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Inspiration

Professional Photographers, Avoid “Burnout” This Winter! – Q&A

By Matthew Saville on October 22nd 2013

eastern-sierras-fall-color-650 Eastern Sierras, Fall Color – Nikon D5200, Nikon 10-24mm DX

Question

Every advanced photographer, professional and hobbyist alike, feels burned out at one point or another. But for a professional, it’s extra tough because your livelihood depends on your ability to perform, to “bring your A-game” to a wedding or portrait session. If we’re not careful we can lose the passion that inspired us in the first place.  And if we really don’t watch out,  even the talent-infused results that are currently paying our bills could be jeopardized. So, how do we avoid professional burn-out, as a wedding / portrait photographer?

(Or any self-employed, or advanced, serious photographer really, but for the sake of this ramble, we’ll refer to weddings and portraits.)

Answer

This happens to everybody, especially this time of year when the money might be coming in less but the back-end work seems to be increasing. That’s just the way this career goes, folks.  Not only is it fiscally seasonal, it’s “emotionally seasonal” too. But as long as you can get safely through the annual slog then you’ll feel great again in a few months.

[Rewind:  Zack Arias’ timeless video, “Transform” is always inspiring for those who find themselves in a slump…]

To be brutally honest however, if your goal is to continue truly LOVING photography as much as you once did, all-year-round, some very dramatic changes might be in order for a professional photographer who is struggling to get by in the down season, let alone enjoy their craft.

At the very least, you need to try and minimize your weekday hourly slog. This career can downward spiral very, very fast if you get too buried under a backlog of post-production and/or client correspondence. Trust me, I know.  Out-sourcing your post-production is a huge help, but not absolutely necessarily the only option. Many photographers simply adjust their workflow production time and get each wedding / session turned around in just a few hours, instead of weeks or months… I strongly encourage all professional photographers to master BOTH post-production and a smooth out-sourced workflow. I know out-sourcing sounds like a simple thing to do, yet many professional photographers actually avoid it not just because they are afraid of a loss of quality in their images, but because they simply have no clue how to adapt their workflow efficiently.

If you’re absolutely sure that you want to keep at least some part of your workflow in-house, you should definitely become a master post-producer.  Which is exactly what we created the SLR Lounge Workflow DVD Workshop V5 for.

Either way the bottom line is that both business models can work very well; you just need to figure out which is right for you. Sometimes, it’s a little bit of both!

Other than outsourcing, there are many other things you can do to organize your time and enjoy life better.  I don’t know about you, but as a “creative” who is very right-brained, (you know what I mean, whether or not you subscribe to the science of it) …I am often very OCD, ADHD, or just scatterbrained in general.  This can cause us to lose hours of our day, every single day, just doing random small tasks that a normal human being could accomplish in 15 minutes per day.  Even the slightest distraction, say a fellow photographer asking you a question that could take 15 seconds to answer, can turn into 45 minutes of lost productivity.  Well, sometimes you just need to lock yourself in your office / spare bedroom, and focus.

It stinks and it’s extremely frustrating to struggle with efficiency when “you are your own boss” and your mind just wanders off every few minutes even without someone interrupting you, but that’s the price we pay for being artists, I suppose.

The good news is, there are many things that can help.  We can organize our days very strictly.  Get up at the same time each morning, be efficient and consistent about washing up and eating breakfast; and don’t check facebook etc. on your phone until after you’ve had a moment to yourself to clear your head, check your daily calendar, and prioritize your tasks.

Even then, “twittering around” should be kept to a minimum, and any distractions such as chat window noises, or Gmail / Facebook, should be turned off while you work on your main daily tasks.

If necessary, enlist someone else to help you plan your day, be realistic about what you can accomplish each day, and keep you on track.  (A spouse, significant other, or of course a BFF or business partner can work well, if they have the time and patience…)

You simply need to make more time for yourself. I don’t care how fun you keep telling yourself this photography career is, if you’re working 80-100 hours a week, that’s no fun. You could work a white collar job for 40-50 hrs a week, make better money, and be an ordinary human being on nights and weekends.  I don’t care how “soul-sucking” a corporate / blue-collar 9-5 job is, folks….if you make a good living and work only 40-50 hrs a week, you actually have a pretty sweet life.  Heck, I’d almost be willing to do telemarketing or used car sales, if I were actually good at either of those things and if I had enough cash to go travel around and shoot landscape photos a few times a year.

eastern-sierras-fall-color-650-2Nikon D5200, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR

But I digress.  You need free time, or you will go insane. You know what you also need?  A photographic HOBBY, that is completely separate from your passion as a professional.  I have lost count of how many people I’ve seen who think that they’ve fallen in love with photography and that shooting weddings / portraits is their “calling in life” …yet for the past 1-2 years, they haven’t touched a camera except to use it for paying their bills, or maybe to snap the obligatory cute kid / pet photo or two. (That wind up never getting edited and shared…)

If you ask me, that is a depressing way to live. In fact that was me for a year or two, and it was indeed a huge downer.  Thankfully I’m naturally a really positive, “glass-half-full” “glass TOTALLY full” kind of guy, otherwise I don’t know where I would be today.

Either way, I learned my lesson: no matter how passionate you are about using your camera to make money, you still need to use your camera to feed and liberate your soul. Whether you want to goof around with camera-tossing (yes that is exactly what it sounds like) …or get serious about landscapes or architecture photography, you gotta find something to do where you answer to nobody and just follow your own inner vision.

And personally, I don’t even count portraiture as a “hobby”, since that’s part of what I do for a living. I like to do something completely opposite of what I shoot for work. I understand that some people’s “personal projects” might include themed portrait shoots, or portraiture projects, and I love doing those too.  However I guess I just always categorized themed shoots with “work practice / expanding my style”, …not my personal hobby.

So, that’s my advice for you today. 1.) Find a way to ONLY work ~40 hrs a week, (after the first year or three of painfully long hours, of course!)  If you’re currently bogged down working 80-100 hours, and you’ve been doing this full-time for many years already, you need to immediately change your daily routine.  2.) Find something that you’re passionate about, and keep it entirely separate from whatever you do to pay your bills.

Of course it also goes without saying that you may or may not need to raise your prices, in order to afford this new-found free time. But everybody is currently charging something different and that’s tough to gauge except on an individual basis.  Therefore, I won’t just casually shout “raise your prices!” as if it is an easy thing to do and will solve all your problems. I also understand that if you’re buried under a mountain of work, you can’t just skip town for a day or two and take a vacation when your bank account is nearly empty.  Just do what you can to motivate yourself to get through the next few days / weeks, and then make time.

Take care, and feel free to let me know if you have any other questions or words of encouragement!

=Matt=

Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Thanks for sharing

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