What does it mean to be a successful photographer?

  • picture of baby sitting in a radio flyer wagon outside by Ashley Manley

What does it mean to be a successful photographer?

I was recently chatting with a photographer friend of mine after getting accepted to the Click Pro program at Clickin Moms.

It had been a goal of mine for years and finally it happened. FINALLY. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I ugly cried when the email came through followed by a celebratory glass(es) of wine. I’m a lush, what can I say?

Anyway, when I told my friend I was accepted, she responded with, “Of course you did, Ashley! You’re a great and successful photographer! I, on the other hand, would never get accepted.”

The response kind of stopped me in my tracks.

Of course it was a nice compliment, and of course I was happy she thought I took nice photos, and, of course, I told her to stop being so hard on herself. But that simple response triggered me to think about the enormity of the word.


photo of kid standing in the snow by Ashley Manley

Here’s the thing about success: we see it happen to others and think it’s because they are better or luckier or in a different situation. What we don’t often see is how hard they work. We don’t see that with the well curated collection of good photos they post on the internet, there are thousands of really bad photos that weren’t posted. We often don’t see the bad days or the bad ideas or even the bad sessions. And, typically, we don’t see all the rejections that came before.

I opened my mouth to tell my story, the one filled with failures told in a really dramatic voice, but she had already skipped onto another topic, so I decided against it.

What she didn’t know is that I had applied a couple years earlier to the very same program and didn’t get accepted. She didn’t know that I spent months working on a collection that I repeatedly tore apart. She didn’t know that on a regular basis, I don’t feel very successful as someone else always seems to be busier, faster, more creative, and better at just about everything.

Following this conversation, I looked up success in the dictionary. “The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”

pic of boy playing in the water by Ashley Manley

The thing about success? There’s enough of it to go around. We don’t have to have grandiose goals or measure up to the ideals of others. We don’t have to delve into uncharted territory or reinvent the wheel.

It can be a new baby or a happy marriage. It can be a vacation or a full bank account or no bank account at all but the freedom to wander. It can be a single photo that brings a tear to the viewers eye or a simple email saying, “You’ve been accepted into our organization.”

My friend is successful in her photography, just in a different way than me.

The thing about success? It looks different for all of us. And, of course, I’ll drink to that!

About the Author:

Ashley is a documentary family photographer and obsessive personal project shooter living on a small farm in Central Illinois. She has two littles she chases by day, a husband she annoys by night, and a handful of critters she pretends to control. She likes good light, good wine, good coffee, and good people. You can follow all of her daily adventures and wild ideas on Instagram, where she's been known to overshare and overuse the hashtag. Visit Ashley Manley online.

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