You can overcome Photography Burnout

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Almost two years ago, I was thisclose to quitting my photography career.  This would have been insane, I was doing pretty well, but I was overwhelmed.

I was losing my passion for photography and I thought, oh great, now what will I do if this is all over?

I realized the problem was – I was doing too much, and too much of the same stuff. I had done so much during my first year out of the entrepreneur gates – I was constantly booking, marketing, posting, and blogging. I rarely had a day where I wasn’t meeting a connection, shooting, or editing. I was religiously reading photography blogs, attending workshops every few months, growing, learning – as every serious photographer who wants to build a serious career out of photography does.

I worked weekends, worked late into the nights because I loved it, and then, and finally, it all caught up to me. I was drained – emotionally and creatively. I would almost cry when a shoot was approaching, and then I realized I was busy, but busy doing things that I was no longer passionate about, which in turn, made me feel like I was a hamster on a wheel going nowhere, and what I really wanted to be was a wild stallion able to run free and change direction just like the wind.

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This is what I had to do to save my sanity, mind, and photography career:

  • I stop shooting everyone who had a business for free.  Even though I wanted to help, and some were good causes, I had no time left to rest.
  • I stopped shooting in exchange for credit lines.  They don’t pay the bills, and I realized I didn’t need to expand my portfolio or make connections – connections come with publications who respect the time and talents of a professional.
  • I stopped reading photography magazines.  I threw them straight in the trash or gave them to budding photographer friends.  Reading them only made me feel like I was constantly behind.
  • I stopped (temporarily) following wedding blogs or other photographers just because I needed a breather to create on my own and not feel inadequate. (Read this essay for more: “Why I hate Wedding Photography”)
  • I also stopped reading business magazines, anything that made me feel like I was constantly running a race.  My mind wanted to explode.
  • I had to remind myself to stop comparing myself to others.
  • I redecorated my office.  I took down a lot of my work so I could lessen the pressure  I had on myself to constantly be doing photography. I wanted to enjoy it again without feeling the pressure that if I wasn’t doing it, I had to be thinking about it.
  • I started to make a list of what subjects I enjoyed photographing, and what I didn’t.  That included photographing babies, that went on the no list and I made a friend who does it well and I refer to her.
  • I taught up and coming photographers because seeing their excitement reminded myself why I fell in love with photography – it helped tremendously.
  • I stopped booking weddings.  I turned down a ton of inquiries, even those who had the sweetest emails. I passed along the referrals.  I still do weddings, but for six months, I said no.  I needed the break.
  • I now have many requirements before I agree to work a wedding.  This includes a first look and a wedding planner.  If I’m going to do a job, I want to make sure I enjoy it , it is structured, I am able to perform my best during that time, and the couple is a perfect fit.
  • I stopped writing for online photography sites.  I was overwhelmed with the weekly articles.  I stepped away and took a break.  Months later, I was approached by another site and I had enough rest to return to instructing.
  • I decided to stop shooting a specific subject and consider other areas – corporate, editorial, and so on.
  • I increased my pricing so I could shoot less frequently but still make the same amount.
  • I learned how to say no.
  • I learned that it’s OK to not have the same success as every one else.

I think it can be so easy to fall in love with something, want to do it for a career because of that saying that puts the pressure on the entrepreneur spirit – Do what you love.  Because, if you aren’t, that must mean you’re just plain miserable every day.

But if we’re not careful, taking on too much to do what we love can make us miserable.

But if we’re not careful, taking on too much to do what we love can make us miserable. I still think that saying is kind of unrealistic in so many ways and we an take that the wrong way putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves.

By setting boundaries, limiting my bookings, and knowing that I didn’t need the so called opportunity for a credit line, I was able to free up time.  Time to rest, time to enjoy life, and the time I always wanted to have which is why I became a photographer in the first place.

That time has been long in the past, but it was a tough experience to over come, a sheer feeling of panic that if I wouldn’t be able to over come the feeling, my career was over.  Now crazy back in love with photography, you’ll only see me doing what really moves me.

Have you ever been overwhelmed by what you do, photography or not?  Did you ever get over it or did you quit? Share in the comments.

Diana Elizabeth says it’s OK to change direction because life is always about discovering what the next thing that will challenge you.  Being burnt out is normal, it’s not failure and walking away from something that isn’t a fit any longer is better than staying and being miserable.  

Diana Elizabeth is an author, photographer, and obsessive antique shopper. You can typically find her in her garden wrist deep in dirt, at a local estate sale or planning her next epic party.

14 Comments

  • Michelle M

    I’m so glad to read this article! I always feel like if I’m not photographing or doing something photographic all the time I’m not trying hard enough. I’m burnt out right now. I’m in the middle of a 2 year trip around the world. I’ve been photographing more than I’ve ever before and I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even want to look at my camera. Taking a break for me is very hard because I have only one chance to photograph in these places so I feel I have to keep going when I don’t want to. Pushing through the lack of motivation is one way people have suggested to get through it, but I think that just kills creativity. Any suggestions?

    • Diana Elizabeth

      Hi Michelle! The pressure to keep up and constantly improve is so difficult but if we aren’t enjoying it, there’s no way it’s going to really be beneficial to us – change us or our artistic ability because we’re so stressed. A 2 year trip around the world sounds amazing but maybe you just need to put down your camera and just enjoy being present at the moment? I had to make myself do that in Thailand and just be. That feeling still has never left me – being in awe, listening, being in the moment. You can shoot, just take a few photos, then put it down and bask in the experience. You can push through, but I found that makes me quit all together. So I slowed down. If I wasn’t feeling it, I stopped. And like you said, it might kill you creativity and that doesn’t help you, or anyone else (unless you are on assignment with a publication then you MUST complete your assignments.) Would love an update as you progress! Good luck!

  • Jaimi

    Thank you so much for this article. I’m in the middle of burn out. I’m not sure if I’m done or need a break. I’m also not busy enough which stresses me for the bad. So. Thanks for the reminder that success is different and not to compare. I love 2nd shooting and wonder where to find it. In the mean time I’m looking for a part time job to pay debts and see is its the break I need. Back in the say knowledge felt obtainable now it doesn’t with so many ‘software helpers ‘ I feel unable to keep up with trends in software that help my pics. It contributes to my burn out. I don’t feel alone and that burn out happens. Thank you

    • Diana Elizabeth

      Hi Jaimi! I’ve been meaning to reply but I was on vacation. I’m so sorry you’re going through the burn out right now it’s not fun. I would say you’re on a break, and that’s more than OK. I would connect with some fellow peers and let them know you just need to take a back seat and would love to help them as a second shooter, or ask Facebook groups. If you’re tired of editing, may I suggest you find some outsourcing and a lab that can help you edit your images the way you want. It might lessen the stress of time and letting someone else handle it I hear is fairly cheap too. Best of luck, hang in there and it’s OK!! You’re totally normal!

  • Brittany Van Beek

    OMG!!!! I can totally relate ! I am at the point of wanting to sell my boudoir studio and everything photography related!!! This article has opened my eyes and has finally let me sit back and realize i am not the only one and that I will find that love for it again!!

    Thank you!!

    • Diana Elizabeth

      Hi Brittany, oh gosh my dear, I know the feeling. Give it some time and some R&R. If you can take time off, do it, then slowly build it back up. You are probably taking on more than you can handle, we’ve all been there! Don’t be afraid to reach out along the road to recovery! :) xo!

  • Laura Neely

    This post gave me some insight. Because im brunt out. Not only do i have the business but i also work for a company that does New born hospital photos. I just feel that passion being sucked right out of me. Its to the point i dont wabt to take my camera no where. I want the passion back.

    • Diana Elizabeth

      Hi Laura, I hope you overcome the burn out. Sometimes it can be the process of the editing that can be a workload. Perhaps you can shorten things or tell people you need a break. Perhaps shooting something else for a bit and planning your own styled shoot to find inspiration would help. Good luck!

  • Zamani Feelings

    This was so helpful to me. After spending over two years of doing full time photography I have recently started to lose my passion for capturing, especially all of the things surrounding photography that have little to do with the actual images that I love. Its gone from me not quite liking the process but loving the final result to me barely having the energy or enthusiasm to capture them and it started to show in some of the work i capture. Im trying to think of a way to limit the amount of work I’m doing without it becoming to difficult financially with the ultimate goal to be to restore my love for shooting and actually focus more on the types of photography that I really enjoy.

    • Diana Elizabeth

      Hi Zamani, oh dear, I know the feeling. I am praying that you find the rest, and ability to find your passion again. It happens to ALL of us, with almost anything we indulge in too much. I’m hoping when you return or feel like you are “back” that it’s even better than the first time – I know I feel this way, so I know you can too! :) Thanks for reading!

  • Caitland

    Been there, done that :/ Thanks for the post!

  • Angela

    Thanks so much for this….just what I needed.

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