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Originally Posted on The Photo Life

You could say the photo above represents a fairly hectic time for my business. That collage represents one month a few years back that included:

  • 4 weddings
  • 5 engagement sessions
  • 2 bridal fashion shows
  • 1 fashion/catalogue shoot
  • 6 museum exhibits photographed
  • 4 days photographing the Frieze New York Art Fair
  • Approximately 120 hours taking pictures
  • Approximately 8975 photos (after editing)

Sure, it’s good to be busy. I’m not complaining about that. However, it’s a heavy workload, which made me think: it’s time to address the subject of ‘burnout.’

Being ‘burnt out’ can take many forms – feeling tired (physically and emotionally), lacking enthusiasm about your work, experiencing apathy, irritability, and frustration. None of those things are good for your pictures, your business, or your life! And you don’t have to work a ridiculous number of hours in a short period of time to feel this way; it could be a prolonged process of constantly grinding away at your work and feeling like it never lets up.

So, how do you fight it and protect yourself from photographic burnout?

I’m glad you asked!

1. Get a Hobby (Yes, other than photography!)

At some point, you need to put down the camera and do something different. Yes, going out and taking pictures of things other than the type of photography you do for business can be relaxing, but you’re still very close to ‘work mode.’ Learn to play an instrument, carve out time to read, volunteer. Just do SOMETHING other than take pictures for awhile every week. It’s like giving yourself a ‘vacation’ from your business.

2. Exercise

It’s unavoidable– your body is a machine, and you need to keep it in good working order. Photography can be a very physically demanding job (hauling gear, being on your feet for many hours). Getting your blood pumping a few times a week when you’re not working will make those long hours more manageable, the stressful times easier to handle, plus give you an endorphin boost, and make your recovery time from exhaustive hours of work faster.

3. Outsource

If you can, hire someone to do some of the time-consuming tasks on your list. One area many photographers outsource is all or part of the editing process. For many of us, this is the most time-consuming part of our job (taking up at least twice as much time as we spend actually taking pictures). If you can afford it, and are willing, consider outsourcing. It can be highly liberating. Personally, I have yet to get to the point where I can let go of the editing process. Over the last eighteen years, I’ve managed to streamline the process so it doesn’t take up much of my time and the quality has actually improved. That’s not to say that one day in the future I won’t hand it off to someone else. But if you aren’t going to outsource some part of your process, that leads you to…

4. Manage Your Client’s Expectations

Do your clients expect an ‘immediate’ turnaround on their images? Why? Did you let them think that was okay? Can you effectively edit thousands of pictures from a wedding in a day or two, and then provide your client with a quality product, while still running the rest of your business and not driving yourself crazy?

Build time into your post-production schedule to keep yourself from feeling pressured to get everything done “ASAP.” Give your clients a window when their photos will be done, so they know when to expect the finished product. Most people won’t harass you if you need to adjust the timeframe for delivery due to a busy schedule – but only if you let them know beforehand! It’s up to you to educate your clients about your process. Otherwise, they’re going to have to ask you for continual updates…and that gets frustrating for everyone.

5. Step Away from The Computer at Regular Intervals

Get up from the computer. Let your eyes focus on something else. Take a short walk. Do some jumping jacks. Get moving! Just don’t stare at the screen continuously for eight hours a day. It’s not good for you. Most photographers I know would rather be out taking pictures than editing or running a business. But, if you are running a business, these things need to get done. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take a break occasionally! And you should. Stick to the rules for “regular” offices – take ten to fifteen minute breaks every two hours. You’ll be surprised (and relieved) by how much better you feel.

6. Talk to Your Friends and Family – In Person, and Not About Work

Wait, what? Actual human interaction can do you a load of good! An hour or two spent with family or friends will recharge your batteries – as long as you aren’t talking about how much work you have to do when you get back to your computer. Relax. Enjoy loved ones. Have a little fun now and then, so that you can continue to feel excited about your work when you return to it.

In Conclusion

A lot of people talk about ‘work/life balance’ but it’s important to check in on yourself regularly. Are you actually working too hard? You’re not helping your clients by burning the candle at both ends. Actually, you might be so worn out that you slip up and make a mistake that could cost you. Better to get into the habit of regularly taking breaks and finding ways to relieve the pressure. What do you struggle with the most as a photographer? I’d love to hear what you have to say. Leave me a comment and let me know.

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