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How do I become a Successful Photographer?


I was at a Seminar for PPA a while back in Seattle and I ran into an old friend (hi Heidi). As we talked she said something that I haven’t forgotten.  It was along the lines of, ‘I wish they would talk about the fact that you don’t have to be working full time, 24/7 to be successful.  It’s okay to be part time.’ My friend, Heidi Lawson of Wishful Thinking Photography is more than just on to something, she’s absolutely right.  Success should never be defined by someone else, it can only be defined by you.

Let’s start with a simple question.  What does success look like to you?

Is it how much money is in your bank account?  How far out you’re booked?  How many L series lens’ you have or how many people ‘like’ your Facebook page?

Take a few moments and define your version of success.  Because yours might be different from mine and that’s okay!   I hope a few thoughts came to your head, I was able to compile a pretty long list…  It included somethings like my dream home complete with interior decorator, having the savings for all of our three kid’s college educations, and in my mental list I just looked smarter too.   But those are temporal and their shelf life isn’t eternal.  It’s in no way bad to have temporal goals.  I love goals, I  write them out and review them all the time.

But… I believe true success can’t be measured by checks on a list, it can only be measured by a feeling.  The only way to measure true success is to look at the relationships that have been created.  It’s important to remember that success can be easy to fake, don’t be fooled by those who appear to have it all together (nobody does).  Success can be most honestly measured within the walls of your own home.  So remake your list… What is success to you now?

I am a mom but not just that, I’m one of the very lucky ones who gets to be a stay at home mom by choice.  This is exactly where I asked to be.  In front of Dora and smelly diapers, teaching the alphabet and wiping up spilled milk.

I am the official ‘owie kisser’ and story teller. I am their biggest cheerleader. I’m not perfect, and sometimes I forget it. Sometimes I look at the numbers and start playing with the idea that if I did more than my one session a week, if I took on just a few more sessions each month, I could clear multi 6 figures and that sounds like that should be success. To the world it sounds like it should be worth going after. And I’ll admit that I’ve felt my head trying to convince my heart it’s a good idea.

But then I think of them.  I think of who I am and what that means and I realize that although I’m a big fan of it, money will never define success for me.  Anna Quindlen said, “If your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all.”

So today I will forget the numbers and ignore the inbox.  Today I will look only at them.  And I will access my job performance with them!  When they look back in years to come will they be proud of my work or will they resent it?  If I’ve found success on the world’s terms but have forsaken their needs their will be bitterness, and than I will realize that I have ultimately failed.

I can’t make that mistake, the price is too high to pay.  None of us can, so define it, and be proud of where your values are.  Of course I have many goals and I’m going after them one by one but it can’t be at the expense of my success in the home.

I’m a mom with a camera and I’m proud of it!  

My definition of success is to have a great marriage with a husband who knows I’m crazy about him, kids who know they’re adored and walls that are filled with pictures of happy faces in a home full of laughter and love.

What’s your definition?



  1. so true leah !!!

    when i started my business about 2 years ago- i got so busy so quickly that i was just running with it and i think i lost myself and family for most of it …. i would hear my kids say – i hate that computer mom !!! wow – did that hurt when they said that …

    here , i was thinking i was doing great things- starting a business and being busy ….

    i have been reading more and more from photographers that we need to stop a bit more and enjoy our lives – we get so stuck behind the computers that we are going to miss everything ….

    our family was mapping out our fall schedule this past weekend – and on it – i wrote “fun with mom” on monday and wednesday afternoons …. the family looked at me and said – wow- we haven’t seen that in awhile ….

    i am going to try and stick to this schedule … as i too am a mom with a camera – and try to spend more time with my family … i too want my family to be proud of my work …. not resent it ..

    i am trying to get more organized – thanks leah for the great tips on that 😉
    and more efficient working and not trying to answer emails while i am editing …

    success to me will be harmony in family, work and play !!!!

  2. Erica says:

    All I have to say is Amen Sister! This is one of my favorite posts.

  3. Heidi Lawson says:

    Thanks for the shout-out Leah! But I really love what you wrote here. And it got me thinking this morning!

    While earning Money is great insofar as it can contribute to my family and help me buy what I need to improve my photography, it is definitely secondary in what I feel defines success. I don’t even need to be “known” in the photography community. Certainly don’t need (or want!) to speak at WPPI! But if someone did stumble upon me, I would just want them to say, “she’s good.” I want my talent to be the measure of me.

    For me, I feel the most successful when I know I’ve delivered a quality product. When I know that my photography is the very best that it can be. When my clients are so excited that they refer me to others. And the very best success is when I hear my husband referring me to others. I love feeling like I have my family backing me up and that they actually think I’m worth it.

    And yes, I want my kids to feel like I am a full-time mom FIRST. I keep reminding myself that I’m on a long-time journey. I’m not just going to be a photographer this year, I want to be one in 10 years from now. That there will come a time when I WILL be able to work all day while the kids are at school. But right now when I still have young ones at home, I need to be with them, because they are certainly not going to sit still and stop growing while I “just edit for a few minutes”. So for now I LIKE being small time while working on being big talent. It keeps me happy.

    • Maggie says:

      Thank you Leah for this post and Heidi for your comment. It really hits home for me and I
      have had similar thoughts so much lately. I’m trying to figure out that balance between
      putting time into my business, continued education, clients, etc., and also still being a
      wife and mom. I wouldn’t be anywhere without my family backing me. They mean everything to me and
      some days I think I forget that. I, too, want this to be a long-term career, but my babies just
      keep growing and I won’t get back this time I could have with them right now. Thanks for the
      reminder! I am have to write down my idea of success and tape it to my computer!! Or maybe I’ll
      just put a picture of my family on it. :0)

  4. Megan says:

    Wow Leah! I think this is your best post yet! Which says a lot because I love all of them! One thing that keeps my “entrepreneur” self in check with my “mommy” side is constantly reminding myself that in the future I will NEVER look back on this time in my life and think “Man, I wish I had worked more!” It’s SO easy to get caught up in the excitement of starting up and running my own business. But in terms of success 1. I have to make sure that my value as a human/ woman isn’t defined by my business (money, popularity, booked sessions) and 2. I have to make sure that I’m not operating based on other’s definition of success. Both of which are a struggle. Daily.

    For me personally, I also have to remember that the world’s definition of success (and usually my own) is much different than the Kingdom’s. Sometimes, as painful as it can be, “success” means putting down my own wants and desires (which I really don’t like to let go of) and realigning myself so that I can impact others for the kingdom of God. (easier said than done!)

  5. Chelsey says:

    Have you been reading my mind?! Wow! I teared up a little reading this! I have been struggling with this for a while and its like a light bulb just came on! I am the only one who determines what success is for me. Brilliant. Thank you and Heidi sooo much!

  6. Carrie says:

    Yup! I agree 100% with all of this! (wonderful post Leah!) I too, like Heidi commented, am one who measures my success mostly by the quality of the product I am delivering to my clients, and the consistency of creating just the images I want to achieve. I actually admitted to a friend 🙂 just the other day that I would be completely happy and feel successful only taking on 2 maybe 3 shoots a month, and this is ALL BECA– USE I know where my “happy” place is when balancing my family life and my photography business. It all boils down to the fact that I don’t want to miss waking moment with my baby, and to do so, I can’t take on any more than 2, maybe 3 a month.
    So yes, I agree that success to one person may not be success to another, and I think that’s great!!!

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  8. Emily Rainsford says:

    Oh I love this!! I am working on the beginnings of my photography business and I was discussing what I want from it with my partner the other day. I was telling him the one thing that made me afraid to start was that I didn’t want it to take over my life and to get too busy… and then I said “it sounds silly to say I don’t want to be successful, doesn’t it?!” I guess what I really meant was – my definition of success wouldn’t be to be overflowing with clients and booked up to the hilt. What I really want is to do 2-3 sessions a week (newborns), really enjoy them, do good work my clients love at my own pace and enjoy time with my family. And why shouldn’t that be as valid a definition of success as any other?

    Thanks so much again, I came across this article just at the right time 🙂

    • You’re so welcome Emily and you’re so right… Why on earth couldn’t that be a valid definition of success? It is… It’s the perfect success story for YOU and that’s what it’s about!

      My goal was to take one session a week, average $2K per sale. With those numbers I could work part time (I spend about 8 hrs. on my photography biz – now that it’s all in place and established), bring in a very handsome contribution to our home but can more than be there for those who matter most while getting to be and have something that I am absolutely crazy passionate about, photography! That was my ultimate success when I reached it several years back, I had to pinch myself a few times because it just seemed so incredible to be real!

      I’m sure you know this… But I would feel awful if you hadn’t seen it and didn’t know! The Thriving Photographer™ is my program that I developed that goes through every step of how I built and established my business and it can be scaled from 1 session a week to 50 depending on what your version of success looks like! (

      Thanks again for your comment! 🙂 It was really fun to be reminded of this post!

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