Last year I almost completely gave up my photography business. I shot over 30 weddings in one summer and was completely exhausted and burnt out. Just to be clear, it had nothing to do with the couples I worked with. They were beyond amazing, and I had a blast meeting so many new people. At the time I was just not mentally ready to take on such a high work volume, and honestly I didn’t have thick enough skin for the critique that came my way. I walked out of the summer fully prepared to hang my camera up and kiss photography goodbye. Silly me, within a few months of recouping, a lot of tough love, and some serious refocus I was ready to pick up my camera again and work harder than ever to do what I truly love. The year of exhaustion, stress, hard work, break downs, and almost completely giving up on my heart’s greatest passion taught me some of the most valuable lessons about myself as a photographer and my business. Here they are!
You are not him/her or anyone else for that matter, so stop trying to be.
This is something I struggled with a lot in the last year. I am a huge Instagram lover, like many other photographers. I use it as a way to gain inspiration and have found some of my favorite photographers on it. The day I found India Earl I was sucked into a black hole. Her work is incredible and so unique to her. I wanted so desperately for my photos to look like hers. I would edit, and then edit some more, then re-edit 4 more times, and then finally shut my computer in anger because no matter what I did I couldn’t get my photography to look like hers. It got to the point where I started hating every photo I took because I thought if it didn’t look like hers it was pure garbage. I lost all confidence in myself and the individual talent that I have. Friends, this is so unhealthy! If you are doing this, STOP right now. Unfollow the person. Shut down your Instagram for a hot minute. Do whatever it takes to step away for a while. Take some deep breaths. Refocus yourself and figure out who YOU are and what YOUR strengths are. Begin to focus on what it looks like to push yourself to create better art that you love and are proud of because it’s genuine to who you are. Once I did this I began to fall in love with my own work again. I realized I didn’t want to be like anyone else. I just wanted to be the best at what I do. In the end this will be better for you. In a market that is crazy saturated, find what makes you unique and stop striving to have your work look like everyone else’s.
Don’t waste your time and energy doing what you don’t want. Don’t book a job just because it’s paid.
I never started my photography business with the intention of having it all be about a paycheck. It was always about a creative outlet for me. It was a way for me to share my heart with the world without speaking a word. Eventually, I decided I wanted to make a living with my photography and do it full time. First, let’s just stop and take a moment to realize that being paid as a full time photographer can takes years of work, advertising, and busting your butt (If you are just starting your business this one is not as much for you. Here is your advice: Shoot as much as you can, work hard, invest in good equipment, and get good enough to charge a decent price for your work.). For those of you like me who have been in it for a couple of years and have a wide range of stuff in your portfolio, start realizing that you are good enough to charge and that you can say no if you feel that someone does not fit your aesthetic. I know sometimes it’s frustrating when you haven’t booked anything in a couple of weeks and someone approaches you to do that one thing that you really hate doing and really don’t want to do. It’s easy to say yes in desperation because you feel like no one is going to hire you. Don’t waste your time or energy. You are a great photographer, and you will find the right clients in time. I would suggest reaching out and booking some shoots that will challenge you in the specific niche area you want to work in, even if this means not making any money. Build your portfolio to be what you want it to be and continue to get better. Show people what you want to do and eventually you will get booked for it. I stopped putting pressure on myself to make money and started pushing myself to be creative and shoot what I loved. Since then, I’ve noticed business naturally flowing my way. Even if I’m not making any money I will still create because it’s what I love to do. No pressure, just passion. Don’t let an obsession with making money take away from the real reason that you are doing photography.
It’s okay if they don’t like your work.
I used to really struggle with this, and I still do. I mean, who doesn’t hate rejection? At some point I had to realize that if someone wasn’t happy with my work it wasn’t the end of the world. Usually it was them picking my style and then realizing in the end it wasn’t what they actually wanted. If I took offense to every negative thing I would probably throw my camera in the trash and curl up in a ball while cuddling a chocolate cake. I once had someone rip me and my photography to bits in an online review. It was devastating at the time. I was embarrassed and hurt. After a couple of these I began to question if I would be good enough for any client that booked me. I eventually realized my style isn’t every person’s cup of tea. I am cool with it at this point. I love what I do and it reflects who I am.
Show up prepared.
This is your business; be professional. Gone are the days where you just show up and wing it. That doesn’t work, and if it does then you got pretty lucky. Take the time to research outfits, makeup, hair, etc. Create a mood board and search for inspiration. Drop some money on making the shoot exactly what you envisioned it to be. Put thought into your work. Don’t half-ass it. Go a couple of hours early and scout the area. Create a clear timeline of what outfits you want to shoot and the location you will shoot them at. Bring an assistant to help keep you organized if this isn’t a strength of yours. Analyze lighting and prepare for every possible outcome. This will alleviate a lot of your stress and clear more mental space for creativity, which will lead to bomb photos.
It’s okay if you need to take a break.
Sometimes a little refocus is needed. It’s okay to clear your calendar for a month and recenter what it is you want for your business. Just because you take a break doesn’t mean you gave up. Doing this last year took my photography to a new level. If you are burnt out then switch it up and try something new. It’s healthy to take time for yourself so you are in a good mental space to do your best work. This might help you find some new inspiration.
Stop being afraid and do cool stuff already!!
You know, that cool stuff that you have seen but have no idea how to do. The time is now — start doing it. I got used to playing it safe with the weddings I shot. I wanted everything to be perfect, for good reason, so I would always stick people in shade and take some photos. Yes, the photos turned out good, but I never stretched myself and it started to get boring. I would think about using abstract lighting or even something as simple as a reflector and would run the other direction because I wanted to play it safe. Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay to play it safe sometimes. Get the shots you need, but always allow yourself space in your shooting time to move out of your comfort zone. Shoot from a weird angle. Shoot while running. Move the camera and create some blur. Just do something different! Let yourself grow. If your photos suck, then whatever. Try something else next time. One day in the future you will be editing your images and drop to the floor in shock because of how cool of a photographer you are.
Recently I shot a session and tried out some new things. I even used a reflector for the first time. I just about died when I saw the improvements it made in my photos. Just like that I took my photography to the next level. Below are a couple of shots for example.
- The first image (left) was shot in harsh light (my boyfriend’s suggestion). I was terrified at first, because if I didn’t shoot it correctly the photos could’ve been patchy and unflattering. I had the model tilt her face upward, and the light hit her face beautifully. In the end, this was one of my favorite photos from the series.
- In the second image (right), a gold reflector was used to reflect sunlight on the model’s face. This created the gorgeous golden glow you see in her skin, not to mention it gave the most flawless look to her face.
Get close… probably too close.
This one is self-explanatory. It feels weird to get in too close with your subject but these shots always end up being some of my favorites. This is a hard area to master but once you get the hang of it you will love the photos you create!
Thanks for taking the time to read some of my advice. I hope this can encourage you if you are going through something similar to what I was last year.
Let me know if this was helpful and if you would like more posts like this!