The question has a variety of forms. “Can I make a living as a photographer?” Or, “Can my son/daughter/niece/nephew/granddaughter/grandson make a living as a photographer?”

Then there’s the slightly more negative version, “I can’t make a living as a photographer, can I?”

The worst form is the statement. “Well, I can’t make a living as a photographer.”

If you want hard data I can tell you that some photographers are making six figures and others are running a photog side hustle while they work a day job they hate. A few are even millionaires. Different salary data is out there that reflects an equally wide range of relatively useless information.

The deep, dark secret that the successful togs never talk about is this: It isn’t about talent, or luck, or good connections. It isn’t expensive and exclusive training or advanced degrees. It’s not where you live, what camera you have, or how much software you know.

Can you make a living as a photographer? I have some news for you–the only one who really can answer that question is YOU.

“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” –Henry Ford

This is really the foundation of everything. You simply can’t build a career on “I hope it works out,” or, “Once I get more experience/buy a better camera/get more clients.” Your story starts with this statement:

“I can, and I will–watch me.”

No one is ever going to hand you a career, and overnight success is the most trumped-up myth out there. There is one thing that ALL successful photographers have in common–they decided they could achieve THEIR definition of success.  That last bit is really important. If you’re trying to measure up to someone else’s standard you’re setting yourself up for a special kind of failure–failing yourself.

You get to define what success means to you, and you absolutely have the capacity to make that happen once you decide to.

So that’s the first step, be decisive, choose to do this, and by God mean it!

Ok, now that you have a foundation, it’s time to frame up the building.  All that follows is supported by action.

There are a whole lot of vision boards gathering dust in the back of people’s closets. Let me smack you with another cold, hard truth–you can set all kinds of intentions, you can visualize success, but if you’re waiting for the universe to drop that stuff in your lap you’ve forgotten something really important.  You’re a part of the universe.  If you’re not moving, how will the “energy” shift? Do something.

“Eighty percent of success is showing up.” –Woody Allen

Another key difference between those who “make it” and those who don’t? They show up. Do the work.  If you’re a photographer and you aren’t shooting every day, that might be a good place to start.

Notice I didn’t say, “Have a paid shoot every day,” I said shoot every day.  Even Annie Leibovitz doesn’t have a paying gig every day, but she didn’t get where she is by waiting for people to “discover” her talent.

Of course it’s more than snapping pictures, but I hope you get the point.  Success only happens as a result of action.

To look at this metaphorical house we’re building at this point it looks quite a lot like a house, but it certainly is incomplete.  What makes a building take form are the walls, flooring, and roof.  A photographer takes shape by learning.

No matter how much or how little you already know about photography, business, marketing, and even life, I can assure you that there is more to learn.  If you ever reach a point where you think you know it all that is a very dangerous place to be. Nothing good is on the other side of that I can assure you.

Keep an open mind, expose yourself to new ideas, and above all, cultivate listening. You’ll never truly learn until you learn to listen.

Talent is mostly a myth, and even if someone magically is born with “a good eye” or some other illusive skill we attribute to talent, it’s not plausible that all the facets of a successful career are in any of us from birth. Photography is both art and science, and mastery comes from learning.

In a home, it’s usually electricity that powers things and makes them go. In your career as a photographer it will be persistance.

There will be bad days.  You will have doubts. People will inevitably call you crazy and suggest you get a “real job” (especially on the bad days.) Even if others believe in you, your own confidence may falter. It’s easy to pick ourselves apart, after all, who knows better than us all of our past failings and flaws?

Either that becomes a part of the process, or it’s the excuse for why we gave up.  This choice is always ours.

“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.” – William Feather

Can you make a living as a photographer? Absolutely, but its’ an inside job. At the end of the day it’s up to you, and your success will come from within you. Remember these four things:

  1. Be decisive. Say, “I can and I will, watch me!” (And mean it.)
  2. Take action. Success is the direct result of action.
  3. Never stop learning.  Only a fool thinks they know it all.
  4. Be persistent. It takes most people years to be an “overnight success.”