103 - What photography stage are you in?


In the oft-told story of Alice in Wonderland, she reaches a fork in the road and sees a Cheshire Cat in a tree.

Alice asks, "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

`I don’t much care where –‘ said Alice.

`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.


Alice the Photographer asks, Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

And the Internet doesn’t ask Alice where she wants to go. The Internet just says ‘the next level’ and sends Alice on her way. And our Alice is just as confused because, with that answer, it doesn’t matter which way she goes.

The Next Level. It is a pet peeve phrase for me because it is the ultimate in fluff. It is a feel-good cliche that says nothing. What’s the next level? What’s this level?

At EOS Photographer, you deserve a better answer than the next level, so I created a framework to help bring some clarity and direction to this concept. It will consist of three levels or stages. It will be our Success Path. 

Download your free PDF checklist of your Success Path.

Download your free PDF checklist of your Success Path.

Why is this Success Path critical?

  • It will provide us some direction. Think of the way a map helps you get from your start point to your finish or goal most efficiently.

  • It will help you see the big picture and the steps along the way. Measuring your progress will also be more straightforward.

  • Since we will be using this construct in the Podcast and Learning Center, it will help you identify which training is the best fit for you.

  • The stages of the Success Path are distinct, but they can overlap.

  • You might see yourself in one of these stages, and you’ll know what you need to do next. 

Stage 1 - Emerging photographer

You are new to photography.

You have decided that photography is something you enjoy. You find that photography speaks to you or appeals to you in some way. You are looking forward to the next time you shoot.

You are looking for any possible opportunity to shoot and learn about photography. You are in several Meetup groups. You follow lots of podcasts, blogs, YouTube videos.

You are experimenting with everything you can shoot.

You are learning your camera. You are discovering yourself.

General advice

  • You want to shoot pictures as much as possible.

  • Don’t worry about only taking great photos. It’s more important to shoot lots of pictures.

  • Take bad photos. Learn from them.

  • Enjoy the process of shooting.

  • Explore different genre’s of photography

  • You will start to notice significant progress over time. 

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years, you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

― Ira Glass

Emerging Photographer Action Items — Do the work

  1. - Shoot as much as possible. Put mileage on that shutter finger.

    • Set it up, so it is easy for you to be successful.

    • Create a routine

      1. Shoot and post on a schedule

      2. Choose a theme — self-assignment.

    • Start project 365/52 or journal. It provides some structure to the volume.

  2. Look at a lot of images.

  3. Look to see what kind of images inspire you.

    • Look to try and deconstruct what the photographer might have done.

    • Think about how you might approach a similar challenge differently.

    • You are building a visual database.

  4. - Find an accountability partner. Find someone else who knows what you are doing and is paying attention.

    • Not there to praise or punish — just someone who will check in on you if you miss too many days.

Goal: Volume. You get better and begin self-discovery.


Stage 2 - Enthusiast photographer

You will notice on a shoot that you will begin to shoot with confidence. You aren’t thinking about it as much. You find a flow.

  • Achieving consistency in quality.

  • Keep rate improves noticeably.

  • You will know what creative effects you want in each shot and how to make them.

  • In that volume, some trends and themes start to emerge. You start thinking about your focus & finding your style.

  • Seek out specific learning opportunities to go deep within a particular genre.

  • Narrow to at least three types.

  • What unique way do I have for looking at them.

Enthusiast Photographer Action items — Do good work

  • Take workshops in a specific genre related to your focus area

  • Create your website and blogging platforms. Create and cultivate your photography plan.

  • Create your networking plan. Find people who do the kind of work you do. Start attracting people who appreciate the work you do. Find passionate supporters of your work.

  • Start building an email list.

  • Start researching long-term photo projects - in each of your three areas. Starts to create focus as you are shooting and also begin to create a body of work in a specific area.

Goal: Clarity


Stage 3 - Entrepreneurial photographer

  • Shooting with consistent quality around a specific long term project.

  • Start making a name for yourself in those areas. What will you be known as?

  • Marketing your work. Getting your work out in a more deliberate process.

  • How do more people and more of the right people know what you are working on?

  • Start growing a following - supporters.

  • You are building potential customers for when you have a product.

  • Start building a product (gallery show, coffee table book, business, etc)

  • You start building a photography business or creating content to support another endeavor.

Entrepreneurial Photographer Action items - Do work that matters

  • Build a body of work in your long term project.

  • Cultivate your following and supporters for your show or product.

  • You should be known for something specific in photography.

  • Produce a gallery show, book, or other product.

  • Make an impact doing work that matters.

  • Become a freelancer.

  • Go pro photographer.

  • Create content for a project.

Goal: Impact (income, prestige)

How long should they take? That depends on how much you’d like to invest.

Now you should determine where you are. Then you’ll know what you should be working on.

Now you know what is the next level.

If that makes sense, that’s the structure we use in our Learning Center.

As you move from stage to stage, you have a guide. Someone to give you direction. Let me help. Let me show you the way.


Resources Mentioned

Jeff Leimbach - What to Shoot When There is Nothing to Shoot

Rick Sammon classes

Emily Carter Mitchell

Chase Jarvis - The Dirtiest Secret in Photography

Three favors I ask of you



Your turn

Where are you in your photography Success Path? Share your answer below.