I have been giving this topic quite a lot of thought of late and I think now have the answer. If you don’t want to read the whole post then just skip to the end to find out.
Let me start by saying that I am an amateur photographer with no grand illusions of making money from my hobby, let alone becoming the next Michael Kenna. I took early retirement from the property industry last year and I count myself very fortunate to now have the time to pursue other interests in life. Throughout my career I was in a competitive environment, driven by targets and a desire to always achieve more sales than the previous month or year. Business growth, maximising profits and climbing the career ladder were all key to being successful. Nothing wrong with any of that and it’s easy to measure the success of an individual by their earnings and status, or of a business by looking at the profit and loss accounts and the balance sheet.
Given this background it is almost ingrained in me to ask the question – ‘How successful am I as a photographer?’ Naturally I considered various measures that could be used and I list a handful of them below. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means and you will have your own ideas, but these are some that came to mind and I would guess will be common to many others.
1.Camera club competitions. I have been a member of a camera club for a number of years now. Judging can be a bit hit and miss, after all a picture might be technically sound but that doesn’t mean a judge will like it or award it a top mark. This also begs the question of what qualifies as a ‘technically’ good picture, particularly if something is deliberately out of focus or with blown highlights for artistic reasons. Nevertheless a score is given and it is a measure.
2.Likes, comments and follows on Social Media. I have a number of Social Media accounts – Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and of course this blog all of which have a number of followers. Certain images and posts attract a good number of likes and favourable comments which is of course very gratifying. However human nature dictates that you always want more. If your last post attracted 20 likes then you will hope that the next post might generate a few more, 25 or 30 perhaps. If you only get 20, or worse still even less, then inevitably you are disappointed as you had set your expectations at a higher level. Does that mean the last photograph you posted was worse than the one before – probably not but you might think that way. Social Media can be addictive, not to mention very time consuming. Perhaps being out with your camera and taking more photographs would be more satisfying and enjoyable than chasing numbers?
3.Distinctions by Professional Institutions. I am proud to be an Associate of The Royal Photographic Society and the process involved to achieve this accreditation was a most enjoyable experience. Of everything I have achieved to date this has been the most gratifying and important to me personally.
4.Your camera equipment. I don’t know any photographer who doesn’t like talking about their camera gear. By having the latest and ‘best’ equipment some will even argue they are better and therefore more successful photographers. I know am fortunate to own and use a Leica Monochrom but when I look back a few years to photos captured with other less expensive cameras, those images and the experience of making them gave me just as much pleasure as the equipment I use today. Enjoy using your equipment by all means, I know I do, but in my view it’s not a measure of your success.
5.Selling prints or winning a commission. Over the years I have sold a few prints and undertaken a commission. The fact that someone has been prepared to put their hand in their purse or wallet is of course very rewarding. The number of sales and the price paid are easily measured and it would be fair to say that a photographer who sells more prints than another photographer is more successful.
6.Exhibitions. Sometimes I look at a photographers CV on their website and see that they have been exhibiting their work over many years and in mnay different locations. No doubt they will have sold a lot of their photographs and have collectors, but assuming they are professional photographers they will need to pay the mortgage each month. I have my first exhibition coming up next month which I am looking forward to with great anticipation. Whether or not I sell my work is not of importance as I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. I will be delighted if do of course but my motivations are very different to someone trying to make a living from selling their work.
7.National Awards. There are numerous competitions and to win a prestigious award must be very gratifying for the recipient. Benjamin Graham has just won Landscape Photographer of the Year and will receive a cheque for £10,000. I know Benjamin, he also lives in West Sussex and as a result of him winning the LPOTY he will no doubt enjoy and benefit from this fantastic achievement in the year ahead.
I could easily go on but as I said in the beginning this is not an exhaustive list. So am I a successful photographer and do any of these measures carry more weight then others? Is there another measure which I have not mentioned? One which is even more important and relevant to me than all of the above put together? One that perhaps is a little more difficult to measure as it’s more subjective than objective?
The answer to all of these questions is yes.
In a number of the above measures I have used the words such as ‘enjoyable, gratifying or pleasurable’. And therein lies the answer. All these measures have merit but in my view being successful is directly linked to personal happiness. If doing what you do as a photographer makes you happy, gives you and others pleasure, and each and every step is enjoyable or gratifying, then in my opinion you have succeeded and are successful.
Conversely the photographer who always expects to come first or be awarded top marks in competitions; who has thousands of followers but still wants more; who has many exhibitions and sells numerous prints but the results have not met prior expectations; and who is never satisfied with the equipment they use, then this person is likely to be pretty miserable. To my mind this does not qualify as a definition of success.
I am very happy amateur photographer. This interest has given me a great deal of pleasure in recent years and accordingly I consider myself successful. I hope you feel the same way about your own photography.
This may seem entirely obvious in which case it doesn’t do any harm to be reminded of what is really important in life – simply being happy.
Finally I thought I would share one last measure (supposedly) – A pile of identical frames in readiness for my first exhibition next month!
Enjoy your photography!