Five Areas to Master for Success as a Professional Photographer

By Kyle Wilson

According to research by author Dane Sanders, only 15% of photographers are still in business three years after starting.

That means 85% of us fail in the first three years.

Embarking on a professional photography career is no doubt a challenge, but understanding and mastering key areas can help you get on track to success.

It's time to identify your pain points and work on correcting them to steer your photography journey. If you're starting your journey in photography, focusing on these five key areas can significantly boost your chances of success.

Five Crucial Areas to Master in Your Photography Career

Shooting Skills

Refine your shooting style and develop an objective eye to determine how to improve your images during the shoot. Just as a skilled chef tastes and adjusts their dishes to find the right balance, find the missing ingredient to perfect your images in the moment.

Overshooting slows your post-shoot process and costs more time than necessary. While you work on refining your shooting process, try AI-assisted culling to help you swiftly sort through your images. AI software like Narrative Select can significantly speed up your selection process.

  • Are you shooting a huge number of images that will take you ages to work through to cull and edit?
  • During editing, do you constantly adjust the same things, like lighting?
  • Do you sometimes feel disappointed you didn't capture a moment like you imagined?

Read Improve Your Photography: Culling Made Easy With AI to get a beginner-level lowdown on photo culling.

Your Unique Style

Your style should shine during the shoot, not just through editing.

For instance, say you realize the lighting is not optimal. You can edit it out later, but that steals unnecessary time. A good photographer will notice if the light is working in the moment, and if it isn't, suggest a different location or time to capture the image they are after.

Ensuring your style is manifested during the shoot minimizes the need for extensive post-production edits, putting you on the path to long-term success.

  • Are the elements within your shots contributing to your distinctive style, simplifying your post-shoot process?
  • Can you quickly recognize and rectify lighting and setting issues during a shoot to maintain your unique style?

Read Tyler Rye’s thoughts on harnessing your unique skills to set yourself apart.

Client Relations

Client relationships play a pivotal role in your long-term journey as a photographer. Evaluate your client interactions to see how you can attract more of the right kind of client.

Success lies in attracting clients who trust your expertise and creative vision, fostering positive, long-lasting partnerships. If your clients constantly need affirmation that you're doing a good job or are micromanaging you, it sets you up for that pattern to continue, creating a barrier to your success. 

  • Are you effectively attracting and retaining the right clients?
  • Do your clients trust your creative process, or do you constantly find yourself selling your abilities?
  • Do you ask your clients for feedback?

Read How To Book Photography Clients Who Trust Your Process for our expert tips on succeeding with clients.


You need enough bookings to survive financially. If you're not getting enough bookings, it can be due to either the content you're putting out there or the quality of your work. 

The key to a refined portfolio edit is to use an objective third-person perspective with your images without getting personally attached to them. Review your images through your prospective client’s eyes; show only what you want to shoot to help attract more bookings just like that.

Not getting enough bookings could also highlight a problem with your communication. Is your website effective; is it more than a display of pretty pictures? How does your social media look to someone new to your brand?? Do you follow up with previous clients to get referrals - and if not, why not? 

  • Does the market want what you're creating? 
  • Are you detached enough to assess your work objectively?
  • Is your communication on point?

Read 5 tips to communicate with photography clients to ensure your communication is up to par.

Sustainable Income

You're on the road to failure if you don't earn money. That's the harsh reality of business life.

It's basic economics. Figure out how much money you need to make in a year to live comfortably, and then divide that by how many weddings or sessions you want to shoot in a year. 

That's what you need to be charging. 

If it isn't a doable amount, you can either shoot more or work on improving your skills and deliverables  so you can charge more. Pricing your services appropriately ensures financial viability and continued growth as a photographer.

Alternatively, you can seek out other revenue streams like selling presets or offering workshops.

Read How to Make More Money Selling Prints in Wedding Photography to learn how to make money from photos you already have.

Last But Not Least, Are You Happy?

Suppose all the above elements are going great for you, and you're still stressed and disappointed, comparing yourself to other photographers. 

In that case, that does not bode well for long-term success.

Read Striking the Perfect Work-Life Balance in Photography for specific tips on growing into your career without burning out.

What can you do to enhance your chances of success as a photographer?

All facets of your photography business are interconnected; the effects of working on one area will trickle over into other areas. 

Here are some helpful tips to work through to address these areas to give yourself the best chance of success.

  • Always be shooting. Iconic American radio host Ira Glass tells all creative people: "The most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work. It's only by actually going through a volume of work that you're actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you're making will be as good as your ambitions." 
  • Sort out your post-shoot workflow. If your data organization is a mess, you'll always be stressed. Invest the time in streamlining your workflow process into a simple system that works for you. 
  • Lean into your network. Ask for feedback, go to workshops, show your work and be open about your process. 
  • Educate yourself. Every year, target one or two areas and learn how to improve them. Find a workshop or online course. Pinpoint your weakest areas and work on them.
  • Outsource. If you're not skilled in a particular area, consider paying someone who is. Spend more time on what you are good at while letting someone else handle what you're not.

Follow the Path to Photography Success 

Succeeding as a professional photographer demands more than technical skill; it requires  a holistic approach encompassing shooting proficiency, style development, client relationships, booking efficacy, and financial sustainability. 

By addressing these areas, you can defy the odds and find fulfillment and longevity in your photography career. 

Remember, it’s your passion and perseverance that ultimately turns obstacles into opportunities and ensures your growth in photography.