When you set out to build a career doing something you love, the last thing you might expect to worry about is burning out. After all, as Confucius allegedly said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” In reality, photographers divide their time between multiple tasks and they burn out regularly as work-life balance tends to lean far more heavily toward work, leaving little time for anything else. At least, it can feel that way. We reached out to more than 30 of our award-winning wedding photographers to help us answer the following question about photography burnout:
As a photographer, you have to be a business owner, an artist, a customer service specialist, a bookkeeper, & a thousand other things. What is the best tip you have for photographers on the verge of burnout?
See what words of wisdom they have to share:
Joe Dantone – Website | Instagram
“My best advice to other photographer’s on the verge of photography burnout would be to seek inspiration outside of the genre of photography you specialize in. You can take that a step further and try to photograph that genre of photography. Doing this, you may find another outlet to keep yourself inspired. Make time during the week to try and photograph something you’ve never photographed before. Even if it means collaborating with others to put a specific idea together for a shoot, it’s a good opportunity to network. If you are burning out behind the computer with the business aspect, step away. Take a few mental health days because this industry can be physically and mentally draining. Keep healthy and make sure you carve out ‘You Time’ through your week. Stay inspired. Have fun. Meet new people.“
Irvin Sidhu – Website | Instagram
“Start with building a system that works for you. Understand your requirements and prepare in advance for those busy times. It’s crucial for you to learn to manage your time effectively and it’s highly recommended that you build a strong calendar system. With that, you will do your best to reduce any extra stress that may add on from being unorganized. Whenever you are on the verge of burning out, make sure you sleep in an extra 1-2 hours or unplug from all devices and learn to meditate in silence. Over time, you will get better and better at handling a larger workload. Just remember, it’s all a process; you get better at it overtime.“
“The best advice I have is to find a personal project to throw yourself into. This allows you to keep maximizing your productivity and flow while creating something less high-stress than client work and providing yourself with a beautiful reward. One of my personal projects was a “tattooed stories” photo book, allowing tattooed people to say a little something about their personal stories. Another project, tattooed brides, ended up opening up a whole new world for me. “
Marian Cristea – Website | Instagram
“I have two pieces of advice for young photographers. The first is to continually develop your relationship with your customers. It’s easy to see only the advantages in this business, but sometimes we forget to put ourselves in their shoes. You should create a solid relationship with your clients; it’s the most important part of our business and also the hardest. Secondly, always be humble and learn from your mistakes.”
“Many photographers are perfectionists and feel they need to control every aspect of their business for best results. However, if burnout is the price to pay for that level of control, the price is too high.
My best advice to avoid photography burnout – share the burden. It can be outsourcing of editing, social media or admin work, or something as simple as talking to a friend about all the things that keep you up at night about your business. Find things you’re comfortable letting go of, have a team you trust, and give yourself the time and mental space to step back every now and then.“
“Look for creative solutions and innovation, and always stay motivated and look for unique moments. Always seek to contextualize your photos with important moments of your fiancés. Be important to someone and your work will be lighter and fun. When everything is going very wrong, maybe it is the moment to remember that to go a level beyond it is necessary to love what one does and try once again to make it better than it already was.“
Priyanshu Bhargava – Website | Facebook
“To the question on managing the humongous list of activities that can push a photographer on the verge of burn out, the secret is in staying organized – keeping a daily task organizer. Various organizers like Tave or Wave handle mundane or complicated business responsibilities, which can be a time-suck for creative professionals. Also, remind yourself every time that this is ‘the job’ – ‘your dream job’ and it is completely normal to feel a little flustered with it, like one would with anything or anyone. These things go a long way in keeping me calm.“
“Do what you love! Do what you are good at! Outsource all the other stuff that needs to be done to run a business. For me that was hiring a company to design a unique Website and setting it up to score well in Google search engines. Administration, I hate it! The best thing I’ve done this year is to hire someone to do this. No more headaches and fear of not doing this correctly. To not have to worry about those things anymore opened up other opportunities and let me do the things I love. It also let me focus more on my clients and their customer experience, thus resulting in more referrals!
This opened up time for me to do 3 engagement shoots in Puerto Rico while I’m from the Netherlands in Europe.“
“Making time to have a couple of different hobbies is one of the ways I avoid photography burnout. I often play video games or play guitar in my down time to relax and free my mind away from my work. I also try to make time to ride my bike, play a sport, or work out to really recharge my mind and body. Shifting your mind away from work a little bit each day is key.“
“Burnout is a serious concern for any photographer – especially if you are full time. The constant drain of energy from being creative, handling difficult clients, taxes or other non-fun business related chores leads most of us to burn out at one point or another. The worst part about photography burnout is, often times, you never see it coming until it’s too late. What works for me is this: First and foremost, I’m honest with myself about how much I’ve been working. If I’m approaching ridiculous levels and starting to feel the drain, I take an afternoon off and do something completely non-photography related (like watch a movie, meet up with friends, etc). It almost feels like I’m ‘cheating’ but that break refreshes my batteries and helps me re-focus. If just taking an afternoon off doesn’t work, then more serious measures are required. Taking a day trip to someplace you’ve always wanted to visit, pick up (or re-visit) a personal project or anything else that is specifically focused on what I want. This is more often than not a photography-related task, but I get to approach it exactly the way I want. No client to worry about, no ‘must-have’ photos, etc. I’ve learned to morph this into my actual client jobs as well. Honestly, being able to do that just refreshes my love for my work.
One example. In 10 business days earlier this year I drove over 1500 miles, shot over 13000 frames on 5 different projects and worked over 100 hours. I couldn’t take a ‘break’ because these were paying clients and everything was time specific. So I pushed off all concerns about editing, emails, etc and made sure to shoot stuff that was only for me (not worrying if the client liked it or not). It turns out it was one of the client’s favorite photos (and mine as well). Just taking that mental break from pleasing someone else gave me all the energy I needed to make it through the rest of the trip.“
“I shoot around 50 weddings a year, and do all of the shooting/editing/emailing/scheduling myself. It can be grueling at times, but the best thing I ever did was setting a strict schedule for myself, including blocking off 1-2 days per week for off days. While its may feel like you need to be answering emails or editing at 2:00am… you probably don’t. Give yourself time to breathe, time to rest, and time to let your creativity grow.“
“Pause if you must, but never stop! There comes a time when fatigue just won’t let you be as creative as you normally are. Take a break, refer a few weddings to a fellow photographer, take your family on holiday and leave your camera at home. There is nothing worse than having a creative block due to fatigue, so pause if you must!“
“Say no to work that you don’t really want to do! Only do the stuff that matters.“
Zephyr & Luna – Website | Instagram
“I love my job. It’s part of my life, my passion, the way I live. It’s what I think about when I wake up in the morning and what keeps me up at night sometimes. But it has also been my nemesis.
In 2015, I shot way too many weddings and sessions, most of them at the other end of France, and it almost got the best of me. What I found to actually keep a balance and get my life back was to ask myself what I really wanted to do, took four weeks off work and went on a huge road-trip across Scotland and the northern Isles. It was amazing and really helped me get over my photography burnout, since it had time for myself. Of course, I was still responding to emails and having Skypes with my future clients from my phone, but when I hang up I was in the middle of nowhere, in my car, by myself, and I could really concentrate on other things. This really helped me!
So I’d say, if you’re on the verge of burnout, take a calendar, block several weeks and just go somewhere you’d like to explore.“
“When you work hard, you have make enough time to chill and to completely do nothing! Make your head clear and learn to do some meditation. Make sure your body is fit, eat healthy, and do some workouts. Keep a minimum of 3 evenings in the week free to spend some time with your family. Learn to say no (when you are fully booked or when someone asks you to bring your camera)! When celebrating a short vacation of 1 or 2 weeks, ask someone to reply to your email and enjoy 1 or 2 weeks without wifi. Yes, you can do it!“
Steven Herrschaft – Website | Instagram
“Taking a step back. That’s what helps me the most to get back on track. I have the ritual of spending just 5 minutes late at night of each wedding and sit down. Just relaxing and soaking up all the good mood of the people partying and having fun. This is when I realize how gifted I am to follow my dreams of being a wedding photographer. It’s been my dream since my teenage years and I’m working every day to keep my dream alive. In these 5 minutes of time, I feel that all the hustle and hard work is worth it. Weddings are a wonderful place of happy people having the time of their lives – documenting all of these memories every weeking simply is incredible. You should never forget that.“
“Photography burnout can happen due to the amount of weddings or shoots in general so to keep your self motivated and always pushing for consistently beautiful images, take each shoot as an opportunity to try and create one image that makes your heart dance. Look for a location and picture a creative/artistic image in your mind’s eye, get excited over the possibility. Sunset is the perfect time for these shots and if you’re capturing a wedding the thought of creating this one image can keep you going. We all shoot bride prep, portraits, and groups, but when it comes to creativity, your imagination is your limitation. Go create, explore, develop, and push the boundaries. New ideas and new possibilities. Keep your shoots fresh and fun, which in turn give you a drive and a mission to succeed.“
“We run a full-time photography business, write for other Websites/blogs almost weekly, and homeschool our 5 kids, so we can relate to photographers who experience photography burnout. Still, we never really feel burned out. Why? We schedule our weeks to include plenty of non-work time. For example, if we work on a weekend, we take a weekday off; likewise, if we work late one night, we’ll take the next morning off and hit up a ‘field trip’ with the kids. Remember, life is a balance, and it’s meant to be enjoyed!“
“Feeling on the edge of burn out is cyclical for me. I have a few great years and then a year or so that I creatively seem to struggle. Having been through this many, many times, in my head I know that it will turn around, but it’s still a challenge to get myself out of that ‘I’m so done’ mentality that creeps in for most creatives. When I find myself in that funk, I try to just let it all go. Let go of perfection. Let go of trying to get that epic shot. Let go of the constraints I put on myself. Let go of what I think other people’s expectations are for my work. I reset and talk to my couples, spend time getting to know them. I try to act like their friend who is just there to have fun, and think less like a ‘pro photographer.’ It’s when I do this that I find myself enjoying who they are and the moment they are having. I don’t care about the technical photo. I don’t care about winning any awards with the photo or getting published. I care about the people. And that helps me find my voice again.“
“If you’re on the verge of photography burnout, go do something different! Last year I spent two weeks with some amazing other photographers shooting street work in India. It was brilliant to just get away from all the email, shoot something completely different to normal and just inspire myself. Oh, one final thing, if you’re struggling, find some talented people to help you and remove the burden. I hired a studio manager a few years ago to answer emails and keep my accounts all running smoothly. She’s one of the single best investments I’ve ever made in my business.“
“We’ve faced burnout a number of different times throughout our 9 years as wedding photographers. From years when we shot way more than we should have, to others when we just had a complete and utter lack of creativity. Whatever the reason for our fires going out, here’s what got us going again.
Conferences and workshops from photographers we admire are number one for re-igniting our internal fires. Learning from other people, realizing that you’re not alone, and discovering new ways to look at old problems has been incredibly helpful for us. We’ve taken workshops from all sorts of different photographers, not just ones that shoot in our style. We’ve found that learning from people who shoot differently can help us see differently.
Something that really helps us avoid burning out before it happens is spending time with friends in nature, camping, hiking, just being outdoors. The natural world is the one thing that will always recharge our batteries, so whenever we feel our energy dipping we get outside. Recently we did our most ambitious hike, spending 3 days in the back-country of the Canadian Rockies with a good photographer friend, hiking almost 40 kilometres and climbing up to 2750 vertical metres (25 miles, and 9,000 feet for our American friends). The grand vistas and deep forests filled us up with wonder, allowing us to be ready for the intense wedding season about to kick off in Canada.
So our best advice is to surround yourself with wonderfully creative people, and get your butt outside!“
“First off all being a phographer is not just a simple job. Those people who need a job and say that photography is a good and simple way to earn money, are wrong. It is more than a 8 or 10 hours job; it’s a full-time job that involves all of your energy to stay in contact with your ex and feature clients, with your collegues of photography, with conferences and workshops and a lot more. It needs all your attention and the ability to stay in focus with your business life and with your personal life. To be able to manage your short time very well, how to not quit when it’s getting more and more difficult, how to get your support from your team, from the person next to you or how to get the force and the courage for the next great photo in the next wedding.“
“When there’s a lot to do, it is very easy to start dealing only with things that are urgent rather than what is important. As business owners, we don’t get breaks because things need to get done no matter what, but it is important to also do things that fill our energy buckets and what help us through the demanding times. It can be spending time with your family or your kids, enjoying food from your favourite restaurant, going to see a good movie or reading an inspirational book. Above all, remind yourself what an awesome opportunity you have to bless couples with unique and beautiful imagery of their once-in-a-lifetime day. It’s a privilege to do what we do!“
“I think the best way to handle photography burnout is to take a preventative approach rather than a reactive one. The only way to truly avoid getting into a situation where you are overwhelmed and your work (not to mention, your health) is suffering is to manage your workload: know how much you can handle and cap it at that. Not overbooking myself ensures that my time is dedicated to providing high quality photography to my clients rather than rushing to push orders out. Only taking on a limited amount of weddings each year gives me free time to spend with my family and friends, while still allowing me to give my couples the attention and care that they deserve.“
“I believe the best way for photographers to avoid photography burnout is to take regular breaks. We must take time out to do other things to stimulate of creative minds; this will eventually allow us to reset and to look at things in a a different way. Take time out to read a book, watch a movie, take a walk, travel, take up other forms of art, listen or play music. These suggestions will help us refocus, reset and feel energized. This applies to how we shoot and also how we manage our business.“
“There are times where you need to step away from photography and documenting life, and step back onto the side of experiencing it. To do this, I adventure with road trips and traveling while taking along my favorite non-photography books. It doesn’t take more than a few days, and sometimes even a night or two away is enough to reset. After these trips, I come back to photography and my clients with a new perspective. My creativity gets refreshed both inside my work, and within the business.“
There will be times in your career where you are in short supply of creativity, and it isn’t something to be ashamed of. Whether you gather inspiration from social media, peers, magazines, or simply walking on the street listening to music, there is always something new you can try to get the creative juices flowing again. Without consistent inspiration and motivation, our work seems to be a duplication of itself leading to the inevitable photography burnout of creativity. So, we asked pressional photographers how they stay creatively refreshed as an artist and here’s what they had to say:
“As a single parent, finding balance has always been my greatest struggle, and it can be incredibly difficult to stay inspired when you’re chained to your computer 24/7. For me to stay inspired, putting aside work 100% and focusing on my daughter lets me reset and see the world through her eyes. Exposing her to new places (like Tokyo in this instance), taking her to see an art exhibit, broadway show, or fun pop-up museum allows me to draw inspiration from an alternate artistic mediums while also giving her my undivided attention, and enhances her love of the arts/nature all at the same time. Those opportunities result in a full cup that’s ready to get back to work with a fresh outlook, renewed perspective, and a stronger relationship with my daughter.”
“Whenever I’m starting to feel the familiar heaviness of burn out, I pack up the car and go on a road trip to somewhere beautiful and isolated. My go-to destinations are Yosemite, the Central Coast, and Montana. During this time, I unplug from social media so I can clear out the clutter of the comparison game in my head. I let myself do nothing but feel joy and awe. Taking time out of my schedule to get re-centered and reconnected with nature and myself helps me to feel inspired again and I always return feeling energized and ready to create.”
“Spending a few weeks in our RV is always our way of recharging and finding inspiration. Not only do new locales allow us to see the world differently, but the food we eat, people we meet, and adventures we have really get us geared up to dive back into work once we’re back home. This photo is of our three teens from our summer RV road trip in 2018, taken at sunset, just outside Monterey, CA, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca RV Campground. It says it all for us.”
“I love trying a new photographic technique outside of my typical brand. I tend to have a light and bright image style to my photography, so going the opposite I’ve tried doing silhouettes with a fun colorful twist. This technique is great for hiding ugly locations, creating an epic image, and surprising them with something they can’t see on their own.”
“I’ve always loved plants and finding a way to incorporate them in my photography work. My favorite is to frame my couples with any kind of leaves that are bright and beautiful. Plants have also helped me tremendously to understand natural light and how to see it and use it in the portraits I create.”
“Every year around August and September, I start to feel burnt out and feel like everything I do is repetitive. It’s a mental game that kicks in each and every year. I used to switch to shooting film, which helped because it challenged me and made shooting fun again. The problem with that is is that it becomes expensive and the inspiration from it quickly fades away. A few years ago I decided to switch it up and being that my son was 3 years old, I took him and my wife to Bar Harbor, Maine for vacation. I spent the week documenting his new experiences without asking him to look at the camera a single time. Since a good amount of my wedding photography is done in a documentary style, I fell in love with photographing my son the same way as he explored the world. My wife and I now plan a vacay every year around the end of August or early September for this exact reason now. I bring one camera and one lens, which is normally my Leica M and either a 24mm or 35mm lens. It provides us a little break during the busy season and no matter how burnt out I am from photography I find the love all over again photographing my son as he grows older and older each year.”
“Nature. Exercise. Music. Meditation. & Yoga. And most importantly, our kids!”
Justin Haugen – Website | Instagram | Wedding Maps Profile
“Self-care is a big part of helping me stay creatively refreshed and excited about the work I do. Lately, I’ve been getting into an exercise routine and rekindling interest in Yoga through the kind mentorship of a wonderful woman who I’ve photographed through her journey of growth. She’s helping me find my flow in life and I’m showing her the beauty and strength I see in her. Exercise, get massages, take some personal time. Disrupt your daily routines and treat your body and mind better, and the photography you do will reflect the growth you experience.”
Jared Gant – Website | Instagram | Wedding Maps Profile
“Simply breaking up my daily grind and routine helps me stay refreshed and increases my creativity. Typically, we as a family break up our routine by traveling somewhere new with each other a few times a year. Both my wife and I own individual businesses and this can be challenging, but always worth the effort. While traveling, we will turn off phones and other electronics and try to be fully present with each other. Recently we traveled to southern California and took our kiddos to several beaches. Seeing the excitement in their eyes as they got to experience the Pacific Ocean for the very first time caused me to pause and self-reflect on how much I take for granted the beauty all around.”
“First of all, it’s very hard to keep me motivated but on the other hand, it’s not. For example, last weekend I had a long Saturday with 19+ hours. The next day I had to shoot another wedding so I was tired as f**k and was not looking forward to shooting this one. But the minute I walked in the bride welcomed me with a big hug and I was on track again. We had so much fun that I completely forgot how tired I was. I stopped looking at other wedding photographers to get inspired. The less time I invest in doing that the better my images get. I only do what I love to do it even if that means I am losing a client or two in the process. The most important thing for me is to keep myself focused all the time. Doing the thing I am good at and instead of looking at other photographers I try to get in touch with them, have lunch, have dinner or meet for drinks. Just to talk and listen.”
“Something that refreshes me creatively is exploring LA with just my iPhone. I’ll leave my professional camera at home and look for interesting pockets of light, shapes, and compositions with fresh eyes and zero pressure! It helps me to relax, hone in on being present in the moment and really study light.”
“This is about the time that I start to feel that I’m running out of creativity in the year, which used to induce a panic. Now, I try to remind myself that every wedding is fresh and new to that couple, and it’s my job to remember and honor that, and kick tail no matter what! One of the ways I keep things fresh is to step outside of the wedding photography and work with fellow creatives to create content for their personal branding and social media presences. Working with many of the cast members of Hamilton, Aladdin, Mean Girls, and others have invited me to see things differently and take risks in the creative process. Branching out of the wedding world and creating for other creatives in a more fluid and creative space has helped me come back to wedding days with a curious, creative spirit, and I’m thankful for that.”
“I always find peace when I’m with these guys. More than inspiration, I find time to take a break from the everyday rush. I think we get stuck just because we don’t take time for ourselves, our families, and our personal projects. We are always in a rush and this is something I struggle with and I’ve always had a hard time balancing. I find ideas, think better and find creativity when I stop and breathe, so here’s to hoping I can do that more often.
“I’m totally inspired by each of my individual clients. Since I work with brands, they each have a different story to tell, which means I can get creative with lighting, posing, colors, backgrounds, props, etc. and every shoot is so different! In this particular case, the client wanted something urban and a little grungy. We chose a rooftop location at golden hour and I brought a Lens Baby and some tulle to play with in front of the lens for some cool effects.”
“Keeping myself at the top of my creative game used to mean reading a ton of books or catching up on the latest blog posts from photographers I love. Lately, I’ve noticed that the best way for me to stay creative while I shoot is to make sure that I go into every shoot well-rested and in solid physical shape. This means going to the gym regularly, and intentionally planning in vacations and time off in my busiest seasons. I’ve become willing to lose a lead or two while I escape for 2-3 days with no computer, and nothing but my iPhone to make sure that I serve the clients I do have to the best of my ability. This image is from an iPhone X edited with Lightroom Mobile.”
“Photography burnout is a real thing, and with everyone glorifying the hustle it’s hard to not feel guilty when you want to take a break. Soon you’ll get into a creative rut of not wanting to document your own family or create for yourself because you don’t want to see a camera. This is a good time to use something else to create. When I’m feeling like it’s become “work” I pull out my iPhone and get creative. That’s how I got into underwater photography. It was my release, and it all started with an Otterbox and an iPhone. Now I have a full underwater kit and shoot commissioned work. Being underwater has its own challenges that you don’t deal with on the daily so it’s exciting, fun, and very much freeing because you’re not fighting against what is expected and what is creative.”
“Get back to whatever excited you about photography in the first place. Often times we learn photography playfully in our immediate environment, but the career takes it into a completely different direction. For me, taking extended travel breaks and photographing the new experience takes me back to the feeling I had when I first discovered photography. I always come back to work with a clear mind to create.”
“I started 13 years ago shooting 100 weddings per year. The photography burnout was real after every high season. To stay creative and inspired, I found out doing art projects outside wedding photography kept me going. Right now I’m working on lino prints and I love it.”
“How to keep that creative spark burning is something I think about a lot in my career, and in life. I’ve learned to push myself outside my comfort zones whenever I can by avoiding patterns and routines. I find this keeps me on my toes and allows me to pull ideas from myself and the environment around me rather than doing the same thing over and over. If I am photographing at a venue that I’ve shot at before my goal is to never shoot in the same spot twice. There are more times than I can count where I’ve said to myself “How did I get myself in this situation? What was I thinking? I should have just taken the safe shot.” But when the dust settles I am usually amazed at the end result. It makes me feel like a true creative and keeps me inspired to push myself outside my comfort zone again the next time.”
Justin Haugen – Instagram | Website | Awards Profile
“We are creatures of habit and prone to a routine that keeps our minds in the same creative space. I do my best to disrupt patterns in my life and open myself up to new experiences. On a whim, I went to a friend’s cafe on a Monday night to randomly see a visiting musician who was touring the country from Japan. I was one of five people in the room that night and it ended up being one of my favorite musical experiences. Afterward, I invited the musician to shoot with me the next day and I was so fortunate to happen upon such a creative and interesting subject. Get out into your city and try something different for a change. You never know what opportunities will present themselves or how inspiration will strike you.”
“Jesh de Rox says it best, “If you want to make interesting work, live an interesting life.” That, and learn from our kids (the most creative, imaginative humans on Earth).”
“To keep my creative spark going, I really enjoy going outside of my usual genre of wedding photography, and doing creative portraiture for actors and musicians. The organic, creative vibes they come to their shoots with always fuels my soul, and I come away energized and inspired by their creativity that they lend me on the shoots.
It’s a different vibe when you get to work with fellow creatives, and the ability to bounce concepts off one another — as well as knowing when you say, “Hey, I have an idea…” — is a beautiful thing, and the collaboration always comes out looking a little different. I love it, and I hope I can continue to create for creatives in the future.”
“I stay creative by saying “YES” to work outside of photographing weddings and will often seek out new opportunities that get me out of my comfort zone. In the early days, I would turn down non-wedding related work because I was only focused on weddings and engagements. This was great for a few years however over time I began to hit some creative roadblocks. Over the last two years, I have been saying “YES” to a wide range of portrait work and I have been blown away by not only the amazing stories I discover about my clients but also how far I can push my creativity to showcase their story with bold creative artwork.”
“I try and combine my love of travel and photography to break out of my creative rut because sometimes it gets bad. Hanging with a group of friends, exploring somewhere I’ve never been and shooting with my small discreet Fuji making photos that please only me, meeting new people on my travels gets me revved up to get back to work and takes the pressure off.”
“Sometimes you need to step back and not give a sh*t what other photographers or award societies will think of your work. You need to look introspectively and ask yourself what’s important to you and how your emotions color (for the lack of a better word) the people you photograph. I sometimes have a very emo way of looking at things and my photos can sometimes be on the moody or dark side. I am obsessed with themes related to inner struggle/conflict, deliverance, and redemption. I like shooting underwater to draw out these themes and emotions.”