think this, but I wasn’t able to see at the time my level wasn’t where I thought it was.

How to Know if You’re Self-Aware

This is really tough; it’s like trying to test if we’re in a simulation. It’s up to you and your ability to understand who you truly are. Here are a few things you do well when you’re self-aware. If you have a track record of doing these, then chances are, you’re self-aware.

  • You can take criticism.
  • You’re able to acknowledge when you’re wrong.
  • You understand how to work well with others.

These are all very important when it comes to photography. Being able to take criticism and understand when you’re wrong are important for growing. If you can’t take critique on your own work or see what your actual value is, you can’t find what’s wrong to eventually fix the problem. It also makes you a pretty crappy person to work with.

Honesty

Honesty Towards Yourself

If you can’t be honest with yourself, you can’t grow. Acknowledging your faults and not hiding from them is the first step towards growth. When you know what’s wrong, you know what to fix.

Honesty Towards Others

Trust is the most important value when it comes to building a team. Being able to trust the person you’re working with is incredibly vital, as is giving your team a reason to trust you. And trust is built off being honest with those around you. When I work with a team, I always try and make sure I’m honest with them when it comes to their work. I don’t try and sugar-coat things, because I don’t want to lie to them (I also try and not be a jackass about it).

My favorite makeup artist and I trust each other’s opinions, and I can’t say that about everyone I’ve worked with. It took some time to build up that honesty, but now, we’re able to critique each other’s work and help each other stay on the right path. I ask for her opinion while coming up with ideas and casting models, and I know she is being honest with me when she gives her opinion.

We’ve worked together with dozens of models over the last two years. We develop ideas together and stop each other from going rogue with bad ideas all the time.

Having someone (or multiple people) like that is important to growing your work. Constantly working with people you can’t trust, that can’t trust you, only means your work will suffer. Building up a rapport with different team members helps build a connection that leads to team success. And that all starts with honesty. Telling a makeup artist you don't agree with an idea might make you sound like you're being a jerk, but if you don't think something will work (with real reasons why), then it's best to not lie and wait until after a shoot is finished to regret not saying something before.

I can’t tell you how many times a makeup artist or model lied to me. Every single time, it led to bad photos and bad relationships going forward, whether it was the model canceling right before a shoot or a makeup artist adding to or changing a look without saying anything. Finding people you can trust and be honest with only adds to better work down the line.

Thick Skin

If you don’t know this yet, you will. You’re going to get told no a lot. A lot. People are going to lie to you. People are going to tell you that you suck, and there’s nothing you can do, but accept it and use it to grow.

Without thick skin, without the ability to keep working through adversity, you won’t last long. The struggling and tough times are a part of the journey of success. This adversity can come in many ways; all that matters is that you don’t let it affect you and take you down.

Perspective

I’ve talked about this before: perspective is incredibly important for a photographer. Perspective gives you the ability to understand those around you. That means knowing their wants and needs. That information is important when working with a client; being able to understand exactly what they need is important to giving them the best work possible.

Sometimes, I work with new models with perfect commercial looks who are looking to build their portfolio, but all they want to shoot is edgy fashion editorials. I try to convince them from the perspective of a casting director that going a more commercial route is better for their book. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Optimism

When it comes to growing as a photographer and being an entrepreneur, there’s a lot to keep you from staying on your path. Sometimes, the only thing that keeps you moving forward is your optimism and the idea that it’ll get better and you’ll get better. Sometimes, that’s what you need to get through a tough time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt lost and just kept shooting and working knowing I’d figure out whatever was wrong.

Congratulatory puppy photo for making it through the article

These traits are the basic necessities to growth and teamwork. You probably should have these already, but it's always good to check yourself and see if you have any blind spots. If you notice you might be lacking in any of these areas, that doesn't mean you're going to fail, just that you need to grow more, not just with photography, but emotionally. A large part of photography happens off camera through networking and connections. If you don't have enough emotional maturity to be self-aware or honest, your connections will know that very quickly. 
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10 Comments

Vladimir Vcelar's picture

The part about thick skin is very true. I found out a long time ago that the main reason why people get upset at you has less to do with what you are and what you do, and more to do with what they are not and cannot do. They simply project their own ineptness and mediocrity in the guise of "correction". On the other hand, it's very easy to fool yourself. Thanks for the post; we all need to be reminded!

Tony Northrup's picture

My wife and I have studied the careers of many of the most successful photographers of all time, and many of them were shockingly dishonest, misrepresenting their processes, subjects, and post-processing. Sometimes cheaters do win.

David Justice's picture

Maybe I'm being too realistic. I feel like in the internet-age and post-MeToo world, we're going to see a lot more photographers (and everyone else) get called out for their BS. The older generation of photographers were able to get by with borderline personality disorders, but today it feels like everyone is more empowered to not let the BS slip by. Especially with lists like Shit Model Management's Blacklist.

You aren't being "realistic." Your list is merely "aspirational." Its a list of qualities that ideally everyone would be able to have. But here's the thing: your article is centred around the qualities photographers need to be "successful: but you don't define what "successful" actually means. For me a "successful professional photographer" is one who runs a sustainable profitable photographer business, and you don't need any of the qualities you talk about in order to do that. Many of the most successful businesses in the world are successful because they ignore many of the qualities you talk about.

And I think its naive and even a bit dangerous to think that this is a problem with the "older generation." It isn't. People still let the BS slip by. Unofficial blacklists and whisper networks have always existed. But that puts the onus on those that are the targets to fix the problem, when in reality, as photographers, it should really be our responsibility to make this industry less toxic.

David Justice's picture

A lot of this is acceptable critique. I definitely think aspirational is a much better term. And you're right, successful is a very subjective term. Maybe the title should read 'should have to help be successful'. The current title is a little absolute and there are always going to be outliers.

And I'm not blaming older generations for not being proactive towards bad behavior, but the access to alternatives is so much more readily available. You're not stuck with the crappy photographer who makes creepy comments because you think they're the only ones available in your area. You can now find people just as good, if not better, who you may not have realized existed.

As for blacklists, they may have always existed, but they've never been this public. You can say its our responsibility to make it more safe for our subjects, but just because I'm doing everything I can to make the model comfortable, that doesn't mean every other photographer is and you can't control that. There's no collective HR for photographers. In this situation, unfortunately it does come down to those who have previously dealt with the bad photographer to say something.

When you say "access to alternatives are much more readily available", who told you this? #metoo did bring around a cultural shift, but it wasn't a revolution. The structural power imbalances still exist.

And "never been more public" isn't a great metric for progress. The "Sh#$tty Mens Media" list was public for 12 hours and resulted in sustained harassment of the author and a lawsuit (which ultimately failed). The blacklist you cite went down after death threats. It's no longer online.

This is an industry problem. Blacklists are a last ditch effort by the victims to protect themselves. They aren't a solution. Once again you are putting the onus for fixing the problem on the victims. Its classic victim blaming. They are doing everything they can to protect themselves and as far as you are concerned there isn't any more that is able to be done.

You think you are a good person. You consider yourself to be self-aware, honest, optimistic with thick skin and a clear perspective. You do everything you can do make the models you work with feel comfortable. But you can't "control other photographers." So you've done all you can.

I'm going to suggest to you that maybe you aren't as self-aware as you think you are. And that your optimism is clouding the reality and stopping you from getting a clear perspective. You can do so much more than you think. Why don't you host a blacklist? You are much less likely to be subjected to the same degree of harassment and death threats than the models who uploaded the original list. What's stopping you from calling out your fellow photographers? There is no "collective HR", so why not create a "photographers code of conduct" that photographers could voluntarily sign onto? Photographers could get accredited, and could lose their accreditation through some sort of a fair process (that protects the identity of those who make a complaint)?

That's just an idea that literally popped into my head now. I bet if you spent a bit of time thinking about it you could develop that idea or come up with your own. But I don't accept that, as photographers, there is "nothing we can do." And one would think that "doing nothing" would go against all the principals that you claim that you hold.

It was the congratulatory puppy photo that made me realize that a sense of humor might also be essential.

Tony Clark's picture

Perhaps in a perfect world but not realistic. Back when I assisted, I saw photographers ripping off crew, trash talking competitors among other poor behavior. I ended up calling out one guy that I assisted for eighteen months because of his business practices. He was the last person that I assisted and swore that I’d never do it again.

David Justice's picture

I think now more than ever honesty and integrity is actually valued, especially for growing photographers. Photographers who are already pros who've made it, did it in a world that was much less collaborative. But now that everyone is connected and much less willing to put up with BS, you're going to see a lot more photographers get called out for their crap. Not necessarily at the top unfortunately, but those who are newer will more likely be weeded out because of social media and people speaking up.

... I hope.

Simon Patterson's picture

These are all good ideals for anyone entering any vocation.

But, unfortunately, they are not essential to "success" in a narrow sense. Plenty of horrible, deluded people are "successful" at the business of photography.

It goes to show that sometimes the kind of "success" we aspire to is much too low a hurdle to jump over. We are wise to aspire to the attributes outlined in the article because they are good, not because they are "successful".