Our “SLR Lounge Awards Artist Feature” articles highlight SLR Lounge Awards winners, the very best wedding photographers from around the globe. This article features Matthew Pautz of Matthew Pautz Photography (Greenville, South Carolina, USA). Matthew has won multiple SLR Lounge awards and was kind enough to share a bit of his story with us. As well, he shares his personal advice on how to avoid photographer burnout, an important topic because, as artists, we all have the potential to face it. Read on for Matthew’s “5 Tips for Overcoming Photographer Burnout.”

[Related: “5 Tips for Mastering Light, with Jason Vinson | SLR Lounge Awards Artist Feature”]

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us Matthew; we’d love for you to tell us about your business.

I began my photography journey like most others seem to do, by accident while pursuing something completely different. While in college working toward an unrelated degree, I bought a camera to document a long hiking trip to a series of National Parks in Utah, and this naturally branched out into a love for landscape photography. From there, I grew and experimented with various genres and styles, moving into concert photography, corporate work, portraits, and finally wedding photography. For me, weddings were a combination of the best parts of every other style of photography I had encountered, and the challenge of wedding photography became my new obsession. I never looked back.

When we discussed potential topics for your feature, you mentioned being passionate about photographer burnout. Why is this an important topic for you?

Well, I personally ran into burnout earlier in 2018, after a series of bad photography experiences combined with a seemingly never-ending workload. Luckily, I recognized the signs early on, and I have since taken steps to correct the path I was on. Since we are (mostly) all photographers here, it might be easier to tell the story about when I first realized I had a problem. I had an engagement session scheduled that I just didn’t feel like doing. I didn’t want to take the time to travel to the location, was worried about the questionable weather potentially ruining the shoot, and had some reservations about the couple being into the session.

In the end, the weather was great, and the couple was happy. They were full of smiles and laughter, and had tons of chemistry in front of the camera. And the photographs turned out great. But I wasn’t, because I had created these problems in my head to subconsciously place the blame of a potentially poor session on something other than myself. In fact, I actively despised what I did to the point that I was subconsciously trying to sabotage my future. This is when I realized I had a very real problem!

Wow! That’s a solid dose of self-realization, Matthew. For photographers (or any artist or business owner, really), what are your best tips for avoiding burnout?

First, I want to mention that these tips should not be taken as professional advice, and they may not work for everyone! They should serve more as a way to take a look into your own life and help put you back on the right path. That said, here are my tips:

  1. Recognize the signs of photographer burnout. Burnout is a physical and/or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. This isn’t something that just happens from time to time. Rather, it is a chronic condition, marked by physical and emotional exhaustion,
    irritability, detachment, apathy, cynicism, and an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy or failure. Sounds a little like depression? That is no coincidence! Photographer burnout is a chronic condition. Every creative will feel like this from time to time. But once it starts affecting your job … that’s when you need to really take notice.
  2. Take a step back, and breathe. Mental health is no laughing matter, and burnout can, and does, end careers. The first thing you should do is immediately take a break. For one day, do nothing photography-related. Have a mountain of editing to do? It can wait one single day. Some of you probably haven’t taken an actual day off in months! Take the day off and reflect on what’s going on. For me? My problems were my issues with perfectionism, feeling overworked, being rushed at weddings, and having a string of negative experiences over the period of a few months (both real and perceived).
  3. Maximize what you love, and minimize what you dislike. The key here is to collect a list of what you love and what you dislike about your career right now. You’ll have to make some very real business changes, and you’ll have to take steps to actively maximize what you love to do, while simultaneously minimizing what you hate to do. Sounds like common sense? Of course it is, but the thing about common sense is sometimes we can’t see it for ourselves because we are too close to the problems. Love the actual act of taking photographs but hate editing? Consider outsourcing your editing. Is your workload entirely too much to handle on a daily basis? Maybe it’s time to test raising your rates to lower your workload.
  4. Fix your work-life balance. One of the most difficult aspects of being a photographer is having to always be ‘on.’ We get emails and inquiries late at night, stay up all night editing to get our photographs turned around in a timely manner, and work in home offices or on couches in the same places we should be relaxing. We have to schedule consults outside of normal business hours. The list goes on. We want to be there for our clients, but always being on the clock means never feeling like you can relax. The solution here is to divide (to the best of your ability) your work and personal lives any way you can: separate your office from your home environment; only work 8 hours on days when you aren’t photographing; schedule days off; etc.
  5. Step away from social media. Although everyone’s reasons for burnout will be different, I have noticed several things that affect a lot of people in the field. One of these is social media, and our constant bombardment with incredible photographs that create unrealistic expectations. I’m not talking about stepping away from your business accounts; rather, I’m talking about taking some time off from looking at websites and pages that share non-stop photographs that most of us can only dream about photographing. Try stepping away from these sites and groups and see what happens. Chances are you will explore more of what makes your photographs ‘you.’ And you’ll become happier as a result. Realistic expectations are important to your happiness!

Rad! Thanks so much, Matthew! One last question. What are you most looking forward to in 2019?

Shooting less, and traveling more! My cure for burnout turned out to be taking more personal travel time and doing more landscape photography. I have scheduled several big trips I am looking forward to!

You can check out more of Matthew’s work on his website. Also, be sure to give him a like on Facebook and a follow on Instagram as well!

Check out the best of the 2018 SLR Lounge Award Winners here. Don’t forget to submit by the January 31 deadline to be considered for SLR Lounge’s January 2019 awards competition. Finally, remember that anyone can sign up for an SLR Lounge account for free and submit, but Premium Members are able to submit up to three photographs each month!