Friday, January 30, 2015


A commenter asked what I knew about how to "succeed" in some sense. At any rate, that's what I took away from the exchange. I am not successful in any recognizable way. This is, at least in part, because I have not made any effort to succeed. I am pretty sure that success -- however one chooses to define it -- is pretty hard work. Still, I can perhaps offer some insights. More precisely, I can offer some insight into how not to do it.

Don't bother "working" the social media. Yes, there have been some successes there. Eric Kim, despite his completely derivative and not very interesting pictures, is a success. If you asked him, he would probably say that it was because he worked social media, gained followers and built an audience. Then he launched a web site and leveraged his audience into a career giving workshops and so on. This is what it looks like to him. That is what he did, certainly, and to that he would naturally attribute his success. If so, he's wrong. There are probably a million people out there with 10,000 or 100,000 followers on some social photography thing (flickr, instagram, 500px, etc) and not all of them are going to succeed.

I watched a great video on Survivorship Bias recently which brought this into sharp focus in my mind (hence this piece).

Don't bother copying other people. Yes, there are guys running around out there selling over-saturated landscape photographs and making quite a lot of money at it. Just because those 10 or 20 guys are doing well does not mean that the millions (yes, millions) of people copying them are going to do as well. If you want to make money selling expensive prints, you would do well to copy their business models, their sales processes, and so on. You would not do well to copy their pictures. The pictures might not matter that much, ultimately, but why start out with a the problem of differentiating yourself from the established guys? Start somewhere new. Find something appealing, crowd-pleasing, and not a saturated landscape. Flowers. Dogs. Kitchen implements. Vegetables. Whatever.

Obviously if you're trying to Art, rather than Sell, don't bother copying people. That's silly. If you're trying to Art, you probably want to start hanging around with gallerists and curators, but that's just a guess.

There isn't any royal road to success, but all the roads start with finding your own voice, surely. Figure out what you want to shoot, and shoot that. A lot.

Success, no matter how to define it, seems to demand that you be able to produce work consistently. A commercial photographer has to be able to go on site, on schedule, within a budget, and make more pictures of more or less the same sort as appear in her portfolio. A wedding photographer, ditto. An artist has to be able to grind out a new portfolio of new work every few years, a new portfolio which is related to but not the same as the previous one. A landscape artist needs to be able to go to a new location, and grind out more of the same, with equal or better quality.

So figure out what you want to shoot, and shoot it. A lot.

Ray Wylie Hubbard once said that the important thing about writing songs is how you're gonna feel playing it at every gig for twenty years, because every song might just be a success. Don't start shooting something you're going to hate if it does become the signature of your success. Shoot something you like.

I suspect that's part of why we see guys like Peter Lik doing landscapes. The work may be horrendously boring by now, but at least he gets to travel all over. If he was doing endless studio shots of flowers, he'd probably have killed himself by now.


  1. "A commenter asked"...
    I am sorry to tell you, but since you restarted your blog, you only had two commenters. Nigli, who has a google+ account, and me, who posts anonymously for lack of a suitable option. Why don't I have a suitable option? Because I deleted all the options I had: blogs, facebook and google+ accounts, forum presences, etc... Why did I do that? I explained already: on today's Internet my only choices appear to be:
    -agree to the one opinion that everybody has or
    -be hated by everybody.
    I mean: I don't have to look far for an example: you spent hours on lula yourself defending the reasonable opinion that a photographer can crop or not as he pleases. Was it fun?

    For a reason I can't really understand, all the interesting people appear to be gone. It is "eternal september" all over (look up that wording if you are too young to know about the Usenet). Sorry for the digression and apparent rant, but it is part of the subject.

    Back to "success". I never said anything about commercial success. I have enough money for my needs, thank you. I am not looking for customers, I am just looking for a public. I am looking for people to watch my pictures. Now, this looks like a silly problem to have, but is a very, very common problem. Vivian Maier never found a public in her life, for example.

    I am not from a background of people who appreciate graphic arts. So, about 10-15 years ago, I turned to the Internet to contact and exchange with like minded people. It worked the first years: not everybody agreed with my ideas, of course, but I had lively and thought provoking discussions. That was "success", as you name it. But as I said above: the demographics have changed and that time appears to be gone.

    Probably, the only solution for me will be to try and find like minded people outside the Internet. I am inquiring about local photo clubs. My first contacts have not been very successful, however.

    1. I moderate all comments, so I am aware of how many commenters there are. I do remember Usenet, and I do have fun in the LuLa forums.

  2. I discovered your blog yesterday and I'm digging around around reading this and that. Man, this is enjoyable stuff. I love your writing style and sense of humor. I blog at and I have very few regular readers. I feel your pain. Keep plugging though. Success might be just around the corner, or worst case scenario, you hone your writing skillz and entertain some people along the way. Do you ever think about joining forces with other bloggers in a magazine type of thing? A petapixel for people with brains? I think the key to blogging is a stream of content and SEO that draws people to old material. I don't have enough time to write a quality post every day and sometimes I don't have enough time to post in a month but I keep plugging along. Always learning something. When I look back at posts from years ago I think, "who was that guy? That post sucked." I think that means I'm getting better.