Running the Photography Marathon to Success

Running the Photography Marathon to Success

Human beings are made up of flesh and blood, and a miracle fiber called courage” – George Patton


A marathon is 26.2 miles. To some people that may sound horrifying, plodding along for that distance – why would anyone want to do that? To others, it is a challenge they deem worthy; an epic battle of mind, body and discipline. It is a challenge that from day one requires that steady and unbreakable miracle fiber – courage. What can running a marathon teach you about reaching your goals as a photographer?

26.2 miles of courage.

Success does not happen overnight. Whether you are in the midst of realizing your vision of becoming a successful photographer or reaching the finish line in a marathon, you must put in the behind-the-scenes work to get there.

Maybe you have a dream of putting your nine-to-five (and your boss) in the rearview mirror and making photography your full time job. Some of you might want to open your own gallery someday with your prints gleaming proudly upon the walls. Whatever your goal is, it is achievable. Believe that you can do anything, believe that whatever happens along the way that you will persevere. With that mentality, you will surely reach the finish line with your hands in the air and your head held high in victory.

In distance running, it is essential to break down big mileage numbers into more manageable pieces. It is easier to stomach ‘the next 2 miles’ versus trying to focus on the distant end goal (the finish line). Your road to success as a photographer must also be broken down into manageable goals and tasks. If you are trying to go full time, do not fixate solely on having to profit X amount before you can quit your current job; instead tell yourself that you are going to get your website tuned up, network as if you are full time and start increasing the amount of jobs that you are quoting and actually booking. That will build your base and prepare you for the rigors of the harder parts of the ‘race.’ Think of this period as your training. If you do not put in the training, when race day comes, your chances of success will be greatly diminished.

After some time, you have finished your training and you are ready to toe the line. It might be a scary moment, but most good things involve some fear. When the gun goes off, stick to your plan and don’t let what others are doing influence you at this point in the run. If the person next to you tears off at a screaming sprint, just relax and know that at some point they will fizzle (the running term is ‘bonk’). Run the pace you know you can sustain until the goal is met.

What does that mean? Don’t feel pressure to achieve all of your smaller goals right away; do not be pressured into spending significant amounts of cash on advertising and promotion. Now is the time to get into a rhythm and start ticking away the miles towards the big goal at the end of the road.

The message of the tortoise versus the hare does have a downside – if you move too slowly, your path to becoming a successful photographer will never have a chance to grow to a healthy point. If you stop at every aid station and sit down, you will be losing that time to your competitors and some goals will have to be restructured due to the time you may have wasted. Being a professional photographer is like distance running – it is not something you can dabble in, you do it or you do not.

Your competitors and colleagues are going the same place as you are; work with them. Now I am not suggesting that you give away trade secrets or spend large amounts of time helping them along the course (unless it is a mutually beneficial relationship). What you can do is accomplish what tired runners turn to in the latter stages of a marathon – feed off of other’s positive energy, ask directions from people that have been where you want to go, offer encouragement to an ailing competitor so when you need that same push it will be returned. Just make sure you choose the right group to run with. Your finishing time (and your entire race for that matter) could be in jeopardy if you are associating with negative people. When you are down and out, you are only as good as the people around you.

Whatever you do, don’t stop. Just. Keep. Going. I have had low points in both my professional photography career and my time running big distances. Know that at some point you will hit a bad patch. It is what you do at that moment, and how you handle that bad patch that will make you what you are. Also know that every bad patch you can push through will make the next one seem easier to manage; you have been here before and persevered. Maybe your phone stopped ringing, maybe you see your competition booking jobs and you start to doubt your current setup and start asking ‘are my prices too high?’

Fear and doubt are elements of risk and they are coming at you like a freight train. Meet them head on, with your feet firmly planted, steady and calm, knowing you have the courage to handle it. Whatever you do, just keep going. One foot in front of the other, take a deep breath and have a drink of Gatorade. One foot in front of the other, one small goal realized on your way to the big goal – success as a photographer.

Deidra Wilson is a Las Vegas wedding photographer , renowned entrepreneur and triathlete. You can follow her on twitter at @deidraphoto.

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Some Older Comments

  • Paul March 6, 2012 11:30 pm

    Think I'm only about half way around the course lol Always feels like there is more needs to be done.

  • Asics Running November 14, 2011 03:41 pm

    Hi, i think that i noticed you visited my web site so i got here to go back the want?.I am attempting to find things to enhance my web site!I suppose its ok to make use of some of your concepts!!

  • Debbie Sullivan November 5, 2011 11:00 am

    Thank you for taking the time to write this article! My toe is currently at the starting line, tweaking my website and working to build my portfolio. As anyone beginning a new business, this was just the encouragement I needed to persevere.

  • THE aSTIG @ November 1, 2011 06:13 am

    This is so true. Especially for niche photographers like me.

    I specialize in Car Photography. You'll see my work at my website

    As a car photographer in my country, not many people want to actually pay for their cars to be photographed. Either that, or it's not a normal thing to do. Usually only the manufacturers and magazines do this kind of thing.

    I've had my blog for more than 2 years, and only now am I actually trying to rake in projects wherein I actually get paid to shoot. In the past, I used to shoot for free, and I post them on my site. Sponsors like what I do and they pay me, and I also earn out of advertisements. But for the actual photos, I do not get paid for those.

    So yeah it's been quite a journey for me to, and to build my portfolio. So thanks for sharing this article this is indeed true and I completely agree. Cheers!

  • Mike lowe October 31, 2011 11:35 pm

    Hi, been doing commercial photography for over 20 years and still learning more and more each day, and i still dont call myself professional, i work hard and get some excellent results.

    But i do agree with some that anyone with a point and shoot appears to be professional these days, photoshop does have a lot to answer for, but having the skills to compose the photograph is the essential and enjoying the work is upmost.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck October 30, 2011 04:30 pm


    Always working - here is some fun from this afternoon. Off Camera Speedlight creepiness for Hallowen

  • Rachel styles October 30, 2011 09:05 am

    Photography can be a great career if you enjoy taking pictures and creativity. But to be a great photographer you have to know how the camera works and what each part does. If you don't know, this article gives a great explanation.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck October 30, 2011 08:28 am


    This is great advice. The business of Photography is hard - everyone with a Point and Shoot is now a Pro.

    I suggest to ignore the Noise and learn, Grow, and Experiment. Great things will happen!

    Here is a up close Traffic light trails shot....never attempted it before but I think the result is great! Keep plugging!