The first practical photographic process was invented well over a century ago. Though the basic principles of light capture and exposure haven’t changed, the ideas we embrace about photography have changed dramatically.
Photography was once something that only a small segment of society had access to; now, everyone can be a photographer. But can everyone be a successful photographer?
If, by “successful”, we mean “popular on social media” then yes, perhaps success has been as democratized as photography itself — there is a blueprint to follow.
What if we deem success to be a matter of self-fulfillment and personal satisfaction — essentially, being good at what you do? Can everyone (maybe not literally everyone) be successful?
I’d still argue that, in general, the answer is yes.
Here’s what you need to do to not just stay afloat, but be successful under the demands of modern photography.
1. Trust Yourself
There’s no one you should put more trust in than yourself. While it’s a good thing to seek out advice from respected peers and to allow yourself to be inspired by the work of others, your own success hinges on your dedication to your personal creative vision.
Not everyone will like what you do and sometimes you won’t like what you do, but since yours is the only opinion that really matters, you owe it to yourself to stay the course and continue to refine your work rather than cave to the grousing of others.
2. Don’t Follow Trends
The carefully curated and aesthetically homogenous social media feeds of the most popular photographers in the world make it seem as though that’s all there is to photography.
Aesthetic trends come and go and trying to follow them is only going to cause you to lose focus of your own creative worth (remember that thing about trusting yourself?). Rather than going after what looks good now, shoot for what looks good and will still look good in 50 years.
The value of timelessness can’t be overstated.
3. Don’t Let Technology Dictate Your Work
Make no mistake, the tech that is packed into cameras these days is impressive, but the upgrades that are implemented in each new body tend to be marginal, at best. If your 2012 model camera is still doing everything you want and need it to do, keep it.
It’s not that you’ll never need a new camera, but you certainly don’t need a new one every 8 months. Trying to keep pace with market output is only going to be a distraction from your creative growth.
As you read this, think about the camera you currently use. Whether it’s full frame or Micro Four-Thirds, last year’s model or a model from eight years ago, one memory card slot or two. Now ask yourself if there’s anything about the camera that prevents you from making the kind of photos you want.
It’s a simple yes or no. Ignore the buts (but WiFi, but hybrid AF, but it’s the newest thing out).
4. Don’t Feel Obligated To Stay In Your Lane
The common wisdom among Instagram luminaries is that you should stick to one type of photography so your gallery will have a consistent look.
If this works for you, great!
If it doesn’t, don’t box yourself in just for the sake of exposure. If you’re equally adept at architecture photography and portrait photography, by all means do both. You’re not beholden to the unwritten dictates of self-proclaimed gatekeepers of photography.
Do what you like.
5. Share And Share Alike
Sharing is at the heart of modern photography, as evidenced by the massive amount of photos disseminated across the web every day.
But there’s more to photography than showing off our best shots.
Each individual who participates in this craft in any capacity would do well to share not just their work, but their knowledge, experiences and advice. Other than making great photos, building and sustaining a positive community of creators is one of the most important things a photographer can do.
Whether any of this will help you be successful with photography depends mostly on how you define success.
I don’t know how to help anyone become rich and famous — I’m neither of those things.
But I enjoy what I do and I think others should as well. What I’ve covered above is some of what has worked for me. Hopefully, you find something that works for you.