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Thursday, 09 April 2015


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A: Making enough money that my kids can eat and have a roof over their head. Without that everything else is meaningless. Once that's done...

B: 1-3 good photos a year and 1-3 new images for a portfolio each month. That means a few images I moderately like a month.

C: Learning something new at least every month and preferably every week.

A hit or two every year? Something I'd smile at whenever I walked by it if I printed it up big-ish (bigger than 8x10) and put it on my wall. And there have been years I've missed, according to that definition.

Also, it makes me smile when friends use snaps of mine as their profile pictures on social media.

For me, happy amateur that I am, "success" means capturing with my camera what I saw in my mind and then transferring that image onto a piece of paper. It's out of my hands at that point and up to the viewer(s) to take over from there...

Concisely, "success" for my photography is primarily about accomplishing visual goals.

If I'm photographing for a client (only occasionally) of course I'm trying to accomplish their objectives.

Sometimes I'm just out trawling for fun on my own time. But I'm more often photographing for my own defined projects of varying spans of time frames and specificities. Towards such objectives I try to make "significant" progress during each shoot/outing, whether that's one good image or twenty.

But I must say that "success" on any photo effort also means getting at least one good surprise. That, to me, is one of he great joys of photography.

Please tell me the one or two you can't show us are NOT nude selfies, Mr. iPhone.

[They are not(!). --Mike]

A technically competent photograph that tells a story.

Dog in window

When I shot regularly I shot to communicate an idea. My primary success came from when I was satisfied with executing my vision to my satisfaction. My ultimate success came from seeing what my mentor described as my photograph taking on a life of its own. Generally, what he meant by that was seeing my photograph being reused for others own purposes, especially years down the road. I've had this happen with about a dozen and a half photos over the past 5 years. For me, that's a very satisfying form of success.

Success is when you stop worrying about success.
Success allows you to worry about more important things.

I hope I'm not pilloried for this, but money seems to be a remarkably accurate designator of success -- money spent as well as money earned. Mother Teresa was never personally rich, but she raised and spent gobs of money; more conventionally, people who are really good artists usually are successful financially. Of course, large amounts of money are also made by charlatans, but they are usually pretty good charlatans, rather than the run-of-the-mill con men you see in so many movies. Generally, though, when I encounter a starving artist, I've observed that his/her art isn't very good (sometimes, I think it just isn't good *yet.*) One of the more frequent tragedies you see in the art world are people who are earnest, hard-working, untalented and old, who feel that they simply were never discovered or who explain that they were "unwilling" to do whatever awful capitalist thing they thought they were required to do to get success. And the bystanders generally agree that he's really not very good...

So I think money is one criteria for anyone who wants or needs money. And I have to say I've met few photographers like Vivian Maier who seem satisfied to work for themselves, and their own private goals. Most want recognition, and recognition is often most sincerely expressed through...money.

Here are my best shots of 2014

A nude selfie of mIke is a picture of him without his beard...

I would claim in a free world success is what you according to your personal value system define as such. For me success is being happy about my own achievements, whether on the job or in private life.

I've just started reading Sam Harris's "Waking Up" and it's not at all what I had expected. It has made me want to restart meditation which I've tried on and off over many years and which actually led me to Ladakh in 1985.

Success is a me word. It's about ego, desire, and ultimately envy. You long for it, but once achieved it loses its power.

In my case, success belongs to two categories of pictures: in some cases you take a picture being reasonably convinced it is going to be great. In other cases you do a series of pictures and later, while reviewing them, you find one of them, unexpectedly, was fantastic. The later is probably the kind of success I enjoy more, because it's always a nice surprise.

If you mean "success" in terms of frequence, I would not know what to answer. To me it's more a matter of occasions and right places than attempts, since I am not doing organized sessions of photography. I would say I might make 10-15 great pictures a year, but it changes a lot.

I don't think making money is succeeding at photography but succeeding at business. Nothing wrong with that and the two aren't mutually exclusive. For me though, to succeed at photography means I can consistently produce photographs that "work" and that myself and others would value enough to have a physical print on the wall or in a book etc.

My "success" rate varies greatly depending upon many variables including how much I travel, my commitments outside of photography, whether I am turning my creativity to other pursuits (of which there are a few) and how much motivation I have at any given time. Unlike many I don't carry a camera with me at all times and don't regret the very, very occasional missed opportunity as my photography is usually more intentional. If I travel or have a project on I would guess an average anywhere from 30 to 50 successful images a year. In between those times it's more like 10 to 20. I am quite critical of my own work, so one person's success is another's meh.

Since I am not a professional photographer, I do not have to measure my photography success level. As an hobbyist photographer, I feel successful when I look at my photos and really like them. If other people like them which happens sometimes, that is fine, I feel like I have managed to share and convey the feeling and the "whys" of the photo. Kind of egotistical benchmark.

For a professional photographer, measure of success has to be related to be able to make a living, or not, out of it. As with any other profession.

Right at the moment, it's a feeling in my gut when I get my pictures from the camera. It doesn't always last with repeated viewing but when it does, that seems to be success.

For me success is "develop a personal style, and be happy with it", but is something personal because I haven't got a style or I can't perceive a personal style in my photography.

I love the second one (the dogs legs)

Success certainly doesn't come down to money only. Many photographers are out there making lots of money with their forgettable, meaningless pictures. In a few years no one will remember them, or their pictures. Others were so important they've carved their own place in photography history without having made a fortune out of it. Vivian Maier never exhibited her pictures and spent her last days in poverty; W. Eugene Smith, the photographer I love above all else, left $18 in his bank account when he died. Are they any less succesful than, say, Peter Lik?
Of course there are exceptionally talented photographers making a comfortable living out of pictures, but then again there aren't so many of them. Money isn't definitely the only factor in judging one's success. In photography as in life.

Frankly, success to me is: 1) five/six printable shots a year and 2) acceptable quality of the photographs I intended them to be of acceptable quality.

Money? It is that we amateurs lose in spades, ain't it?

I like Mike!
For me it was the realization earlier this year that I had in fact found a 'body of work' in the prints I had been making.
For me the 'body of work' idea means a common thread in the photographs that helps me present a coherent idea in multiple images not just a single photograph.
As much as I appreciate a well composed photograph the 'body of work' idea helps me think in terms of how the image might help me tell a continuing story and I find that as I continue to do the work new ideas continue to arrive.
It was a clarifying moment and for me a new level of understanding the work I'm doing and why I'm doin it.

When you go to bed at night and you think, I'm a little bit happier than I was last night at this time.

I always mentally separated Pay work from Art work.

Professionally I was never wildly successful but paid my bills and was happy.

Ah, but the art. I felt success was 12 or so superior images a year and enough (never quantified)good ones to keep me engaged and striving enjoying photography while provided excellent memories.

I always mentally separated Pay work from Art work.

Professionally I was never wildly successful but paid my bills and was happy.

Ah, but the art. I felt success was 12 or so superior images a year and enough (never quantified)good ones to keep me engaged and striving enjoying photography while provided excellent memories. -b

I'm more or less in this for myself. I definitely want people to see my photographs, and it's wonderful if they like them, but I'm more concerned with whether or not I am happy with them and am at least putting a few out them out there now and again. There's no real quantitative measurement of my success in photography. It's a gut feeling. How's it going?

After I shuffle off this Earth I hope my photographs provide some meaningful insight into the lives of myself and those who surround me. Whether or not I will be successful in this regard is something people in the future will have to decide. I'll never get to read the reviews.

Success is finding a new project that I really enjoy working on....coming up with an idea that will keep me busy and lead to
new work which leads to meeting new people which in turn leads to new adventures. I am lucky to have my photos in a couple of galleries and the support of family and friends who enjoy seeing what I do. Money is NOT a requirement for my success...but it is rewarding to have an audience enjoy and purchase my work. Years ago when I was shooting for a publishing firm it is hard to describe the thrill of first seeing an entire travel calendar on display at Borders (I'm dating myself) with my name on the cover...that was success back then but now it is different....my photography today is driven more by an internal need to tell a story...to illustrate an idea...to make a contribution to a community. Finding a project that lets me do all these things is my definition of "success".

That is a wonderful question- what's success in a photograph?

Like a lot of landscape photographers, I tend to get caught up in the technical minutiae of sharpness, depth of field, avoiding wind-induced movement, and so on. But a technically flawless photograph is all too frequently uninteresting, while many flawed images are incredibly compelling (Robert Capa's iconic D-Day photo comes to mind). The relative handful of photographs I take yearly that I'd consider successful seem to have one thing in common: they touch an emotional cord. They seem to resonate with a sense of serenity or awe that matches what I felt when I was capturing the files. Technical competence, adequate resolution and so forth are 'necessary but not sufficient' elements.

I wish I could better understand or quantify what makes for a successful print, because my success rate is frequently very low. The more I photograph, the more frequently the hits seem to arrive. When I resume photographing after even a brief hiatus, I turn out duds consistently until things start to 'click' again. And yet, a random utterly casual capture turns out wonderfully, while a week of diligent effort proves utterly fruitless. Dang it.

The successes come *just* often enough to make me keep trying, rather than giving up in despair.

Agreed Mike!

Hi Mike,
Reading your blog on a daily basis, this is one I like to comment on I understand it must be about me. I am in my gray years, having a life with photography in all aspects very uncertain in the beginning with my work when I exposed it so far when colleges brought it down for no reason than jalusy I threw up in the toilet. I had my own photography studio earning money with it both art and advertisement jobs it was a big fight. Now I am happy with a picture when it comes to me I wait for it, if it's not coming also good. I put some of the ones on my blog people like it, buy it its good for them it brings no extra energy to me. I give workshops where I learn that many are in a battle with themselves, their life, the camera or lens they wish, their job, and win that struggle, they must make a beautiful picture what will bring them a bit in flow what give them successful feeling. A Successful feeling you get when you do not want or expect it using a camera from plastic or gold do not matter.

I don't even care if anyone likes what I'm doing...success in the general sense is the ability to fund a living doing what you want, working with people you're simpatico with; with very few worries about income, so you can concentrate on your core discipline, and use your spare time to be with friends and family.

I am so far from it now, I look in the mirror every morning and just shake my head. Wrong state, wrong city, wrong company, miles away from my family and friends, all to keep my head above water...

...what's that "...quiet desperation..." phrase again?

I'm very much an amateur, so I don't have money earned as a hit criterion. My audience is family and friends. For me a "hit" is a picture that generates a print request. Sometimes we'll visit a niece or nephew and find one of my prints of one of their children from a few years ago on their refrigerator. In a good year I'll get a couple of dozen.

Some time back I volunteered as photographer for a high school drama group. Among other things I did head shots of the students in the program. Adolescents are a tough audience - they are very sensitive about their appearance. The thing I did they liked best was zit removal in Photoshop.

My response is much the same as yours, Mike, but it does leave me feeling that I should do something further with the few that I like a lot.

It has to be making money doing what you love, I got my first camera at age 12 and I have been a professional photographer all my life. At 61 I still look forward to assignments every day. The reality is with a mortgage, a daughter in university and a son starting a PHD in another country you need to make money so doing that is not a chore when you love what you do.

Success? There are many different successes. The first one is getting out with a camera. Seeing things I've not noticed before. Getting a good shot of that. Trying something different and it worked. Making progress with a new focal length. Learning something new in Lightroom or Photoshop. Printing. Pulling a print from last month out of the drawer and still being pleased with it. As you can see, I'm maybe too easily pleased.


Photographically? Well, once I get over my frustration that most of my images suck .... it's when I find I have one that I can work into a print that I like and like to have hanging up.

Apart from that, what both Josh Hawkins and Len Kowitz said (above) works for me.

To have even one of my kids take up and love photography like I do.

People have often told me that they see the world differently after discovering my work—that now they find “Kingstons” everywhere they go.

This is very satisfying; it’s when I get reactions like these that I know I’m on the right track.

Making photographs I feel a real connection to. I think too many of the photographs I make are somebody else's.

BTW, when are you going to make the 'lampshade' photo available in a print sale? It always startles and delights me when I see it.

For me, success is making lots of images I'm happy with and the occasional image that makes my heart skip a beat. To a lesser extent, it's also making lots of images that make my friends happy and a few that make their hearts skip, and to a much lesser extent, it's all of that for everyone else.

I have a metric that I use to judge whether I'm doing enough work (three new images posted a week, one or two portfolios started a year) and whether that work has been good enough (one or two portfolios made presentation-worthy or reworked by the end of the year, a dozen or so great images for my end-of-year retrospective, and two or three times that many really good images for my end-of-the-year retrospective), but those metrics aren't really about gauging "success". While I'm certainly disappointed when I don't meet those goals, I don't necessarily feel like I've failed in my work, nor does meeting my goals mean I feel "successful".

In general, I only feel "successful" in the heat of the moment--right after I've taken a picture, or processed it, or printed it--or in hindsight, when I go back and look at something a year or two later, without the pressure of selection and editing, and think, "Wow. That's pretty good," or even "really good". Or "really bad". Though the latter, of course, doesn't make me feel as good as the former.

At my age success is seeing the annuity checks still coming in.

Success is the feeling of satisfaction when others like your work.

Success for me is not about money, though as a retired 78 year old, I would not mind a few dollars coming my way. I think one of your commenters put it well, I think it was Sal. Just enjoying my passion for pictures, and managing get a few "hits" as you put it Mike, is success for me.
By the way, I really love the first three of yours. Your teaching me how to appreciate and shoot black and white. Since that was my 'thing' in my twenties, it's making me feel young again. Now that too, is success!!

Since I don't do it for money, it's got to be about pleasing myself.

And that means to make 1 or 2 satisfying portfolios of 6 to 20 photos a year (that being the rate at which I seem to be able to do it -- more would be great, but it's not happening) bound into a volume and put on the shelf. Maybe a couple for the walls too.

Although I would enjoy making money at photography, making money isn't success as a photographer in my book. Making money is success at making money, an activity that can result from any of a myriad of activities. I count my success as a photographer in my ability to create images that convey what I meant to convey. The resulting images may or may not sell (and thus make money) but my marketing skills are poor (I have no enthusiasm for marketing) and marketing is what is needed to make money whatever the field of endeavor.

For me, success is simple. It's finding the ideal life balance that keeps me sane and fulfilled - emotionally, intellectually and artistically.

Sometimes that means working, sometimes it means giving your time, love and attention to something other than work. I find the trick is knowing when you have enough of one, and need more of the other.

It's not always that obvious.

I make a very good living in nothing related to my photography. In fact I shoot what I like, stretch myself occasionally, have more tools (toys) than I need and happily give the results away. I have had an image tour the country and many hang in friends and family's homes and businesses. Making people happy for a few dollars? success for me, I usually suggest they pay it forward. I like printing my work and simply don't have enough wall space. Why would I store it in a box when someone might enjoy it?

Success. Well lets see....

Since I don't have an "eye" but I like dinking around with old cameras then;

Success is getting my hands on an old ratty folder with a sticky shutter and bringing it back to life.
And then running a roll through it.
And then developing said roll to see if I really did manage to fix it.

And then sticking it on the 'camera shelf' to admire it every once in a while.

Kinda of boring ain't I?

["Honest" is more like it. --Mike]

Having enough keepers to keep you going at it.

Success, a description that may or may not apply to what you are attempting to accomplish. In this case photographically when I working in the trade full time was get the image, process and print and on to the next assignment.
As a much older amateur the same criteria apply; with one difference.
The difference is if I don't feel good about the result, nobody will find me out.
For that reason alone, means photography is no longer a means to an end result, for me.

Really like that pic of the dog by Sarge. And I read the comments, waiting and hoping for J.C. to wade in, and wasn't disappointed. You could tell in the first few lines it was written by him...:)

Why do we need to measure everything in terms of success or failure anyway? I enjoy taking photographs. If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't do it. Success (or the lack of it) just isn't relevant.

For me it's all about the long game, the legacy of work I leave behind. There have been plenty of great artists who made little to no money, and almost all artists can produce a handful of good works. The ones I admire and wish to join have created a body of work that is significant.

Success in my photography at various times in my life has meant that I could pay the rent and have dinner.

At other times, and now, it means that I am satisfied that what I produce in my photographs (and books, presentations, etc that center on them) meets my intent, and others find something in the same photographs that they find compelling and comment worthy.

Is it going to buy me immortality in Art? There's no way for me to know, so I don't care about that. For me, the journey is the reward: it's all we have.


"All is photography...I mean vanity. Who knew King Solomon was a photographer?
My two pesos

Probanly the same, but in uneven groupings. When I travel I chase 1-2 a day (wish it was more) and a lot fewer when not on the move.
Writing from a hotel room bed in Osaka and after 7 days her I have 10-15 true keepers (prints) from 1500+ taken.
I find that "back of camera" keepers just are not always print successes.
Same for most others?

I'm not sure if he meant it in the same sense, but:

> Success is brutality. Success in every form, political and religious, art and business. To be successful implies ruthlessness.

—Jiddu Krishnamurti in his notebook, quoted by Mary Lutyens in J. Krishnamurti: A Life[1]

[1]: https://books.google.com/books?id=jUmApIe_dbcC&pg=PA416&lpg=PA416&dq=%22success+is+brutality%22&source=bl&ots=XExrTzPkdF&sig=BmtmVHHd_CwfJOQOPJZl6Mnteqo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=TVspVb2yKMeAygTl1YHIAg&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=%22success%20is%20brutality%22&f=false

Not only is success different for each individual, it's also a moving target.

When I first started learning the craft, I thought success would be being on the cover of National Geographic. I never did that one. Then. it was giving up my day job and being able to live as a photographer. Then it was shooting more than 40 weddings in a year, then 50, then 60. Then the National Geographic thing again (failed again due to it being a complete fantasy and me not trying).

Now it's being in control of my own life and photography has given me that gift. When I want to pick my kids up from school or go to the swimming carnival I do. If the surf is up on a Tuesday, I can take the morning off. When I work, I still work hard but I can process out images at 10pm, if I want to. I still love shooting and do it every day, either for work or play.

Success means that what I am doing now is working well enough that I can take some risks. I'm setting new goals for success by adding UAV's and getting my commercial drone certification to my business, knowing that if it doesn't work out, I'll still be OK.


When a project starts to come together and looks like it might actually cohere into a narrative of some sort. Sometimes that's quite a long time - even years - after taking the pictures.

Two measures of success, with a bit of luck they exist in parallel:

First, a client or patron who is happy with the photograph purchased or a completed commission.

Second, and just as important, a personal project photo printed that really works for me. While I'd love to aim for one a month, I'm grounded enough to be happy when it all comes together, no matter the timing.

First off it's money coz I need to make a living out of it. But, Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones once said this about being succesful; "If you turn on one person with your music, then your job is done." (paraphrasing here) For me the same applies to photography.

Success is doing no harm, helping others, and creating images that you feel are important so that you or others can enjoy them by sharing. Money is an idea.
great photographs are more than an idea and they make a difference.
My life is better and richer because of great photographs because they teach me to see and think better.

Maybe it's the Epicurean in me, but as far as i'm concerned, success lies between satisfaction and satiation.


In one of my favourite books (The Fat Man on Game Audio), George Sanger defines success as being rejected by increasingly-important people.

For example, being a rock star:

1. The salesman at the guitar shop won't let you touch the instruments
2. Your mom won't buy you an instrument
3. Nobody will play with you
4. Your parents hate your band
5. Your band can't get a job
6. Everybody hates your band

all the way to:

24. Of the thousand people who visited your grave this week, only four hundred noticed that your middle name is misspelled.

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