Ten Tips for Sustaining a Long Career as a Professional Photographer

May 30, 2014

By Gail Mooney

© Gail Mooney Kelly

Grow or die – My good friend and coach Ian Summers coined that phrase. He also taught me that growth requires a temporary surrender of security.

Be yourself – There’s a great quote – “be yourself because everyone else is taken” Many folks say that you need to have your own vision but I really don’t like this phrase because it is overused and is not really specific or clear – to the point that most of us get frustrated if we don’t feel we have “a vision”. Your gut will let you know when you’re “on purpose”.

Don’t operate in a vacuum – Photographers are independent creatures for the most part. Take joy in collaborating and/or networking. Expand your networks to include all types of folks – not just your fellow photographers. This is how and where ideas are born.

Don’t focus on the gear – I get weary of people asking me about my gear or the age old question “Does that camera take good pictures?” – to which I reply “It depends on the operator.”

Embrace failure – Or at least don’t let your fear of failure stop you. Try instead asking yourself “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” Let’s face it, we don’t do brain surgery, so for the most part, our fears don’t involve fatalities.

Do the work – I believe it was Malcolm Gladwell who said that it took 10,000 hours to get good at something. If you want to sustain a long career in any career, be prepared to do the work to get good at it.

Get rid of the resistance – It’s really easy to give yourself lots of seemingly logical reasons why NOT to do something. Try replacing your reasons NOT to do something, with why you SHOULD. Get rid of the people in your life that are giving you resistance – they’re poison. Read more about resistance in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.

Don’t set out to prove yourself – Instead strive to improve. This attitude is ultimately more beneficial and leads to better self esteem. It’s also not dependent on someone else’s validation or approval.

Enjoy the good times – but be prepared for the bad times. Nothing stays the same – ever. Don’t let those glory days mislead you or your ego. There are always competitors waiting in the wings.

Keep your passion and enthusiasm – If you don’t, you’ll never survive this business. And if you have to ask “should I be a professional photographer or practice law?” I would have to answer – “practice law”. If you have to ask that question, it’s an indication that the passion isn’t there.

If you are thinking of expanding your skills with video,  check out my book The Craft and Commerce of Video and Motion.   See her site at

Gail Mooney Kelly has been  a PhotoServe member since we started the site, and we are proud to present her business acumen and advice  for a successful  career in professional photography. Kelly/Mooney Productions is a full-service digital media production company, dedicated to communicating your message. Gail Mooney and Tom Kelly are a partnership in both  still photography and video mediums, delivering their clients’ messaging in print, broadcast or online. They have been a professional photographic team – as well as successful photographers individually- since 1977. They have traveled the world on assignment for numerous magazines, corporations and advertising campaigns. Kelly/Mooney have received recognition with awards from Communication Arts and the AR 100 Annual Reports.  Gail Mooney and her daughter Erin Kelly traveled the globe several years ago as a mother/daughter filmmaking team to produce their award-winning documentary Opening Our Eyes; The Power of One.