Apogee Photo Coach Jim Austin, Jimages explores grit, a flexible attitude behind long-term photography success.



In his classic work Ulysses, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote:

“That which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will… To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

Ansel Adams had it during the ten winters he spent photographing Yosemite. Photographer Edward Weston knew it intimately when he said: “photography to the amateur is recreation, to the professional it is work, and hard work too, no matter how pleasurable it my be.”

It is the hard work of grit. But not the kind of grit as in “grit your teeth.” Instead, we mean the power of perseverance. The writer Angela Duckworth developed the concept and helped it get viral media coverage when she published Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.



Good photographers act in ways that define their success. We only see their actions from the outside. To explain their success, we say that they have “the eye”, we may chalk up their shots to luck, and perhaps we also envy the gear they have. Yet, we also can overlook their flexible mental attitude that prepares them to succeed.

Grit is part of this attitude. It is one of several characteristics that supports success in photography. If the word grit does not fit for you, just think of “conscientiousness” instead.




If you’re not nervous, you’re not paying attention.” ~ Miles Davis

At some level, we help our grit develop, over time, by leaning to manage our fears. As a photographer, I am always nervous before a commercial assignment. The merciless critic is shouting from a perch on my shoulder. Yet through practice, some success and occasional failures that were not mortally wounding, I’ve learned a little about fear management.

Experience is a series of non-fatal errors” ~ Anonymous

What is this exposure? In my teens, I was afraid of photographing people on the street. Yet each time I tried, and no one hurt me, my anxieties got a bit more manageable. I conscientiously practiced, taking more chances by asking a wider spectrum of people for a portrait. As they responded, I became less afraid. I learned that gradual exposure to what we fear, and some reframing, can decrease anxiety.

Do something that scares you everyday.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt



Grit is more than a mind set. It is a flexible, evolving attitude of achievement. The person who continually puts out quality photography works tirelessly, makes an effort to do a good job, and always completes their mission.

Grit is more than just being persistent.

It’s an attitude that “this one will be my best photography assignment ever.”

On assignment, the performance of a working pro seems to involve a contradiction of effort and effortless doing. A pro photographer sticks to it, works steadily, and solves problems along the way. When we look back at their moves after they swiftly cross the finish line, they are seemingly effortless. There are ways to learn this attitude. Outdoors experiences like Outward Bound can help.

Most of all, for photographers, practice helps. Turn out, it is not ten thousand hours of practice that counts, it is purposeful, deliberate practice to improve that creates success. We are what we do. To be good at what we do takes study, deliberate work, and even relearning what we’ve forgotten.



When we find a purpose for our photographs, we energize it.

When I ask other photographers to tell me the meaning of their photography, those who have stuck with it for years can always tell me it’s meaning, because they believe it has a purpose. They know their work has an impact on events. They believe they’ve learned as much from failures as they gained from their successes. They believe.


Belief is vital. For example, to give a musical reference, Journey lead singer Steve Perry, keyboard player Jonathan Cain and guitarist Neal Schon captured this feeling in their hit “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

The strength of your belief is a key to your persistence, over your lifetime, in photography. When I became passionate about photographing dolphins, I always thought that my next image of a wild dolphin would be better than the last. I kept at it.

Finally, about practicing for about 20 years, and making many blurry dolphin images, I got close to a family of bottlenose dolphins. They were hunting mullet in the Matanzas River, in Saint Augustine, Florida. I got one good frame. To get the photograph, I first had to believe that it was worth staying with it.


Believe you can accomplish your photography goals. Over time, your passion will grow as you develop a purpose within, and stronger subject matter in front of your lens. Thanks for your comments.

Find Jim Austin at


Managing the Merciless Critic (




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