In a few days time our little photography business turns five! We’ve been photographing weddings together for five whole years! Pretty much fresh from college and university, we jumped feet first into an industry that was largely unknown to us. With just scraps of a portfolio and big dreams to guide us, it’s fair to say that things could have gone either way. We could have only ever dreamed of becoming successful wedding photographer back then.
With such a milestone looming, we’ve found ourselves reminiscing about years gone by. We’ve thought about everything we’ve learned and what, if anything, we’d have done differently if we could do it all again. More than anything, it’s made me consider the idea of success. Are we successful? Do you ever feel like you’ve made it?
Once upon a time, we were working out of Sam’s bedroom and fitting in weddings around full time jobs. I was answering emails during my lunch breaks and investing entire month’s wages at a time on new equipment. Back then the goal was to be able to go full time and to have a separate room to use as an office. To be successful was to quit the day job and support ourselves financially through photography alone. Maybe one day, if we were lucky, we’d also have our own home.
But five years on, in spite of achieving everything that we originally set out to, I don’t always feel successful. Over the last couple of years when I’ve thought about what constitutes “success” things like awards and workshops and destination weddings have come to mind. Things that way back when, we never even thought about.
Back then, the buzz and satisfaction came from bookings and happy clients alone. Every new enquiry was a victory. Nothing else really mattered. Then as you get a little better at what you do, other photographers start recognising your work. Blogs and directories start to have you on their radar and you become acutely aware of the fact that the world of wedding photography is a vast one. When you see your peers jetting off all over the world to shoot weddings or scooping awards left right and centre, your own achievements can feel somewhat insignificant in comparison. Peer recognition and industry recognition start to feel important too and it’s natural to want a step up on the ladder. Your goals and aspirations change a little.
So you set about doing all of the things that it seems like successful people are doing. You pay the fees and enter awards collections. And you pay the fees to join the directories that celebrate the best of the best. And you pay the fees to enter regional or national awards. See a pattern? A year, a few awards and a couple of hundred pounds later, for me, things started to feel bought and fake- hollow victories. Something clicked.
So many of the things that are dressed up as external validation of skill, talent, proficiency are actually just marketing tools. If not for yourself, then for others. There are a lot of people making a lot of money by selling small visible tokens of “success” to photographers. “Featured on” “Member of” “Winner of”.
They all promise in a round about way that they’ll set you apart, that you can be a part of something great. That by paying these fees you are amongst the elite. It’s easy to get caught up in it all, especially when you see people who’s work you admire riding the same bandwagon. That realisation is when my idea of “success” changed and I realised that none of it actually matters.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not a top 100 photographer, or if you’ve got no awards under your belt. When you’re lusting after something more, remember that you don’t always have the full picture.
No one mentions that they’re shooting that wedding in Greece for expenses only to build their destination portfolio. No one announces that they’ve paid to enter every set of awards going- they just tell you if they’ve won. No one tells you about the weddings that make them question why they ever became a wedding photographer in the first place. And yet that’s the reality for so many of us.
We see the killer shots and the one offs and the things that paint us in the best possible light, of course we do. It’s basic business sense and we’re not knocking it. For the most part, we all do it.
I suppose what i’m saying is that success is a very individual and a very personal thing. Ultimately it’s not about how other photographers see you, or how you see them. It’s about being important to and valued by your clients and everything that entails.
When you’re looking at everyone else’s highlights don’t forget your own accomplishments. Every day that you wake up and get to do something you love is a success. Every new booking and every happy couple are huge achievements. On days where you feel like you should be more, remember that there are people out there who admire your skill and talent so much that they’re willing to pay to have you capture their special day. When that happens you’re already in a place so many photographers at the start of their journeys want to be.
So how, in my opinion, do you become a successful wedding photographer? You stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and focus on what you’re doing. Ask yourself what you want from your career. Dream big, set your own goals and smash them one at a time.
But most importantly of all, never ever believe that you’re not good enough.