Ten Keys to Success for Fine Art Photographers

Coaching for Artists & Arts Organizations 

“Left brain skills for right brained people”




1.    Positive attitudes matter:  be visible, be flexible, be persistent.

2.    Establish your niche.

3.    Communicate in the language of your customer.

4.    Find opportunities to show your work.

5.    Get feedback from objective sources.

6.    Use national photography organizations to expand your horizons.

7.    Stay in contact with your network.

8.    Have a vision and plan for your business. 

9.    Learn from photographers you admire.

10.If you just love to take pictures, ignore 1-9 and have fun!


Read on for details …..

1.  Positive attitudes matter:  be visible, be flexible, be persistent.

Since everyone thinks they’re a photographer now, your attitudes are crucial.  First, be visible!  Make it easy for your work to be seen, both online and off.  Stay flexible and open to every opportunity that comes your way.  There is no one right path to follow.  Start out with small ventures instead of waiting for the mythical “big break.” People who are successful try many different avenues, and often fail.   Persistence is key.   


2.  Establish your niche.

Painters and sculptors struggle to create enough work, but photographers usually have too much.   Take the time to organize your images.  Select and edit portfolios of your best work, and use the process to identify your niche.   You might have several series with it,  but don’t try to do everything.   Your work needs to be both consistent and coherent if you want to be recognized.  


3.  Communicate in the language of your customer.

Develop a story that helps people understand how you see the world.  Explain what intrigues you about a subject, what was going on at the time, or the special qualities that captured your attention.  Help people see what you see.  Instead of explaining your technical process and gear, help people appreciate the power of your images.   


4.  Find opportunities to show your work.

There are too many awards and contests and online opportunities for photographers.  Your challenge is to find the ones that are right for you.  Always start local, especially if you’re in the early stages of your career.   Then explore the many good nonprofit art organizations that offer juried shows for fine art photographers.  Take a look at Black Box Gallery in Portland, Oregon, or the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado, or the New York Center for Photographic Art.  Their juried exhibitions are hard to get into but provide a way to establish your credentials as a professional. 


5.  Get feedback from objective sources.  

Your Mom thinks you’re a genius, as well she should, but at some point you’ll need objective feedback.  First find a local photo club that offers peer reviews or brings in an expert to evaluate the work.  After you’ve developed confidence and a strong portfolio,  consider signing up for a professional portfolio review. These can be expensive, as they are attached to conferences (like the Filter Photo Festival).   You will have the opportunity to present your work to curators, gallery owners, museum directors, and magazine editors.


6.  Use national photography organizations to expand your horizons.

Get connected to national photography organizations, such as Professional Photographers of America.  They sponsor contests, offer networking opportunities, provide resources and support.   Also consider the national photography magazines, such as LensCulture and Aperture.  Recently Aperture has included a section where the jurors explain WHY an image received an award.  



7.  Stay in contact with your network.

Creating and maintaining relationships is one of the key success factors for  artists.  So many opportunities come from the people you know.  Social media is an important connector, of course, but don’t forget to show up in person at events for people in your network.   They will do the same for you.


8.  Have a vision and plan for your business.

If you are trying to create a profitable business as a photographer, start by imagining what success would  look and feel like for you.   See it in your mind, draw it as a picture, describe it to your spouse.   Then establish realistic financial goals associated with that vision.  Start small and build your business.  An art career grows cumulatively, as you experiment to find out what works.  


9.  Learn from photographers you admire.

Follow the careers of photographers you admire.  Identify photographers who are a few steps beyond where you are right now, and study what they do.   Evaluate how they present their work online.  Look at their resumes to see where they started and how their careers have progressed.  


10.  If you just like to take pictures, ignore #1-9 and have fun!

Not everyone who loves photography has to make it into a career.  If your visionof success is to take great pictures, that’s what you should do.


    About Mary

Mary Edwards is a Career & Life Coach for Artists, based in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She works with artists throughout the United States and all over the world.

Mary has a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and received her coach training from the College of Executive Coaching.  She brings a unique combination of business knowledge, art world experience, and professional coaching skill to her practice.

Her latest article, "How Art Careers Happen," was recently published in Professional Artist Magazine.

To receive Free Tips for Artists (twice a month), visit www.coachingforartists.com and click on “Mailing List Sign-Up.”  If you would like to schedule a time to talk, see “Contact Mary” or write to her at coaching@coachingforartists.com.  




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