Whether you’re a professional photographer or a hobbyist, there have likely been times when you’ve felt ready to throw in the towel and quit photography forever. Those feelings are normal and are usually the result of added stress from things like a looming deadline or a project that you don’t feel prepared to tackle.
Often, once the added stress subsides, so does the desire to quit photography. However, if that stress becomes chronic it can cause physical, emotional, and mental burnout that’s much more difficult to bounce back from.
One of the most effective things that photographers of all levels can do to prevent and avoid burnout is to set appropriate boundaries. In this article, we’ll discuss a few different boundaries that you may want to consider setting now in order to protect yourself from future burnout.
1. Set Office Hours
Between smartphones and wi-fi access, it’s easy to be available all the time. It’s easy to respond to a quick text while you’re on vacation. Replying to a midnight email when you’re already awake doesn’t seem like a big deal.
On one hand, being accessible to your clients (whether paid or unpaid) can make them feel appreciated and enhance the client experience. On the other hand, it can also lead to exhaustion and burnout because it always feels like you’re “on duty”.
It’s actually okay not to be available 24/7. In fact, it’s more than just okay. Setting boundaries in terms of availability is crucial to a healthy balance between your work and your personal life.
Consider setting business/office hours, and do your best to stick to them! The client experience is primarily driven by the quality of the service they receive rather than the speed with which they receive it. Most current or potential clients will be satisfied to receive a response within 24-48 hours.
Just because you happen to see a midnight email pop through doesn’t mean you need to respond to it right away! If you’ve always been immediately accessible and are concerned about making this transition, it’s easy to set an auto email or Facebook Messenger reply to let potential clients know that you’ve received their inquiry and when they can expect a response back from you.
2. Build in Downtime
I know as well as anyone that it can be really difficult to build downtime into your schedule because doing so often feels like you’re either losing opportunities or income. However, when you’re very busy with photography, it’s important to remember to schedule two kinds of downtime in order to prevent burnout – processing time, and days off.
In the spring, summer, and fall, it can be tempting to book photo sessions every night and weekend. It’s not a bad thing to fill your schedule, but don’t forget that your work generally isn’t done once you leave the session itself. Most sessions require some degree of processing time, which could include everything from culling, editing, social media posts, communication with your clients, and arranging for delivery.
When you’re creating your calendar of availability, don’t forget to factor in all the time you’ll spend after the actual session itself and build in that processing time (or plan to outsource it) accordingly.
In addition to processing time, I have discovered that there’s tremendous value in blocking out a day or two on my calendar as personal days, even during my busiest season. For me, this is so important both in terms of self-care and also in terms of prioritizing and preserving relationships with my family.
Although I started doing this in order to save my own sanity, I’ve discovered that setting and communicating boundaries in terms of my availability has been helpful in other ways as well. Potential clients tend to book more quickly than they used to because they know that my availability is limited. I also receive far fewer last minute requests to reschedule to a different date or time for the same reason.
3. Communicate Your Timeline
Another small thing that can greatly reduce your stress and frustration is to communicate your timeline with your clients up front and let them know what they can expect in regards to receiving their images.
Make sure that this timeline is realistic. Factor in all scheduled sessions, your post-session processing time, and your scheduled downtime. By doing so, you’ll be able to give clients a more realistic timeline for receiving their images, while also decreasing the number of all-night editing sessions for you.
Obviously, the timeline for a professional photographer with five weddings in their queue is going to be totally different than a hobbyist photographer taking photos of a friend’s children. However, you don’t know who a client has worked with in the past, or what their expectations are as they enter into a session, which is why it’s so important to clearly communicate your timeline from the beginning!
Do you have any other advice for setting boundaries to avoid burnout in photography? Have you experienced it? What did you do to prevent it from happening again? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!