When Being a Good Photographer Isn’t Enough


I’ve met a lot of bitter photographers over the years, especially as high-end cameras have become cheaper and more accessible. They complain that Photographer A gets more work than Photographer B even though Photographer B’s work is clearly better; or that Photographer C doesn’t get any work even though their work is the best of the three (Side Note: often times the photographer complaining IS Photographer C).

What these people don’t realize is that, sadly, success often has little to do with talent and a lot more to do with personality. I don’t mean that you have to be likable either, there are a ton of successful people that could easily be described as horrible human beings. What I mean is that you have to be motivated, unafraid and adventurous.


We all have that friend that sees a commercial on TV for the new wonder-product and immediately cries out “I thought of that years ago!” They then go on to complain that they should be the ones making millions off of the idea instead of the hack on TV. Heck, maybe you’ve even found yourself in that situation before (I’m sure I’m just as guilty of it as anybody else).

What these people don’t realize is that having an idea — or, for the sake of this post and in the case of photography, having good technical skills — is just a small sliver of what makes you successful.

The difference between your friend and the guy making millions from that product is that the guy selling it on TV actually went out and made the product. They did the leg work to conceptualize their intangible idea, they created it in the real world. It was only then that they were able to put it on TV.

In the case of photography it doesn’t matter how good you might be behind the camera, if you sit at home and never do anything with your skills you’ll never be successful.

There’s a saying that goes “content is king.” This is true just as much in photography as anywhere else. I don’t care how good your technical abilities or theoretical knowledge are, if you don’t get out there and use those skills and that knowledge to explore the world around you, it won’t matter.


I’m a big proponent of amateur photography, which I know isn’t a very popular opinion these days as everybody is marketing themselves as the hot new wedding photographer, but I don’t believe that going to school for photography or being mentored by an amazing photographer will in turn make you a good photographer (although those things don’t hurt either).

What makes you a good photographer is experiencing life and the world around you and having a story to share with people through your photos.

Some might pause here and think I’m speaking specifically about photojournalism, but even the best studio portraits allude to a story behind the subject’s eyes or in their form or posture. Similarly, the best wedding photography conveys an emotional connection between the two in love and gives you a glimpse into their story.

That’s because photography isn’t a skill so much as an art, and art is more about truth than anything else. It’s about providing insight or making people think differently than they normally would. Exposing a point of view one may never have otherwise contemplated. The ability to capture that, to me, is what makes a good photographer.


So just how does one do that?

My suggestion: don’t start off thinking about the technical aspects of a job. Heck, don’t even think about photography. Just look. Experience the moment. Experience life. Then think. Think about the story you’re trying to convey. Think about the subject and what it is you’re trying to say.

Now, a lot of people don’t have the luxury to sit around and think about their photos all day before they start shooting, especially in today’s breakneck speed oriented culture. Thus, my suggestion is to go out and live life before you try to capture and convey it.

Go explore! Go travel! Meet new people, talk to strangers you’d never think to talk to. Everybody has a story and the wider you cast your net the more diverse your point of view will be and, in turn, the more diverse the collection of stories you’re sharing through your photography will be.

Find something that catches your interest and absorb yourself in it. The photos will come naturally as a result. Your passion and affinity for the subjects will come across in your photos because you’re experiencing it as you’re photographing it.


Really what all this boils down to is that you can’t waste your life thinking about what you would photograph if you were ever given the opportunity. You need to find that opportunity yourself. You need to explore until it presents itself to you.

I’ve had far too many friends that have mastered the craft of photography, only to do nothing with it. Perhaps their personalities are too timid and they can’t bring themselves to approach strangers on the street, or they don’t like to venture out of their comfort zone and travel to new places.

These are the toxic elements of a personality and they will prevent you from ever being a success. In fact, forget success, they will prevent you from ever living a full and satisfying life.


Once you’ve taken those steps you’ll be a lot more comfortable, and the following steps will be easier. As you grow more confident, learning how to get your work in front of people and market yourself will become immensely easier.

Don’t misinterpret this post though, this is less about marketing and selling your work and all about experiencing life before you begin shooting it. The business side is important if you want to be a successful professional photographer, but it comes later. You don’t go on TV to sell your new wonder product until you’ve made it.

Luckily, if you can nail down that first part, it’ll make the marketing/selling part a lot easier. People will naturally be drawn to your work because it holds that special element so much of modern photography is missing.

Personally, I don’t think it’s hard to take a beautiful photo, but it is hard to take a beautiful photo that says something. And you won’t have anything to say until you’ve gone out, camera in hand, and explored the world.

Image credits: Header Photo by, Hiker by andresAzp, The Desert Ultra by Worldwide Happy Media, Intimate Moment by Tela Chhe, Sea Kayak by Chris Walker and Festival CulturaDigital.Br by festivalculturadigitalbr


  • 42323423432

    and all photos in this article we have seen a thousand times.

  • D

    This is a great article! However, I agree with the reader below on the clichéd pictures selected. :P

  • DarCam7

    I haven’t. I’m relatively new to this site so there’s always an audience to cater to. Plus, don’t worry so much about the pictures, I think the message of the article is much more important.

  • Rabi Abonour

    While I totally agree with the sentiment behind this post, I think the wording is a little awkward. If you sit at home not making photos, you’re not a good photographer. I would argue that this isn’t a talent versus personality argument, it’s a theoretical knowledge versus practical ability argument.

    The bottom line of this post is 100% right though: You can think about photography 24 hours a day, but you won’t be successful if you don’t get out and make images.

  • Peter Acker

    Very true, but even getting out there, without the personality to market yourself and to keep people coming back to you, chances are it’ll only be a hobby. I know very talented people who get out there and do great work but have no idea how to sell themselves and I know people who get out and shoot a lot but are just dreadful people that nobody in their right mind is going to hire, or at least not a second time. In this current age of the fauxtographer a lot of the local business is going to go to those people that have some talent, a great personality and some business and networking ability. And of course, most of the time, it’s whoever wants to do it for the least amount of money, sadly.

  • Rabi Abonour

    I completely agree with you. Being a good photographer isn’t enough, and you need to know how to sell yourself if you want to get work. However, the author specifically said that he isn’t talking about selling yourself. He is using personality to mean the courage to get out and shoot. That’s a fair use of the word, but it convolutes is message. If he is advocating for amateur photography than being good is in fact exactly enough, because being good implies that you have already gotten over the hurdle of not willing to go out and shoot.

  • Mescalamba

    Lots of complains come from people with no talent at all. Contrary to popular belief you actually need to have some talent.

    You can learn how to be a decent photographer, you can achieve certain level of skills needed, both in shooting and processing. But that line which separate really good photographers from rest is that they have talent (or at least bit more than others). That and obviously mastering the craft itself.

    Certain things cannot be learned, talent is one of them..

    (and sh*tload of dedication, which is another kind of talent too :)

  • Mescalamba

    I forgot..

    Everyone can buy a brush and colors, but not everyone can be Monet or Rembrandt.

    Everyone can buy a violin, but not everyone can be Paganini or Vanessa Mae.

    Everyone (almost) can buy a Nikon D3x, but that wont make you Steve McCurry. Neither it will make you second Ryan Brenizer.

  • Peter Acker

    I was assuming from the first paragraph that he was talking about professional photographers with his header ‘When Being a Good Photographer Isn’t Enough’ because he goes on to talk about A, B and C photographers competing with each other for ‘work’. If we’re talking about amateur photographers then hell yes, there are tons of great ones out there (that don’t try to pass themselves off as professionals in an attempt to get work that they don’t actually have the ability to execute) and yes, getting out and doing is going to help them more than sitting home and watching.

  • Rabi Abonour

    “Don’t misinterpret this post though, this is less about marketing and selling your work and all about experiencing life before you begin shooting it. The business side is important if you want to be a successful professional photographer, but it comes later.”

  • Sarah BK

    Wonderful article – greatly written and is so very true. It’s almost about life, not just limited to photography.

    We often tend to overestimate what we can think and imagine without any experience – but once you live through something new, such as travelling to a new country, I’m always fascinated to then see how much more differently I can then view and think about life and what exists beyond the walls of my mind.

    No doubt, as this article confirms, that this would impact one’s photography if at the end of the day for so many people, it’s an expression of the mind of the person being inspired by what life has to offer :)

  • Larry Angier

    Instead of a new piece of gear that will never be used and is little but a boat anchor, take that $$$ and purchase the opportunity to go out and find some great photos!

    Buy a bus ticket, plane ticket, gas for your car. If you don’t go out there, you won’t find it and it definitely won’t find you…

    People wait for retirement stating “some day…”Some day is today. I knew too many people who said those words while waiting for retirement. Today, many are six feet under. The hurst has no luggage rack when you take that final ride. Do it while you are vertical!

    Now, go out and make some great photographs!

  • Patrick

    Blue M&M’s were my idea.

  • Rob Elliott

    The Business of Photography like any other business is all about being ran and marketed well…

  • A.G. Photography

    Speaking like a true Marie Antoinette! Because people have rivers of money running down their faucets, and can travel all over the place cause it’s free, and truly do whatever they want!

    Let’s make this simple: If you’re single, male, make over $50k from another job, and have no obligations towards a family or work related, you have all the time in the world to become a “successful” photographer! (talent or not). The end.

  • Spray and Pray

    Very inspiring. I totally agree as I do this all the time. I’ve been busy thinking on the next concept shot that It’s been over a week since I took my camera out of the bag. Too busy thinking, not enough doing. Can’t wait for the kids to get home for a mini shoot

  • Copyright

    Please credit the photographer’s work. Thank you.

  • Tim

    They’re probably stock

  • Tim

    Photography’s not about the equipment or settings it’s about finding good light…. It’s not about light it’s about being in the right place at the right time….. It’s about being in the right place at the right time with the right light….and the right settings…….It’s about having the “eye”….It’s about connecting with your subject…..


    Isn’t it?!

    Did Don McCullin make an iconic photo every time he pressed the shutter? or did he take lots of photos and pick the best? Or did the magazines pick the best? I bet Robert Capa threw away a few, But does everyone have the balls to join in on D-Day?


  • markz

    as the old saying (that paraphrases Edison’s “Genius” quote) goes:

    “success is 1% inspiration 99% perspiration”

    you can have all the talent in the world but if you sit in your room all day instead of getting out there and selling your talent don’t complain when some one with a fraction of that talent (or even none at all) gets the paying gigs

  • A_Lwin

    Well also remember with Edison, he stole or took credit for a lot of stuff someone else did. :)

  • Zizo

    I’d also add Luck which has a lot to say in success. I’d recommend reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Kahneman

  • Mantis

    I wish I could downvote this a thousand times. What a completely idiotic thing to say that proves you, and everybody who upvoted you, completely missed the point of this piece.

  • Anonymoused

    I just want to say that enjoying life does help, but there are tons of photographers with mental issues such as anxiety disorders or depression who do not “enjoy life” (or desperately WANT to, but cannot for multiple reasons) and still create amazing work, especially those that highlight their problems.
    Photography isn’t all about showcasing happiness.

  • mere

    i need a nex ffffff

  • gallo


  • Eugene Chok

    i was photographer c always complaining, till i discovered this ‘It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter’alfred eisenstaedt

  • KJ

    Squeezable bottles of mayo was my idea.

  • Clay Swatzell

    It seems to me that many missed the point of the post. There is a significant amount of truth in what has been written. Read the post again, this time read the words for understanding rather than reading with the intent to reply.