The definition of a successful photographer

It’s easy to get depressed if you look at the lives of the rock star photographers.

Jerry Ghionis jetting all over the world appears to be the definition of a successful wedding photographer.

Israel Smith’s portrait studio turned over hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Money, fame and adulation. Sounds pretty awesome, right?

But be careful what you wish for. Is it really what you want?

Jerry Ghionis has openly admitted in interviews that his obsession with work caused problems in his private life.

Israel Smith also admitted his photography studio gave him depression because it was just so busy and repetitive.

Exotic wedding locations sound fantastic, but it’s more tiring, more work and generally less profitable than local weddings.

Owning a photography studio appears the ultimate goal for a portrait photographer. The downside is the large overheads can potentially mean your studio feels like a production line of repetitive tasks.

One of my local photographer friends / competitors looked at breaking point when I last shot a wedding with him. He was on his 3rd wedding in 3 days and had done 14 weddings in one month. He made good money, but I wasn’t jealous.

If you’re photographing 50, 60, or 70 weddings a year you sound like you’re incredibly successful because you’re busy. You’re popular. You might even be doing really well financially. But are you happy? How does your family feel?

Being busy isn’t necessarily success.

Being rich isn’t necessarily success.

Winning awards isn’t necessarily success.

Only you can define what being a successful photographer is to you.

Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to everyone else.

Not having a studio doesn’t mean you’re not successful.

Just because you haven’t photographed the rich and famous doesn’t mean you’re not successful.

To me, success is happiness.

Are you happy?

Are you photographing clients that you love photographing?

Are you earning enough to live the life you want without working 24/7?

Are you still excited about picking up your camera, or are you dreading the next darned session?

Are you sat working late at night when you’d rather be snuggled with your family on the sofa?

My photography business model was designed for my happiness.

I don’t specialise in one genre of photography, even though it would make more business sense. Why? Because I like a little variety.

I don’t have a studio for lots of reasons… I don’t want to commute to work with everyone else. I don’t want to have to worry about staff. I want to wake up late sometimes, just because I feel like it. I don’t want to perpetually be photographing in front of a background; I want to be out in the world, walking through woods, rolling in mud and experiencing nature.

I don’t earn top dollar, but I earn what I need to take two or 3 holidays a year and buy the things I want. I average £600 for family portraits and £1500 for weddings. I’m sure I could do better if I worked harder, but I’m already happy and would rather have more family time.

What does success mean to you?

Do you feel disheartened when you compare yourself to other photographers?

Are you happy?

That’s all that matters.

If you’re not, then why?

Are you not earning enough to survive?

Are you photographing the wrong clients?

Do you feel used and abused?

Are you working like crazy but not getting anywhere?

Are you busy and rich but about to have a meltdown?

The photographing business is wonderful because there are so many business models. Pick one that suits you, but be aware of the pitfalls.

If you’re super-expensive you’ll need to develop excellent sales and marketing skills.

If you’re super-cheap you’ll have to work like crazy to earn a living and you might burn out, or feel used. Plus you won’t have enough time with each client to be truly creative, or provide a great service.

You’ve gotta pick your poison because every business model has a downside.

So what bothers me about my business model?

Well, I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t feel nice to own a gorgeous studio. My portraits would adorn all the walls and be beautifully lit with spotlights. I’d have open days and charity events. I’d feel proud – no doubt about it. But I’d have to work a lot harder than I do now. I love having lunch every day with my wife (who also works from home). I love walking our dog in the woods whenever it suits me. I love listening to all the cars commuting at 8.30am while I lie in bed with a coffee.

Swings and roundabouts my friend. Swings and roundabouts. I’ll never have a multi-hundred thousand pound studio, but that’s ok. We went to Venice and Scotland for holidays this year and I never feel stressed – ever.

I have one little caveat for you though. Even lazy little me worked damned hard to go from part-time to full-time. Every photographer has to roll their sleeves up to make that transition. And if you need help doing it, take a look at this.