How I Recovered From a Photography-Related Burnout

I’ve had something on my mind lately about some of my photography/being self-employed experiences, and I wanted to share them with our readers here, because I feel like my situation, at its core, is not uncommon, and if anyone out there is finding themselves in a bit of an existential crisis with regard to photography and owning their own business, I’m here to help. Because I’m the queen of existential crises when it comes to photography and being self-employed. And no one does drama quite like I do.

However, I always pull through, and so will you.

Let’s rewind four years: I had recently quit my “day job,” was shooting weddings, engagement sessions, real estate, and pretty much anything that came my way. I was also working on my ebook for Digital Photography School, writing for Laura and Karlen here at Pretty Presets, Pretty Actions & the Pretty Forum, selling my textures, jewelry, and fine art prints.

I was doing a lot, and I burned out fast. In retrospect, my burnout was not due to overwork, but more of a “I am really confused and not sure what I want to be doing or focusing my energy on” situation. While I enjoyed everything I was doing, I enjoyed some things more than others. Some things felt right, and some things felt very, very wrong. So, I decided to drop everything and return to school in order to a) get my Master’s, because that’s usually a good thing to have and b) become a better photographer, and to figure out what it is that I truly enjoy about photography and living a creative life.

At first, grad school was another “What have I gone and done now?” moment which I thought was adding to the confusion of my situation. However, two years in, I know now more than ever what I want, and actually have somewhat of a plan for the next couple of years. With all of that said, here are a few things that I can offer you as help and encouragement. If you’ve reached a point where you want to make photography not only a creative obsession but also a way to support yourself and your family, this is my most humble advice:

* You may need to change your definition of “photographer.” The role of the professional/commercial/fine art photographer is so dramatically different than it was 20, even 10 years ago. Evaluate other photographers in your field to see what they are doing, and evaluate yourself. Keep evolving with the ever-changing role of the “photographer.”

* What you think you want to do and what you actually want to do may be totally different, you just haven’t realized it yet. I thought I wanted to be a wedding photographer. While I enjoyed shooting weddings (well, for the most part), I eventually found that I’m a conceptual and landscape photographer – gasp! Once I had this realization, though, everything started to fall into place.

* Take a break. Seriously, if you are burned out and miserable, take a break. Creativity is not supposed to make you miserable, it’s supposed to set you free. Taking a break will also help you revaluate a multitude of things. I haven’t created any Photoshop actions or textures in months because I have been so busy with school, and you know what, I so wholeheartedly miss that aspect of my brand. It will be the first thing I revisit when I graduate next year.

* Create a supportive network of fellow artists/businesspeople. This is a no-brainer: having a support system of people in similar situations will help you in ways you can’t even imagine. Just try it. The best place to find a wide variety of people in your situation is here online. I’ve met some of my closest friends because of photography. There you have it, folks! Have you found yourself in a similar situation? If so, how did you recover? I’d love to hear your thoughts.