Becoming a successful photographer is not easy. It is a long journey and never ending preparation to meet opportunities.
In my mind, being a successful photographer requires three major qualities:
– ability to master the business side of photography profession: marketing, sales, general administration
– ability to master the photography craft: gear, light, composition, post-processing
– mental ability to handle the stress and maintain a positive attitude while dealing with clients
All three qualities are broad topics to cover in a single blog, so I will only focus on the third one: the mental ability to handle stress and maintain a positive attitude while dealing with clients. I am planning to cover the other two major qualities into separate blog articles.
So why is important for a photographer to maintain a positive attitude and be prepared mentally? Because this is the “glue” which binds the technical aspect (gear, light, post-processing) and the business aspect. It can make or break a business as neither one of the three qualities can be a winning one by itself.
So now that we know the “What” and “Why”, let’s explore the “How’. Here are 9 tips on how to prepare mentally for being a successful photographer:
1. Be Humble:
The truth is that photographers are not born overnight. It requires lots of efforts and dedication to become good at photographing subjects or objects. Which means that when you first start, you will be nowhere near where the rest of the photographers you admire or strive to be like are.
You will also make lots of mistakes and fail many times while learning. What is important is to accept that you will fail to be correct or do things as you planned to, and accept that you will have to work harder to get better. The worst disservice you can do for yourself is to believe that you can become very successful photographer overnight, that you will make no mistakes and that everything will happen to you from the very first try.
Being humble, admitting that you would need to get better over time and learning from your mistakes will take help you maintain a positive attitude when everything seems not to be going your way.
2. Don’t Get Defensive:
Getting defensive at the first sign or criticism or failure will destroy you mentally. Instead of seeing each obstacle or critical comment, as a “plot” to destroy your business or threat everyone else as they are trying to steal or harm your business, see it as an opportunity to improve your business and grow like a photographer.
For example: when someone at a wedding takes photos of the same poses you worked so hard to direct and setup, and then posts them before you on social media, instead of attacking this person and trying to remove the images, post your better and amazing images so others can see how much better photographer you are. Let you craft speak for itself instead of wasting energy to correct every single wrong that would happen to you.
Another example: Instead of trying to go after the bride and wave your photography contract in retaliation, after she asked someone to edit your images and ordered a big canvas from the edited pictures, analyze why it this happening.
Were your images not up to par with her expectations so additional editing was required or was something which the bride asked you to do and you didn’t deliver on it? Why there is a disconnect between your service and her expectations? What you can do next time to prevent this type of situation?
It is easy to get defensive and miss the opportunity to learn from the situation and improve your skills and business.
3. Be Prepared For The Unexpected:
There are two types of photographers. Those who hate to plan and use their imagination and skills to get the best of the light conditions and setup they have. And others who plan and research everything to the smallest detail before even go out and try to take a picture.
If you are the second type, then you need to accept that your plan would not always work. For many reasons, but the important part is not to try to desperately follow the plan even when is obvious that it was a bad plan in the first place. Instead, try to access and use the current light and set up to make the best out of it. Forget about your preconceived ideas.
Adjust and you will be amazed how differently your images would be when you allow yourself to see the moments, instead of planning them ahead. Life happens as they say.
4. Accept That You Will Be Rejected Sometimes:
No one books every single client they pitch an offer to. The same as not everyone who walks into a department store, always buys something from there.
Photography is a subjective and discretionary service. Different clients would have different tastes and would respond differently to different photography styles. Expecting that every client would book you and becoming dissatisfied when it doesn’t happen, it will destroy your self confidence as a photographer and long term prospects of becoming successful.
The best you can do, is to reach out to the client who didn’t book you and try to find out if there was anything you could have done to win the business. Or find out what the photographer who won the business did differently. May be there is something you shall consider.
5. Stick With Your Business Plan:
Low paying jobs just take your focus away from becoming successful. You need to build and grow “YOUR” business not someone else business. Don’t chase any client at any price just to get some income while undermining your long term success. It will derail you from your path to becoming a successful plus would confuse your clients with pricing all over the place.
Why the friends of the clients you gave a big discount to, cannot get the same price? And did you put half efforts into their session for half the price you charged them? I know it is tempting to do post-processing or second shoot for other photographers, and that the extra money can help to get through a slow season. But if the time you are going to spend on it is giving you such a low rate of return compared to promoting your business and getting clients, why do it in the first place?
You would be better off to get one client on your own, instead of spending long hours post-processing images. And while second shooting is good to add experience and portfolio images in the very beginning of your career, later when your hourly rate increases, you would need to do lots of second shooter jobs to make up for your pay rate.
6. Seek and Learn from Constructive Criticism:
The biggest mistake many photographers make when participating in discussions is to take the feedback for their images or craft, personally.
There is a grain of truth in every feedback, so learn how to find it, understand it and tweak your workflow or techniques. When listening to a feedback different that yours, you are gaining insights into how others perceive your images, workflow, business practices. It is true that people can be very opinionated online and you have to put efforts to filter the gold nuggets from the chunks of coal you would get, but don’t blank reject anything which is not praising you and feeding your ego.
Your friends will tell you what you want to hear because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. They would like even the most awful images you post because they want to remain your friends. Your clients on the other side are not your friends, although some would later follow you on social media and befriend you. You will be operating a business and in business the one who delivers the best value to its clients becomes successful.
Feel free to follow Trifon Anguelov Photography on Social Media.
So don’t be afraid to seek feedback from different sources and not from your friends or immediate family only. This will help you to realize how to improve and growth. Otherwise, you would be risking to live and feel secure in the friendship’s bubble the friendship and would make you less inclined to look into improvements.
So try to see both sides of the equation. Unless you consider yourself the master of the photography craft already and don’t want to improve at all.
We all learn by practicing and by learning from our mistakes. It’s like first learning how to walk or ride a bicycle. One needs to try and learn on its own how to get good at something. There will be many trials and failed attempts before we can master something.
Our brains are designed to store successful patterns only after we experienced the failed ones. So, when on location working with a client, try to first nail down the “must have” shots. Then do a few experiments with a new technique or composition. Have at least one of two new poses or techniques try on each session.
Don’t count them as must have but as a learning opportunity. After you master it, add to the workflow. Then continue… Look for fresh ideas. Try a different technique or perspectives.
8. Review Your Work Regularly and Keep Your Blunders:
Keep the bad shots you took and think about why they happened. This is a valuable tool to grow as a photographer. If you don’t do it, you will repeat them again.
You need to learn to avoid them and fix your techniques By keeping your blunders around is also useful to see how you are progressing and growing as a photographer. Over time you should see your images becoming better and better. Look for the errors you did in the past and are they still present in your latest images. Analyze why an image doesn’t look “right” and what is causing it.
How you can make it look better next time? You need to have something to compare to in order to get better. I understand that you might be itching to destroy these “bad” images forever, but keeping and using them to grade your progress would be worth the effort.
9. Be Part Of The Community:
Participating in different online and in person communities would help you learn and grow faster. The multiplication effect of utilizing everyone else knowledge to grow, is going to allow you to compound your gains and excel faster in the photography business.
Also by simply being on the receiving end and not contributing back with knowledge and experience is not the way how communities thrive and grow. As you learn and receive knowledge from others, so the others and less advanced can learn and grow from your knowledge and insights.
It is easy to ask for help and advice but not taking the time to share and help others grow. But if everyone does that, who is going to bring the latest ideas and information? Sharing and participating by contributing is how the entire photography community can grow and stay healthy.
There are many successful photographers who worked hard and persistently to master their craft. There are also many who struggle to sustain and grow their businesses. The difference between both is the way how they approach and the decisions they make every single day.
It is important to understand what makes a business a success and how to not only sustain it but also grow it. I hope these 9 tips were helpful to give you some ideas to try on your own.
If you find it useful and interesting, please feel free to share with your friends or fellow photographers by using the share buttons below. We all can and will become better photographers by learning and sharing knowledge with others. If you have any comments, suggestions or feedback, drop me a line in the Comments section.
About the Author:
Trifon Anguelov Photography is a Premiere Bay Area Wedding Photographer in Mountain View, CA. Many clients in the entire San Francisco Bay Area have entrusted us with capturing their wedding days. To learn more about the wedding photography services we offer and book a wedding or portrait appointment, visit our Wedding and Portrait Photography Site