Be all that you can be is a slogan that far extends past the US Army recruiters and into the livelihood of aspiring photographers everywhere. It is a common thread that is woven among the demographic in hopes of bringing waves of new business ashore, and it is a mistake to assume that skill and success should naturally be intertwined.

The most innately talented and proficiently skilled photographer is rarely the most financially prudent among us; talent and skill are not in direct proportion with success. I remember the first time these words were uttered by Jeff, a business coach, and it was a very jagged little pill to swallow.

Below are four hard truths that I wish I had known along the way and they all primarily circle around the first. There is an intimate human element at play and having a better understanding is imperative for a career of longevity in this art form.

Left: Overly processed with actions. Right: Simple black and white conversion. Model Rachelle Kathleen of RMEA.

Good vs. Great

The average untrained eye is hard-pressed to discern the difference between good and great; between a timelessly raw Peter Lindbergh piece and the gravitas of an over-processed portrait that fell victim to someone learning the magic of actions and presets. This heavy-handed approach is commonplace in the beginning stages of most photographers and it is important to remember that just because something could be done doesn’t mean that it should.

It is by learning and studying the greats before us that teach us what we should be striving for and in this process comes the prized skill of refinement that should be continually polished like fine silver. Without this knowledge, we too may not be able to see the wonderment that is a perfectly executed and iconic portrait created by Avedon decades ago and may also chalk it up next to an early career image from Terry Richardson without so much as a second thought.

Business Trumps Talent

A business-savvy photographer will almost always achieve a better fiscal year than a photographer who depends on talent alone. Because of the aforementioned battle of good vs. great, a keen understanding of business and how it works is mandatory.

Photographers need to know whether or not to sink their hard-earned cash into Facebook ads, mailers or anything at all. Most importantly, they must be able to know their worth in order to be profitable and have the confidence to close the deal. The same amount of time should be invested in the business side and keeping apprised of market trends as is the honing of the skill itself.

Model Michala of Major Models NYC and RMEA.

Experience Is Mandatory

There is an extraordinary amount of psychology that is in tandem with the human element. A photographer will become synonymous with excellence provided they make their clients feel like a million bucks regardless of the actual quality of the end product. Photography is often used to capture an emotional time in people’s lives whether it be an intimate wedding, an empowering boudoir shoot or a multi-generation family photo and it is the memory that people hold onto and come back for repeat business. A positive experience is mandatory.

Identifying Your Ideal Client

At the end of the day, you are your ideal client. That means that someone who shares the same interests and has the same quirky sense of humor among other traits is ideally who you should be working with. It ultimately makes the whole experience with a client easier and more refreshing from start to finish and it rarely comes with any pushback.

This is a key component to overall client satisfaction that comes full circle to improve everything else along the way. If you don’t know who you are, why you are doing this and what makes you tick, there are a number of business coaches who are happy to help with that.

Model Mallory of RMEA

Learning that there are other factors in motion and applying that knowledge with ever-improving photography is a good way of bringing art and business together hand in hand. Adopting these hard truths and learning to adapt them to your art is a skill set that is bound to pay dividends or at the least improve the financial outlook of the future with a career of longevity.