10 Signs That You Will NOT Make It As A Successful Photographer

With a saturated market for photographers, there are so many pitfalls a photographer can plunge into that can prevent them from being successful. Taking a step back to analyzing yourself and your business can be the first step to improve and guarantee chances of success for the future. Here are a number of things to look out for, these things can be what is preventing you from reaching your potential.

1. Mr. Know-It-All

We all come across that guy who is a "know-it-all." If there is one thing I've figured out growing up, it's that you can learn something new from anyone in life. It doesn't matter whether they are younger, not as educated or as intelligent as you. Consistently blowing off other people and their comments will prevent you from being successful. It's key to take every idea, tip or piece of advice someone gives you seriously. Sometimes, it's also advisable to reach out to older, more experienced people in the field you are targeting to seek guidance. 

2. That Negative Guy Who Always Comments (aka The Troll)

This is actually the one thing that inspired me to write this article. This week, I came across a bitter photographer who was trash-talking a fellow extremely talented photographer on her page. The first thought that came to mind was "yup, this fool won't get far in life." Every Facebook photography group has a few of these clowns- the guys who talk more than they show and they always have something negative to comment. Needless to say, people like this will not be successful if they have such an attitude. They aren't pleasant to talk to or deal with. 

3. The Gear-Centric Guy

How can I exclude this topic on such a list? A lot of us are guilty of using gear or lack thereof as an excuse for subpar performance. The truth is, most of us realize that it's not an excuse right away or at some point in our careers. The sooner we come to the realization that gear is only a tool and not the be all and end all of photography, the sooner we work harder to perfect our skill. Unfortunately there are those who never get out of that rut and have their heads wrapped around lacking "the right" gear. Check out - 30 Mind Blowing Images Taken With Entry Level Gear

4. Not Accepting C&C

If you find yourself defending yourself and your photos, you are putting a cap on your photography. Photography is an art and there is no limit to skill level when it comes to art. You will get better by the day. Accept what people have to say with grace and use their critique to improve and grow.  

5. That Cliche Photographer/"Does All Photography"

There are tens of thousands of photographers out there. Don't be another cliche one. To be successful, a photographer must stand out. For example, people are tired of seeing portraits taken on train tracks. Find a setting that is not over used. Furthermore, you must specialize in one or two genres. How many successful photographers do you know who do it all? And trust me chances are you will not be the first person who is an expert in 10 different genres of photography, so pick. 

6. Doesn't "get" Marketing

Five years ago, ignoring Facebook, Instagram and Twitter was doable. Nowadays, even if you're on every social media platform you won't get too far without social skills. Get in tune with the current market, show personality and show off your best work. Fans want to see that there is a human behind the camera and not some robot. Interact with your fans! 

7. Those Who Don't Pursue It As A Hobby 

If you are in photography for the money, you picked the wrong career.  By choosing a genre just for the money you are setting yourself up for destruction. Eventually, you will burn out and without the wild fire and passion inside you, your business will not grow. Do what you love and you will get good at it. You may struggle at first but all it takes is meeting the right person and over night, success will find you. 

8. Choosing Quantity Over Quality

Aim to take just one amazing photo on a shoot and not 20 mediocre ones. With time, the amount of quality images will increase from shoot to shoot. The goal is to show off a portfolio that will blow people's minds. Additionally, your fans don't care to see 15 OK photos from the same shoot, they want to see one amazing photo and variety. Do not flood your page with a new album for each shoot.  

9. Never Responds to Communications

You know that awesome feeling when someone answers your email or text instantly? Be the cause for that awesome feeling for your clients. Treat everyone like that hot girl you're texting who you just met at the bar last night. People hate when it takes someone 24 hours to respond. I'm guilty of this myself and beat myself up all the time for not responding soon enough. 

10. Doesn't Use a Support System

My spurt of growth was the day my wife and I moved in together. She pushes me, supports me and makes me feel better when I am down. She even edits most of my articles and posts on social media. If you have a friend or family member who is discouraging you, cut them loose. A person who truly loves you, pushes you until you are successful. 

*Update* 11. Not Getting Repeat Customers

If you are not getting repeat customer there is one of two things wrong. Lacking quality or service. Figure out which of the two it may be and fix it. 

This list was put together with the help from the following photographers: Patrick Hall, Michael Woloszynowicz, Lisa Holloway, Clay Cook, Ett Venter, Lori Patrick, Hudi Greenberger, Shua Klien, Zach Sutton and Jaron Schneider

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73 Comments

Richard Johnson's picture

All things that can be fixed with just a change in attitude! Thanks Dani!

james johnson's picture

" people are tired of seeing portraits taken on train tracks"

God, I wish this was true. It's one of the reasons I quit the business. The market I was in seemed to consist entirely of REQUESTS for cliches.

Jennifer Kelley's picture

For me it was families in khaki pants and a white shirt on the beach in front of sea oats at sunset. Or engagment pictures in front of sea oats. Or senior photos in front of sea oats. Or in a business suit in front of sea oats (because I totally have business meetings in a suit on the beach). The sea oats were of key importance for every portrait.

Tam Nguyen's picture

THIS ARTICLE SUCKS DON'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO

Kyle Ford's picture

I like this guy ^

jeremypoland1's picture

Great read! Thanks!

Jason Ranalli's picture

I sort of expected most of the points in the article save for the last one..or at least the way you exemplified it specifically.

I must say that even though photography is not an income stream for our family my wife is very supportive and patient of it all. She's been the subject of testing every stupid lens and light modifier I have purchased. I also get her opinion on many things as I work through them in post. She also never gets annoyed that I pack on many extra pounds of photography gear when we travel despite the nuisance.

Justin Haugen's picture

This is a very kind article. I was half hoping to open the link and read "#1. you're terrible at photography" :)

Ralph Berrett's picture

I think I had this conversation with a lot of new photographers. On #5 I would add one thing don't get pigeon holed. Basically don't be a one trick pony because the market can change.

I would add one item, not having confidence. I don't know how many shooters that I have dealt with start apologizing before a shoot because they lack experience or gear. All they do is undermine the client's confidence. So now instead of looking forward to the results they are looking for faults with the images.

Lee Christiansen's picture

I don't do Facebook, don't even know how to Twitter... No interest in either.

Yet my photograpy work is increasing year on year. There are more ways than contacting a client base than virtually. It depends on who you are trying to contact.

Justin Haugen's picture

I worked 4 years for a defense contractor that spent countless hours impressing upon us the value and need for reaching an audience on social media. Still seems absurd to me now, but It certainly doesn't hurt to find new (not so new) ways of connecting with a client base.

Ralph Berrett's picture

It depends on your market. A wedding photographer or a small portrait studio it makes sense. But for someone dealing with corporate clients there are drawbacks. Facebook is a double edged sword as much as it can promote it can distract and be a negative.

One of the best expressions I heard came from a Fstoppers story "Eight Tips I Wish Someone Told Me Early in My Career" https://fstoppers.com/business/eight-tips-i-wish-someone-told-me-early-m... where they called "Facebook a cancer". I known people who have lost jobs because of facebook. If you use social media for work then keep all personal stuff off. Use it as marketing tool.

I have use twitter on business level effectively. Facebook I use to keep in touch with friends, models, photographers and people I have worked with. The side effect I have a boring Facebook. ;)

Lee Christiansen's picture

Thanks Dani... I don't feel old at all now... ha.

But at just 47 one of my young clients (aren't they all nowadays?) referred to me a "from a different generation."

Time to break out the hair dye and combat trousers. Maybe I can fake youth.

Jennifer Kelley's picture

It isn't necessarily about contacting your client base on social media, it's about increasing your web presence. It's kind of a norm now if you deal with the consumer market, much like having a website is expected. And it can decrease your marketing costs as you are using a free resource to remind them you still exist. Consumers love to interact with businesses and each other. I detest social media, but I do understand how important it is.

Nick Pecori's picture

Great write-up Dani! I think we're all guilty getting caught up in at least a few of these pitfalls. Recognizing the issue, learning from it, and not repeating the same mistake is key!

Anonymous's picture

1,2,3,4, 6 (I damn feel guilty right now)

Fuck this article, I'm the negative one who will do everything to get on top!
Lol :)

No seriously, it's a good article, well done Dani.
The only thing I don't get is this Marketing thing and also, I'm to critical about my work.
So critical that I'm not happy anymore, I don't get this wauw effect when I look at my recent work and that's really shitty. I think I need a break, but I can't..

Anonymous's picture

For me it doesn't go online about the pretty girls, it has to be a pretty image as well.
That's what much people don't understand, they think hup, a nice looking girl so it will be good.
I'm still very far away from what I would like to achieve..

Jared Monkman's picture

I agree with Danis comment, Yannick. I discovered your work through this site, and I now follow you on facebook. you've quickly become one of my favourite photographers to follow. Your work is so great.

Anonymous's picture

That's a great pleasure to hear Jared. Thankyou very much!
I only try to do my best and have some fun..

Mark Kelly's picture

I was.nervouse before reading that I would identify myself with the points. Luckily the only one I'm guilty of is the marketing. I have only recently set up a Facebook page.

Justin Haugen's picture

Not me. I know it all....DOH

Chip Kalback's picture

12. Fear !

Cris Magsino's picture

spot on. Great article :)

Michael Alfaro's picture

Good post (: I need to figure out why I'm not getting repeated customers haha

cory Lum's picture

Dani. what are your credentials for posting this ? i don't disagree w/ all your points but seriously, many readers of this post are wondering about where u're coming from ? who / what determines whether a photographer makes it or not ? i've been in the biz for almost 30 years... i don't think i've made it even though i have bylines... i'm a survivor from the film paradigm. trying to survive in the 21st century. google me. be humble. peace. c DAni, why not focus on the positive notes about what makes a successful photographer ? like tenacity , the ability to not take 'no ' as an answer. never give up. strive to better your images. et al. come on. if you are true to your creative spirit, a spiritual awakening is in order ! WAKE UP DANI ! PS> please post your best shot you have created ! for all to see and comment on ... ! i'll post one too. too many times too much bullshit !

Jessi Raymond's picture

Guess you didn't look at Dani's work before opening your mouth...
He's also Fstoppers current top writer.

Jennifer Kelley's picture

Were you drunk when you wrote this? Or would you rather just whip out the tape measure? This isn't a competition.

There is no goal to reach that determines success, it comes in measures. But the things listed will prevent you from achieving even a basic level of success. There are dozens of articles on this site that outline things you can do to be successful. In the business world, and business is my area of expertise, it is often easier to day "don't do this" than to outline the thousands of things they should. Sometimes you need a concise say it like it is instead of cheerleaders. If someone is tenacious and driven enough, they are not bothered by it.

You seem rather bitter and you may want to focus on your own negativity before jumping down someone else's throat.

Autre Nom's picture

Implying people who make lists are pleasant to talk to or deal with

Anonymous's picture

hahahaha! i see a lot of these on Fstoppers facebook page, even saw a couple of profiles leaving the group because of others/non constructive CC's
anyways good article :)

Savi You's picture

My market wants quantity over quality. It's really tough to convince your clients that 1 amazing image is worth paying twice as much as 10 mediocre photos.

james johnson's picture

I hear you. I used to have this problem, as well— clients who can't seem to get past the idea of buying a product rather than a service.

If you are not physically limited by your market, I would suggest expanding or changing it. I was located in a small, very conservative, working class town where I was not close enough to another market and could not relocate. The market was fine during the film years, then the whole business changed including the clients. I was still making a living, but became very unhappy with it.

Hopefully, you aren't so limited.

Savi You's picture

By conforming to the market, I feel like I'm just competing on price and I'm back in the rat race with the other mom-togs and GWACs in my market.

james johnson's picture

It's true. And if you don't conform.... it turns into what feels like an uphill battle. In the end, I felt like I was at war with my clients, like I was always fighting with them to be something they were not. I also discovered that once I quit the business after so many years of giving in to client demands and trying to please them, I had no idea what MY taste was any longer.

I'm not trying to convince anyone else to quit and become a hobbyist again, but I'm loving it. It's great to look at my photos and like them without concern over whether they will sell, who will like them, or what kind of customer they might attract.

Neil Bonnar's picture

Super article Dani, the reason I dropped Flickr was because of the weekend warrior comments.

Mokhtar Chahine's picture

Great article, number 5 (genres) is something i do and to be honest and i take pride in that just because working with different genres allows me to see more and trouble shoot faster incase i run into any problems during a photoshoot. Working with interior helps me during my on location portrait photoshoot. working with nature allows me to see the distracting details during portraits. I can go on and on. I do see where you are coming from but you have to keep in mind that "making it as a photographer" differs from place to place...country to country. I believe every photographer should also take into consideration what sort of expectations the culture has rather than taking notes and going by them blindly. you gotta study the market !

Anonymous's picture

Great article. Good guidelines/suggestions for success.

Casey Braunger's picture

Honestly, one of the biggest motivators you mentioned is meeting the right person. If you know you are good, keep working at it, show off your best work, are nice to work with...and meet that ONE right person. Your career will explode. Thanks for the article!

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