How Can You Enter Photography’s Circle of Success? Here Are Seven Ways

How Can You Enter Photography’s Circle of Success? Here Are Seven Ways

Getting to grips with the fundamentals of photography, such as camera and exposure control, composition, and relating a story, is essential. Sadly, there are other factors that get in that cause you to fail. Here’s why it is important to break free of those and become a successful photographer.

Identifying the Barriers to Successful Photography 

Before considering what a successful photographer is, it’s useful to look at what they are not.

There is a man with a camera who I know who is very well-balanced; he has a chip on both shoulders. He’s always raging at photographers, denigrating them, and criticizing their photography. Others tell me that he is always slating both my photography and articles behind my back.

An early wildlife shot of mine. It made me realize I needed to put a lot more work into getting successful shots.

Instead of putting in the effort to improve his work, he spends his time trying to pull others down to his level. However, the truth is that he is unhappy, and he believes that the only way to improve his lot is to attack others. That doesn’t work, and so, he becomes more miserable as a result.

Again, an older picture shot, this time of a male eider in transition plumage. The focus wasn't spot on, the shutter speed should have been faster and, although it was impossible with this shot, I would have preferred a different camera position.

In the years I have known him, he has been stuck in that vicious circle of failure resulting from his attitude. Meanwhile, many others have gone on to much greater success than he will ever achieve. As time passes, he becomes more bitter and belligerent as a consequence. He cannot see that it is his mindset that causes him to fail. That attitude also alienates him from others as he inevitably gets back what he gives and is unlikely to get support.

Another shot from 2016 of an eider diving. I realized back then that I wanted to improve, but have only recently started trying to work towards success with wildlife photography.

It’s not an uncommon story; we’ve all come across lots of people like that. Many take that lazy path of attempting to undermine others without seeing that it just leaves themselves with a bad name. I haven’t yet met anyone who is full of vitriol and has an ounce of talent.

So, I am recently started practicing and concentrating on one species at a time, staring with eider. This is an early shot on my new journey. It's okay, but a bit boring.

How to Be a Photographic Success

Conversely, I haven't come across any successful or skilled photographers or artists who are full of bile. There’s an inspirational and successful photographer I occasionally meet who is always encouraging me, and I, her. There’s always an unspoken race between us to see which of us can say something complimentary about the other’s work first. She’s always helping others and praising their work. Similarly, every good artist, musician, and photographer I’ve ever met has treated those who are working their way up the never-ending ladder of success with friendliness and support.

If I had the opportunity to promote the work of either of those two people, which would I choose? I am sure you can work out which.

Surrounding yourself and interacting with positively motivated people will rub off on you, as will mixing with people who support your ambitions. Actively being positive about other people’s art will reflect on your work too.

A male eider. An improvement on the previous shot because of the water splash. However, I didn't get the exposure quite right, as the bright white of the bird's neck is very nearly blown out. Not a success yet.

Should You Sit Back and Take the Malicious Venom That’s Aimed at You?

The answer to that question is no. Avoiding negativity doesn’t mean not challenging those who spread it. The temptation is to say “Yeah, whatever!” and walk away is always there, and many advise us to rise above it. However, those who post snarky comments are bullies, and I believe we should stand up for ourselves as it makes them less likely to attack other photographers.   

You’ve Abandoned Negativity, So How Do You Join the Circle of Success?

Success is a multifaceted thing that may mean financial reward to some and emotional satisfaction to others. I’ve met those who think that success in photography is having thousands of followers on social media, while others are more satisfied with a slap on the back from an established professional. Maybe, it is just being able to produce photos you are proud of or perhaps winning a prize at your camera club. It’s all about achieving your aspirations.

A better exposure and showing movement and one of the behaviors of this bird made the shot a little more successful than the previous one. The bird has a missing primary feather on its wing.

1. Set a Photographic Goal

Of course, to reach your goals in photography, you must first have some to aim for. I have a dislike of modern acronyms used in business, but there is one that works, and that is SMART. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. I won’t go into the full details of those because those titles are self-explanatory, and there are dozens of psychology websites with pages dedicated to those if you want to learn more.

My specific goal is building my skills and knowledge of wildlife, and especially bird, photography. I can measure that by my results; it's attainable, relevant to business and interests, and I plan to have significantly progressed in the next year.

2. Embrace Positivity in Your Photography

Being positive about your life, including your photography, is transformative and will lead you towards success.

We all have our ups and downs, but being positive means looking for solutions to problems and anticipating that you will find them. You will expect things to work out well. This isn’t just a magic wand you wave and sitting there waiting for it to happen, nor is it an airy-fairy idea. Positivity is being optimistic, and that means that you must believe it’s worth making the effort to work towards those SMART goals.

Eider are diving ducks and this shows a male starting to surface after diving deep underwater hunting for shellfish and crabs.

3. Using Personal Growth for Success

Writing for a respected photography publication was a goal of mine. The only way to get good enough was to practice. So, I started writing photography articles for a local paper. I wasn’t paid for it, but it raised my profile; I got a lot of clients because of it. Also, my writing improved. When I look back at some of my early articles, I can see how much my skills have got better. As a result of that work, and the work I did improving my photography, I was offered a writer’s position at Fstoppers. Now, I get offered other writing work. If hadn’t put in that hard graft, it wouldn’t have happened.

I’ve had some other photographic successes recently that didn’t occur by my sitting back and assuming they will happen. It meant going out and experimenting with different techniques, investing in training and the relevant equipment, and believing I could do it. I’ve had similar experiences throughout my life. Things haven’t always gone as planned, and the reality hasn’t matched my expectations. However, treating them as life experiences instead of failures helps me to move on to the next adventure.

I noticed that the choppy water occluded the eider as they swam towards me, which made for an interesting image. But it wasn't perfect.

4. Find Fulfillment

Fulfillment is very much tied to positivity and happiness and is very much a measure of success for many.

I often hear that fulfillment is tied to working hard. I think that is balderdash. It isn’t just about working hard, it is achieved by working hard at something you love and surrounding yourself with like-minded people.

I’ve worked hard for a dreadful employer in a toxic environment, and it brought neither happiness nor fulfillment. My back-stabbing boss didn’t acknowledge my successes but lied about me behind my back and set me up to fail. I still hear stories from the same organization of others experiencing the same.

I escaped that and instead surrounded myself with positively motivated people who also wanted to succeed.

Even more fulfillment comes when I share what I have learned with others. If I run workshops and at the end, the participants can take better photos, or if I reply to a client’s email question about how to achieve a certain effect, then it feels good.

So, that led me to try several similar shots, this time with the female eider with its orange-brown plumage complementing the dark, stormy blue of the estuary water.

5. Experimenting to Become Successful

For me, one of the best bits of being a photographer is being out at dawn with my camera and capturing a seascape with the sunrise, or an eider stretching its wings. It helps boost my mood and makes me feel more positive. That positivity gives me the courage to try something different. If it doesn’t work, I learn from that and try again until I succeed. That success leads to more positivity, and that encourages me to go out and take more photos.

6. Practice Photography to Get Better Physical and Mental Health

I am lucky to be alive and have had some close shaves with the Grim Reaper a few times throughout my life. Fortunately, I am still here and relatively fit, if a little worn and scarred around the edges.

The great thing about photography is that it helps to keep us healthy by continuously moving. Furthermore, it is a mindful exercise, distracting us from the woes of everyday life. Creativity has been shown to reduce stress and improve mental health. Likewise, getting outdoors into nature does so too. This is also a feedback loop in that improving our mental health drives creativity.

I use photography as an excuse to go for a walk or a bike ride.

As the weather closed in and the water became choppier, the eider swam closer. She appears to be playing peekaboo through the wavelets. There were more distractions on the water's surface, however. 

7. Get the Big Bad Stuff Out of the Way First

Most commentators on success talk about eating a frog. That means putting the unpleasant and challenging tasks behind you before moving on to the more positive things. Once you’ve got that horrible thing out of the way, you will see it as a big success and the smaller, more enjoyable jobs are how you spend the rest of the day.

Having said that, I really love getting up early and being out at dawn with my camera. For me, that’s definitely not eating a frog.

Sorry, I didn't have a picture of an eider eating a frog, so a crab will have to do. Shot with an OM-1, ISO 12,800, 500mm f/5.6, 1/640 s using the OM System M. Zuiko ED 150-400mm f/4.5 TC 1.25 IS PRO lens.

Are You a Successful Photographer?

Are you a successful photographer? Do you find yourself attracted to negativity and failure? Do you practice, put in hard work, and support others, or are you sniping at those who see more success than you do? Do you get widely praised for your photography by respected photographers or just by your mom? It would be great to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Ivor Rackham's picture

A professional photographer, website developer, and writer, Ivor lives in the North East of England. His main work is training others in photography. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being. In 2023 he accepted becoming a brand ambassador for the OM System.

Log in or register to post comments

I've been stuck in the rut of being unable to do what I wanted in the past. Also, I've had jobs where I was only earning money to do the things I wanted. Not great places to be, and worth escaping from.

This is a bit of a strange article. Seems to mainly be a passive aggressive shaming on whoever the mystery critic is.

This is a bit of a strange comment. Seems to mainly be a passive-aggressive shaming of the person who wrote it.

I think I was pretty direct in what I said. No need for childish retorts.

Based on the limited information I provided in the article, especially regarding timescales and another very good reason I won't reveal, the person would not be able to identify themselves from it. So your uninvited critique was inaccurate and deserved a put-down. But, perhaps you recognized yourself in it, hence your mean-spirited comment of one small part of my article.

Great article, Ivor. I have always strived to be a positive force around others. Not just photography, but life in general, being positive and reinforcing others are helpful and correct. That's for the info. Enjoyed it greatly. By the way, glad you are still with us!

Thanks, Gerald. Glad to be here!

I noticed that "make good photographs" wasn't on the list.

I thought that would be a success, as opposed to one of the things that would lead to success. Thanks for the comment.

Like what you said about hanging around positive motivated people! I find this a bit challenging in today's world, but not impossible of course.

Unfortunately, it's the least positive people who make the most noise and end up in positions that make it hard for others to remain positive. Thanks for commenting!