The Secret to Success in Photography

I recently synthesized — stumbled upon, really — a great response to a question I’ve been asked at least 10,000 times. It’s a simple question on the surface, but I’ve always seen the answer to be so complex.
Until now.

Q: “Chase, how do I ‘make it’ as a photographer?”

Prior to today, I either tried to respond with some enthusiastic bullet points about passion, creativity, and hard work; or I lamented that I didn’t have a good answer; or replied with a)”I don’t know, but I’ll call you when I get there”; OR b)”Call me on my cell at 3am on a Saturday night when I’m 5,000 miles from home – I’ll be awake working and I’ll tell you then.”

Obviously all these answers lack something. From here on out, however, I’ll be excited to steer that broad question to this two-part answer:

1. Be Undeniably Good. Last year, in an interview with Charlie Rose, the famous comedian Steve Martin gave this advice to anyone trying to make it in any field:

Be undeniably good. When people ask me how do you make it in show business or whatever, what I always tell them and nobody ever takes note of it ‘cuz it’s not the answer they wanted to hear — what they want to hear is here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script, here’s how you do this — but I always say, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” If somebody’s thinking, “How can I be really good?”, people are going to come to you. It’s much easier doing it that way than going to cocktail parties.

Part 2 of this answer and a link to a great video after the jump. Hit ‘continue reading’ below.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s simple, but profound and unarguably true. And in case someone responds to that suggestion with, “Ya, but how do I get to be so good that people can’t ignore what I’m doing?”, then I’ll drop part 2, complements of Malcolm Gladwell:

2. Dedicate at least 10,000 hours to whatever it is you’re looking to master. In his enlightening talk at the 2008 AIGA Business Design Conference, about innovation and misconceptions regarding what it takes to become a success, Gladwell discussed this concept from his new book Outliers: The Story of Success. “Genius and creativity don’t necessarily spring forth unbidden, they require time and support to experiment, try and even fail.” I found his talk really entertaining, and I’d imagine you might too.

What’s fun about photography, of course, is that anyone can pick up a camera these days and make great pictures, straight outta the gate. No brainer, really accessible, relatively little effort, nice pictures. I love that about photography – it’s why everyone has a camera these days. The technology is really wonderful.

But, if you want to “make it”, whatever that means, I think you need to start by being undeniably good. And if you can’t intuit how to be undeniably good, then start by dedicating 10,000 hours to it. That will get you where you want to be.

VERY IMPORTANT: Do NOT be discouraged by this answer. On the contrary, let this be your golden ticket, the keys to the kingdom. Let it be refreshing that the answer to your questions about mastering photography isn’t bound by money, gear, or even DNA. It’s right there for the taking.

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81 Responses to The Secret to Success in Photography

  1. Louis December 7, 2008 at 7:06 pm #

    Chase, I have to say that this post makes total sense–especially the second point. A friend and I were just discussing this very topic earlier today on the phone, and it really applies to anything in life that one wants to master. My friend used to play guitar a lot and people would come up to him and say that they wish that they could play as well as he could. He’d tell them, “You can–just spend 10 years practicing guitar every day.” Most people are disappointed by that answer.

  2. segdeha December 7, 2008 at 7:07 pm #

    This is it in a nutshell. 10k hours sounds like a lot, but I look back at my 10+ years in full-time web development and that’s between 20 and 30k hours. Most people don’t want to hear that it’ll take 10 years to get to their goal, but what makes people with that experience worth it (whatever “it” is) is that they’ve put in the hard yards and mastered their domain.

  3. Nathanael Gassett December 7, 2008 at 7:17 pm #

    You nailed it. I tell people all the time that the first thing they need to do to make their dreams realities is think about them realistically.
    I certainly didn’t like doing that when I first started out. But when you think about it, it makes sense. Your fantasy might change, the path to it almost certainly will, or it might stay the same. You’ll never know till you sit down and say, “okay, what’s it going to take for this to happen.”
    Turns out running a photography business requires a lot of BUSINESS. That for me meant a LOT of reading, studying, and talking with people much smarter than myself, making mistakes and learning from the fou pas of those before me. You’ve got to look at it from a realistic perspective otherwise you’ll wake up from your dream, and find yourself utterly disappointed.

  4. Shelby White December 7, 2008 at 7:20 pm #

    I really do believe the only answer is committment. I think a lot of people on the up-and-coming feel like there’s no way to be THAT good, but that is where they’re wrong. They could do it, if they’re 110% committed.

    I’ve personally felt lack of commitment–like when trying to learn guitar for example (great example in the first comment). Its hard, but if I committed myself everyday, I could do it easily.
    I feel that the same thing applies to any field.

    Great post. The video is inspirational.

  5. Douglas December 7, 2008 at 7:22 pm #

    I got hit with this number a little over a year ago from a friend in the education biz. He said that basically, anyone could be a guru of anything in 10k hours: pilot, ninja, flautist, whatever.

    Great. 3 hrs/day for 10 years or 8 hrs/day for 3.5 years. Like I have that kinda time to devote.

    Suddenly–very unlike me–I subtracted that number from my age rather than adding to it. What if I had started aikido in 1998: I could kick ass now. Picked up a camera: shooting pro. Or knitting needles: handmade sock master.

    I could have done that then. I should do it now.

    So I did. Now I’m one year into my 10k thing. So good I can’t be ignored, just around the corner!

  6. JVL December 7, 2008 at 7:24 pm #

    According to my wife, I’m half way there. Thanks Chase – I find it inspiring instead of daunting. Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was a career – especially one that is more difficult to break into.

  7. brian faini December 7, 2008 at 7:58 pm #

    So a roundabout way of answering the question maybe be to answer these as well.

    1: Do you consider yourself a success in your field? And if so, what it is to be a “success.”

    2: What were your goals starting out in photography? Did you reach them?

    Depending on the answer to the above
    3: When did you realize that you met or exceeded these goals? And what did you think about it?

    4: What are your current goals? What do you want to do with photography now? (X years after your start)

    The answer to those and the tangents that may spawn from them might aid others.

  8. Blake December 7, 2008 at 8:14 pm #

    thank you for saying what no one else wants to say when asked that question. as full time architectural photographer people always think they are just a lens or a new camera body away from making it like a working pro…nope, stop looking for short cuts, bust your ass for a long time and be exceptional, not good, not marginal, but exceptional. thank you chase for being exceptional.

    B

  9. Cyler Parent December 7, 2008 at 8:22 pm #

    This is how I’ve been attacking my approach to professional photography.

    I decided in July 2006 to pursue a career in one of the most over-saturated industries around. I have been practicing like crazy since then trying to increase my skill and knowledge, as I knew it was the only way I could “make it”. I’m still young, and time is on my side. Watch out Chase, I might steal some of those awards away from you some day ;) .

  10. Taylor Davidson December 7, 2008 at 8:25 pm #

    The first point is my favorite. Too many people (in all fields, not just photography) try to promote themselves or their products without first focusing on just be great to start with.

    It’s not easy, but that’s the point :)

  11. Mark Wallace December 7, 2008 at 8:28 pm #

    Good point chase. There was a scientific study a few years back that asked a similar question, “how are experts made?” The results are very similar to your post. It takes about 10 years to be an expert in any field. Read it for yourself (via Scientific American): http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-expert-mind&page;=1

  12. Jonathan Lehman December 7, 2008 at 8:44 pm #

    A sage-like drawing professor I had, Dale Leys (google him), joked about a formula for becoming a great artist…You draw everyday and place all of your drawings into a single pile until the stack of completed work finally becomes so high and so great that you could climb it, jump off of the stack, and die from the tremendous fall…then and only then could you be a master…he added that sculptors have the advantage here…so how many prints would it take?!

  13. John Sturr December 7, 2008 at 8:50 pm #

    That’s the best response I’ve yet heard.

    JSturr

  14. Kathryn Lymburner December 7, 2008 at 8:52 pm #

    Wise and encouraging words! Thanks for the reminder that it’s more about the time and effort put into this than the latest tool and how many megapixels you’re packing!! Everything else really is window dressing.

  15. Dan December 7, 2008 at 11:03 pm #

    Kind of a broad question, “how do I ‘make it’ as a photographer?”.

    What is talent these days? What is a great photograph? If someone says I am a photographer, what does that mean? What is a pro? It’s all subjective. If one person likes your photos and you make a living your whole life just taking photos for that one person. Are you pro? Those photos are out of focus, your thumb is in every shot. They make everyone that looks at them puke. But this one person loves them. (No, not your mom and dad.) But you make a living from it. Aren’t you a photographer?…

    Isn’t it all about playing odds? If I take 100 photos, 10 will be good. Ten will have something of interest? I think most people miss that that concept takes work. Picking the ten good shots is what marks a good photographer. And it is all subjective. A good photographer is only good in some peoples eyes. He or she may suck to everyone else in the world. It’s all about making those connections with people that want you to shoot their photos.

    Chase already stated that. Most people disliked his shopping cart photo in his portfolio, but someone liked it. It was the photo that got him the job…

    What does it take to make it as a photographer? 1. The drive to take photos every day. The drive to take the same photo a 100 times. It is working with people to make the photos they want and keeping everyone happy at the same time.

    Think about the conflict. Mr. Strobist has tons of knowledge about photography. He is pro. But his “work for free” statement shows that he is not doing the photography he loves. Photography becomes a job. You have to wake up everyday and do. You have to make people smile, make people cry, make people run the same path a hundred times. You have to get the “perfect” shot.

    I take photos of my girlfriend and it’s great. Makes me love photography. Does that mean I should be pro… (if only she would pay me to do it, ha!)

    So in writing the same think over and over, I will restate what was Chase said. To make it as a photographer, someone has to like your photos (the spark). Then you have to work really hard everyday to create something that someone will give you money for. What will make you pro, over time, you will have failed and succeeded enough that you can pretend that you know the answers. Like every other job in the world.

    Every day, every shot, is a gamble…

    Just another person with a camera.

  16. Adam December 7, 2008 at 11:41 pm #

    10,000 hours or “undeniably good”? I’ll take the “undeniably good” thank you. Now. Maybe yesterday would be better. Just kidding…
    I started a new career a little over a year ago, and it will be interesting to see which comes first, 10,000 hours or “undeniably good”. I am dedicated to striving toward being undeniably good. One great thing about life is working hard toward a goal. And, after those 10,000 hours you’ve accomplished your goal, isn’t it the looking back at the hard work, that is the real reward.

  17. Richard Cave December 8, 2008 at 1:40 am #

    Yep you hit the nail on the head. Society is always looking for get rich quick schemes, the only people to profit out of it are the people selling the schemes.

    Biggest lesson I learnt was to work hard, whilst working watch and listen, dont talk just listen, ask questions, and work harder.

    I work with someone who thinks they are the best photographer in the world, I know they are not. The best photographer I ever worked with was kind, caring and shared their goals and experiences. He also never held back on a critique. His sage piece of advice is that any idiot can take a photograph, but getting into the right place, right social circle, right time has nothing to do with photography. You have to be a business man.

    I can play the piano, however after twenty years of playing I am still shy about it. That is because I dont think I am good enough yet 10k of hours practicing. Same goes for photography…

  18. PBrosnan December 8, 2008 at 5:33 am #

    Chase, See this is why I look to you. Thanks to a recent RIF and I am free to pursue anything I want to and this has been the question banging around my head. Thanks for confirming what I already knew, but didn’t want to admit. With the info about the business you keep handing out you are an inspiration to do it right, do it good, and make friends along the way.

  19. iintrigue photography December 8, 2008 at 6:08 am #

    Ohhh! I’d like to flatter myself into believing that this post is in response to the comment I posted on ur photoshelter post…!

    Either way, I guess being undeniably good and putting the effort into it are things that everyone knows deep inside that they have to do. I think, however, that it is far bigger than just these two elements.

    Being “undeniably good” at something is not something everyone is born with. There’s talent and vision, and then there’s hard work.

    In addition, there’s a smart way to learn and a dumb way to get from A to B. Imagine having a good teacher rather than a bad one, how much less time would it take you to learn?

    Finally, I’d like to finish with saying that I don’t think its just about talent. I think it’s about exposure, about luck, about meeting the right person… pure mozart-talent in a basement will not get u anywhere no matter how perfect and fantastic your stuff is or how much time you devote to it.

    Just my thoughts and blabbs.

    Thanks for the post =)

  20. Q December 8, 2008 at 6:10 am #

    Here is a Guardian article on the book as well. I don’t think it’s an either or situation. According to the Gladwell article, it takes those 10K hours to be Undeniably Good. However, with photography as an overall craft and skill set, what all can we lump into those 10k hours? Critically looking at pictures, reading and study, dreaming of and conceiving pictures, or the actual time spent making pictures?

    Can one make up for talent/vision/creative eye with pure tenacity and technical proficiency? How much innate talent must accompany the time in rate it takes to be Undeniably Good?

    I’m of the mind to believe passion and time practice are only part of the equation. There is something else as well. I say this because I am confident I know people who have been dedicated to a skill/craft for a lifetime, and they’re still merely adequate (either by their own admission or by observation). What’s the other piece of the puzzle?

  21. Matt December 8, 2008 at 6:14 am #

    This article is so on point. The second portion, the 10,000 hours of work, goes right along with that Ira Glass (This American Life guy) video you posted a while back about the creative gap. The only way to overcome that gap is through a body of work. Didn’t Ira say even 10 years into the journalism thing, he still wasn’t any good (at least to his taste)?

    I think to sharpen this post a bit more, you should consider adding that whoever it is that is trying to “make it” must, must, MUST have really good taste in what he or she is about to pursue.

  22. Tristan Wheelock December 8, 2008 at 6:56 am #

    10,000 hours is:
    1,250 8 hour days
    would take 3.4 years with perfect attendance…

    Not so bad. Time to get to. Great post Chase, Inspiring as always.

  23. Martin Joergensen December 8, 2008 at 7:03 am #

    Chase,

    Great insight, and so true.

    It reminds me of the old musician’s joke.

    The passer-by asks the musician playing in the street in London: Excuse me, how do you get to Albert Hall?
    The musician: practice, man practice!

    Martin

  24. Scott Van Dyke December 8, 2008 at 8:25 am #

    I to tend to get the same questions from time to time. For myself, I have found that it comes down to “roughly” three things. Hard work, constancy and making yourself known. We can do anything we want. I have a my motto “CREATE WHAT YOU WANT”. This is your script (ie ..life). You can make changes in the script anytime. Living in LA and NY and being surrounded by a lot talented and non-talented people, I find that people are who successful (whatever that maybe for you), will do just about anything to make it in whatever field they are in….for the most part. Sure there might be a little luck involved. And yet I understand the Steve Martins quote. It make great sense. But how many times have you seen an AD or a magazine spread and thought, I can do that so much better. That is part of my motivation. You can have all the talent in the world, and if the Art Buyers and Photo Editors do not know you, your not getting the gigs. So make yourself known, to let your talent separate from everyone else.

  25. Scott Dickerson December 8, 2008 at 9:31 am #

    Lot’s of good comments following up a good post. There is something I’d like to put in the mix. Let’s assume it’s true that it takes 10,000hrs of work, how do you muster that kind of commitment!? I believe that answer is in carefully analyzing your passions and make sure that what you are setting out to accomplish is truly what you are passionate about. Then the energy and enthusiasm will come easily to you.
    There are many things I love to do, there are a few things I’m truly passionate about. It’s not easy to discern between these, but very important. Saying yes to following a passion is saying no to a lot of appealing things.
    I’ve been working as a photographer for 7 years now. It’s hard to believe that much time has passed because the whole process has been so much fun. When I stop and look at my current life, I find that I’m living the dream right now. I still constantly strive to follow my passion for photography and don’t feel like “I have arrived”, but that’s good because the pleasure is really in the process, not in reaching the goal.
    I would suggest that anyone feeling overwhelmed write down what your dream position in this career would look like, then you’ll have a goal, but more importantly realize that if this is truly your passion then the path leading to the goal must be enjoyable. If it’s not, I think you might be pursuing a like, not a love.
    Photography is not a good career choice if making money is your passion. So only go down this road if you can honestly say to yourself that practicing photography for 10,000 sounds like a great time.
    A simple example that parallels this all very well is learning to surf. It’s not an easy sport, but the first time I tried it I had as much fun as I do when I’m out there today. I’m passionate about surfing, putting in 10,000hrs of practice sounds great to me! Each hour will provide the enthusiasm and focus required.
    Cheers to doing what you love!

  26. Tuffer December 8, 2008 at 9:55 am #

    I do think there is truth to this and I think it bluntly states a truth that many wanna be pros need to hear. There’s a point between becoming a “good” amateur and before turning pro where thoughts of grandeur creep in. You start looking at pros and instead of being in awe, you think, um, I can do that. Which blinds you to a lot of hardwork they put in along the way. And certianly, a post like this will help.

    I got a similar reality check slap upside the head, directy from Chase, when I asked at a Seattle meet up what it would take for someone with a fulltime profession, family and mortgage to make the jump to a fashion or commercial photographer. (For those of you who are as head-in-the-clouds as I was, here’s the secret… you can’t).

    But, I’m a little surprised that every single commentor agrees so whole heartedly. Yes hard work is important (very very very important). But there are two things I think people don’t often want to acknowledge because it it conflicts with the “anyone can do anything with enough work” belief that is such a part of the american psyche. A) natural talent, and B) luck. You can’t be mozart with 100,000 hours practice. For every author Oprah endorses, there are 1000 better authors who are going to continue copy-editting because they didnt’ get that break. oops, and I now I’ve written waaaay too long a comment…

  27. Anonymous December 8, 2008 at 11:17 am #

    Work beats talent, unless talent works.

  28. Michael Asgian December 8, 2008 at 11:46 am #

    Chase, I think it’s a succession…

    the 10k hours is making you “undeniably good”

    As Mr. Edison said… 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration!

    10k hours is not that much, less than 4 years of 9 to 5, but what photographer works that way. Put some passion in it and you’re there in no time!

    For those who get discouraged by the work: I LOVE YOU! :)

    All the best
    Mike

  29. joel December 8, 2008 at 12:34 pm #

    AMEN! This principle can be applied to anything.

  30. Kristi December 8, 2008 at 2:26 pm #

    (smile) Now we’ll be seeing everyone putting up a 10k counter on their websites. (smile)

    Our son grew up always saying that he ‘wanted to do what mom does’ (for a job). Then, after finding out that I work well over 40 hours a week; work most weekends; have to be up before dawn and sometimes work well into the evening (and then there’s all the computer work when you get back home); trek through water, or sit for hours in snow – he decided to join the Navy. (smile)

    As a photographer – you never stop learning, and by this I mean watching/reading from the tops in the industry. You have to be willing to sacrifice – time, weekends, comfort.

    It goes back to the old adage: you get back what you put into it.

    For those wondering where they can find the time to ‘learn/read’ more about photography – you need to download the iTunes software from Apple and check out all the free tutorial videos – which can be downloaded to a player and watched while working out, while commuting to work, while waiting in lines – and yes, even while using ‘the library.’ (i.e. bathroom) Many of the free videos on iTunes are from some of the best in the industry – Kelby, PhotoshopUser guys, etc – and they are updated weekly – and older videos are also available. This is a FREE resource and most videos are no longer than 30 minutes.

  31. Ryan December 8, 2008 at 3:37 pm #

    This is a really great point, one that seems so obvious but yet it’s clearly missed on a regular basis. You’re right that the most successful people in any trade are always undeniably good, which I may point out is generally a good business practice as well. By this I mean, anytime you are given an opportunity to show your mastery to someone you should never disappoint – that is, on every assignment, you must produce undeniably great work regardless of circumstance.

    However, I do feel that there may be more to the question of ‘how do I make it’ than what you’ve answered. Without visibility, even the undeniably great photographers cannot ‘make it.’ So maybe the better question to be asking is ‘How do I get my name out there effectively?’

  32. Mick December 8, 2008 at 5:06 pm #

    I had a similar number told to me when I started training Martial Arts seriously for the first time. It can be quite intimidating.

    To compare to photography though, both are disciplines where the more you learn the more you realise that you don’t know. It is even more intimidating to realise that as your knowledge increases so does your awareness of your ignorance. Both require you to take the body of knowledge and adapt to the circumstance that you face, surmounting limitations.

    Personally I find this a great thing. I would hate to dedicate such a large portion of my time to a pursuit only to become perfect and all knowing. To me, as a developing amateur, photography is a deep black hole that takes all my passion, energy and creativity and slowly throws back ability. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  33. Alan Morris December 8, 2008 at 5:26 pm #

    Very few of us are “overnight successes”. It takes practice, dedication, caring for our clients and our staffs as well as being the best at what we do. There are no short cuts. There’s no fee lunch. There are no guarantees.

  34. timothy Lusk December 8, 2008 at 10:21 pm #

    This is great. Amazing how one day can change someone’s perpective on how to approach a career. ;-)

  35. Mark December 8, 2008 at 10:31 pm #

    Great advice. Amen amen. I have taken around 10,000 photos I’ve posted to Flickr over the past 4 years…. so I am getting close to 10,000 hours but I think I need about 100,000 more. Either way its great advice.

  36. Anonymous December 9, 2008 at 9:11 am #

    @chase
    I think your answer is too complex…
    We have great example of gorgeous answer to a questions like that.
    “Just do it.”
    And that’s all. And doesn’t matter 10000 or 10 hours will you spend for that.
    Valeriy Veduta
    P.S. but any way your version is absolutely right … for you.

  37. Tom Scott December 9, 2008 at 10:01 am #

    Thanks Chase, humble and open as ever.

    I’ve been in business a year, albeit part-time, and learn more everyday. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the number of people (strangers!) that launch into an account of “cousin Jo, who’s a great photographer, I’m always telling him to do something with it” etc. I smile politely and stand there thinking if it were just a case of ‘snap and wrap’ then everyone would do it, and do it with excellence. But the excellence does indeed require incredible self belief, motivation, resilience and talent.

    Bring on hour 10,001.

    Peace, Tom

  38. Ogalthorpe December 9, 2008 at 10:06 am #

    I read this post in my RSS reader a few days ago. Then today I skimmed the responses.

    I’m left with the following two questions:

    1. Is it overly arrogant of me to state that I am undeniably good? Because I think I am. Whether that statement is mere hubris or is verifiable by way of outside observation is another story.

    2. If I am, indeed, undeniably good, then what do I do with that? I think the hard part is going from unrecognized to recognized. There are many undeniably good people who languish in obscurity.

    Just a couple thoughts.

  39. Carlos Lopez Ramos December 9, 2008 at 11:22 am #

    Well guys want to share this video from TED:

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/richard_st_john_s_8_secrets_of_success.html

    Conclusion: Passion, Work, focus, persist, ideas, good, push and serve.

  40. Michael Walker December 9, 2008 at 11:25 am #

    8000hours to go…sounds fair to me

  41. josh leclair December 9, 2008 at 11:32 am #

    I would argue to say that I don’t want it to be just 10,000 hours, but a life time of learning. The day I stop learning about my love of photography and working to be undeniably good hopefully will never come about.

  42. ingalbraith December 9, 2008 at 11:54 am #

    I’ve heard and enjoyed that Steve Martin quote before. It’s an example of Occam’s Razor, that no one wants to admit. It’s the most simple of answers….Be good.

  43. Michelle December 10, 2008 at 4:18 am #

    I believe it was Professor Randy Pausch who said that walls aren't there to stop you doing something, they are there to prove how much you want to do something. Wonderful man.

    His Last Lecture
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo&eurl;=http://download.srv.cs.cmu.edu/~pausch/

    His renouned lecture on time management (useful to all busy photographers, I believe!)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTugjssqOT0

  44. brent... December 10, 2008 at 5:20 am #

    AMEN -

  45. Michael Warf December 10, 2008 at 11:39 am #

    Be good. Be humble. Learn from everyone.

    Agreed.

  46. Q December 10, 2008 at 12:38 pm #

    10K hours summed up in 3 minutes at a TED Talk by Richard St. John, 8 Secrets of Success

  47. Eric Hamilton December 10, 2008 at 7:04 pm #

    Absolutely the best answers to this question I have ever heard. I would add one more thing:

    Meet lots of people.

    It’s tough for anybody to hire you if they don’t know you exist. If they have met you before, they’re at least ten times more likely to call you when they have a project you’re right for.

  48. Anonymous December 11, 2008 at 10:08 pm #

    It reminds me of the famous Warner Bros. cartoonist Chuck Jones quoting one of his drawing instructors. (paraphrased off the top of my head)

    “You have 10,000 bad drawings in you. You have to work thru them to get to the good ones.”

  49. Anonymous December 13, 2008 at 5:21 am #

    You are so right, in order to succeed in most things, but in particular in photography you not only have to be GOOD but DIFFERENT.

    With the digital revolution came the ability for anyone to take a well exposed and sharp photograph. But to really stand out from the crowd, you need to delivery something different and better.

    I think there is one element, which is equally important, no matter how good you are that a photographer needs to MARKET him/herself. that is where the brickwall hits the nose and stops most people in their tracks.

    For many people, including myself, i find it very hard to market Myself, not others, just myself. I stumble, stutter, waffle and totally go brainless.

    Maybe it is about confidence in oneself and in ones ability, but as any artist/photographer, one can always identify something that could have been done better, even if others do not see it.

    So really my question is, how do you market yourself, as you appear to be very successful at that.

    Merry Christmas
    FoxfireBlog

  50. Chase Jarvis December 14, 2008 at 11:13 am #

    @ ogalthorpe: let’s not walk on egg shells. This stuff assumes that you’re not doing your work in a relative vacuum. Work in a vacuum is just that. If you’re undeniably good and not doing so in your basement, yours will come, undeniably. So if it hasn’t come to you yet, you may be either a)not undeniably good, or b)you’re in a vacuum. I think you fall into the vacuum category. Being on Flickr does not equate to “not in a vacuum”. Throw yourself out there like you mean it (part of the 10,000 of working toward success in your craft).

  51. Dennis Pike December 14, 2008 at 11:49 am #

    nothing worth having come easy. I think every “successful” person will tell you that hard work is one of the things that got them to where they are. If you’re not willing to put in the work, then you don’t really aspire to a particular goar

  52. Matt Haines December 14, 2008 at 10:23 pm #

    I can’t claim to be “undeniably good”. But, given that photography is my second career, I can speak about my first career.

    From 1986 to 2005, I was in the musiv business. Had ten albums out (small, under the radar stuff), traveled the world, made lots of music. That total immersion gave me a lot of skills. Was I undeniably good in that field? Not sure. But I do know I could run rings around a lot of people trying to get where I was. I listen to my early music and think, wow did I suck. But I got where I needed to be, with 10k (and plus!) hours.

    Now I’m starting over. Been shooting pro for a couple of years, without the benefit of youth or a photography degree. It’s sometimes intimidating to see how far I have to go. And it sucks to know that some heights will never be obtained, just because I’m starting so late (I’m 41). But there is one advantage: some of your ‘credits’ transfer. Having been creative and technical all my life, taking up shooting as a career has been easier that it would have been in my 20s. The neurons have already been laid down in many respects.

    Having started a second career, equally as ridiculous as the first, I can see that it isn’t so much WHAT I’m doing, but that I’m doing something that puts a fire in my belly. I talk to some of my fellow shooters who are my age or younger, and they’re burned out. They went to Brooks or whatever right out of high school, and have had it with photography.

    I haven’t. I still have the fire.

  53. Matthew Saville December 25, 2008 at 8:57 pm #

    I strongly concur. The 10,000 hours number struck an extra chord in me as well, because I have often been asked the same question, “why/how are you so good? How did you become such a camera master?” (Not to boast! I suck compared to Galen Rowell!)

    And my answer is always, “Shoot 100,000 images, then we’ll talk…”

    In truth it may NOT take that many clicks or that many hours. And I don’t want to promote the thought that you can just blaze away on your shutter and become a better photographer. The point is that so many people pick up a camera and expect to master it in 1,000 clicks, or in 1 month, or in 10 hours… That is not the case. I’ve shot 70,000 images with my D300 and I think it wasn’t until about 30-40 thousand that I started to feel like I was “in the groove” with it, that I could really make it sing. (And this is even after shooting a couple hundred thousand images with other cameras, like my beat-up old D70 that is about to click it’s last breath soon…)

    And as far as “making it”- I’m only in year 4-5 as a professional photographer, and just now barely making a living at it. I probably have 4-5 more years to go before I can even hope to be called “undeniably good” by others…

    Take care, and thanks for the HOPE!
    =Matt=

  54. Kyle December 26, 2008 at 1:02 pm #

    I really like your attitude toward success. There are no shortcuts and excellence is what will last.

  55. dolcechic December 31, 2008 at 4:06 pm #

    I’m really glad I stumbled on your blog. I just started an etsy shop with my photographs, and have received praise on the photos I’ve taken. I initially never thought about photography as a profession, but now I can’t get it out of my head. I love the Steve Martin quote as well. Thank you!

  56. Dorothy Suter January 2, 2009 at 3:11 pm #

    Yes, anyone can master whatever they are willing to practice at. Nothing comes without being willing to put in the time. The other piece I add is that it also must be what we call “Perfect practice.” You can’t keep repeating the same old incorrect methods and get better. You’ve got to learn from the experts.

  57. cleaning business January 15, 2009 at 10:16 am #

    I have always found Steve Martin’s energy to be compelling and inspiring. There is something rock solid about who he is, even as a wild and crazy guy!

  58. Matt Swalling January 18, 2009 at 7:24 pm #

    Funny I just finished reading outliers the other day. Good book, a little pop psych but still some very good points. As to being undeniably good, I have a ways to go. Don’t tell my clients though.

  59. Anonymous January 19, 2009 at 6:42 am #

    Brilliant.

  60. Sully March 16, 2009 at 2:30 pm #

    I watch a video of yourself,David Hobby and David Nightingale from Dubai talking about how to use the web to your benefit.

    It was fantastic for me trying to learn more about photography and all aspects of taking quality images.

    Last night I went onto google and opened a blog as a kind of diary about what I have been doing each day. I have also post a couple of images that are connected with that given day.

    Your right though about how to make it, hard work and never stop dreaming because one day you will wake up and be living that very dream you wished for.

    Good luck
    Lee Sullivan

    Living the Dream(My google Blog)

  61. ezduzit March 26, 2009 at 10:50 am #

    I think good advice should always be simple and to the point, and to that end you ‘nailed it’ in part 1.

    Be Undeniably Good

    Having read ‘Outliers’, I think a concise way of summing up the 10,000 hours advice would simply be:

    Don’t Quit.

    I doubt anyone will be counting out the 10k hours anyway, so let’s keep it simple. If you continue to strive to be ‘undeniably good’ without quitting when the going gets tough, you WILL make it.

  62. flarebox March 30, 2009 at 5:13 pm #

    10,000 hours here I come!

    I think I have covered 1,000 so far. And you are right, it does help to dedicate time and effort and see results. :)

  63. Rick Koconis May 5, 2009 at 10:53 am #

    Where do I start. I have been following your blog for awhile now. I think I have watched all of your videos at least once and a few several times. How you pack your stuff is especially informative. Not so much for the specifics of packing, although that’s extremely helpful, but I think it’s invaluable to know exactly what you and others use to create their work.

    And the postings of your thoughts and ideas as they pertain to the creative process and overall work ethic is something I wish more people could experience.

    I have been an art director and photographer my entire working life and there is nothing I would rather be doing. But, there are times, which I’m sure you can relate to, when you need an inspirational boost. Your blog does that for me. I know it’s important to be active within your own creative community but it’s also fulfilling to know that there are others outside of your immediate world who work, think, create, and just live life in an inspirational way.

    I know this sounds like I’m really blowing smoke up your *%$# but that is not my intent. And I’m quite sure you don’t need anyone else to let you know how talented and hard working a photographer you are and have become. I just think that you should know that you are one of the few positive voices I have heard when it comes to this business and creative endeavors in general. Especially now when everyone is Chicken Little with their head up. It it does not go unappreciated.

    In fact because of you blog I have been newly motivated both creatively and practically. Which means I have alot of new learning and work ahead of me. I can’t wait.

    I think it was the Dubai conference where you said “Whether you think you can or you can’t, You’re right”. I have heard that before and it is glaringly simple, but it cuts through all the excuses.

    I could go on but I’m sure both of us have other more pressing tasks that need attention. (I have to go hit Lightroom and do some editing.) So keep up the good work and this blog; and Thanks.

  64. jake alvarez May 22, 2009 at 2:57 am #

    Chase, thanks for sharing. I’m really inspired. I can’t afford all the right tools right now, but I can make use of my time, practicing my craft. Someday I’ll get there, wish me luck. Again thanks.

  65. Visuall August 6, 2009 at 4:52 pm #

    Chase, I have to say that this post makes total sense–especially the second point. A friend and I were just discussing this very topic earlier today on the phone, and it really applies to anything in life that one wants to master. My friend used to play guitar a lot and people would come up to him and say that they wish that they could play as well as he could. He'd tell them, "You can–just spend 10 years practicing guitar every day." Most people are disappointed by that answer.

  66. Tom Daly August 11, 2009 at 6:07 pm #

    I'm at 9,277 hours and counting!

    Seriously though, great points. JUST BE GOOD.

  67. Anonymous August 24, 2009 at 5:19 am #

    Sorry, I have to slightly disagree. There are MANY good (and great) photographers, videographers, actors, dancers, etc. That does NOT mean they will ever be successful – just "good".. or "great".

    What makes the difference between someone who is successful is…. marketing. Those who have a business sense and know how to market themselves will be far more successful than someone who is just "good" or "great". I wish it was all about being "great", but it is not. On the plus side, it is easier to market yourself in an extremely powerful way with all of the (mostly free) tools on the internet.

    I am a perfect example. I am a professional videographer and photographer. I have been doing both for 4 years – prior to that I had never really held a camera in my hand. I have no training – I am self taught.

    I am good, but hardly great. I'm constantly overwhelmed with how many GREAT photographers and videographers there are out there! I'm not bad, but I'm hardly "great".

    What I AM good at is marketing. My websites are on page 1 on Google for virtually every search in my marketplace. One of my websites is #1 for the entire WORLD.

    I am active on Twitter and Facebook. I have tons of followers. I have tremendous exposure. I am regularly asked to speak about my business to national conventions. I have been on the national news. I make a 6 figure income year after year.

    Is it because I'm GREAT? No. It's because I'm "good", but I know how to market like hell and get my name out there, while people who are supremely more talented than I are working at Starbucks to support their photography.

    The most successful (business-wise) creative people…. are the best marketings or have the best agents marketing FOR them.

  68. Drew September 9, 2009 at 9:05 am #

    Thank you so much for this Chase. You're an extremely good motivator for me in my photography. Though I feel like I've just recently started pushing myself in my photography. I have spent late nights and a lot of my weekends playing around with my camera settings, lighting and photoshop and feel that it is the only way to truly better your photography. For quite a while I was looking for someone to tell me the secrete of photography, but finally figured out that the "hard work" is where it comes from. Keep up the AMAZING work sir!

  69. Grady Layman September 23, 2009 at 2:27 pm #

    But Chase you have over looked the real question… How do you make it without having to work you're butt off and become really good. Isnt that the problem with people today? Everyone wants to get rich without doing very much… Sure I am hopeful that I will win the lotto but I know that my luck isnt that good and I am much better off working my ass off.

    To good times Chase, enjoy them while they are still around:)

  70. Boon September 30, 2009 at 8:47 am #

    This is so true. Spending more time on what you do will result a surprise unknowingly.

    Its never a sudden change of life! Glad to read this!

  71. mooreclick September 30, 2009 at 10:27 am #

    Maybe 10,000 hours sounds daunting to most people. But when you love what you do, you don't really think about it.

    I happen to love Steve Martin, so I read his autobiography when it came out. He started out doing a little magic show at Disney. He wasn't trying to get his 'big break', he just wanted to do comedy, for whoever would listen.

    It's rare that I don't have a camera, my friends all assume I'll be taking pictures at every event. But I don't sit and think 'gotta take more pictures, so I can get better at this'. I just want to do it, I love to do it. Of course, I am always trying to improve, to learn more, but it's not so much a conscious effort to do it. It's something I'm passionate about, interested in, and it's just a natural extension that I want to learn all I can.

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    Those ARE the words and they only get worse from there.

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