Photography Burnout: What It Is and How School Photographers Can Avoid It

Blog  »  Business & Marketing, September 18, 2019, Paula Houben

At GotPhoto, we pride ourselves in making our photographers’ lives easier. But we also understand that the life of a school photographer is not always easy. Many of you run your own business, meaning you have people depending on you for their livelihoods, as well as of course needing to provide for yourself and your own family. 

With busy schedules and often having multiple jobs in progress at once, it can be hard to keep up momentum and avoiding burnout. We asked some of our photographers to give their top tips on keeping up a healthy work/life balance.  But first, an overview of the symptoms and causes of burnout.

What is burnout?

Burnout is caused by being in a constant state of stress. All of us feel stress – both positive and negative – every day. Usually, there is some relief from it in our daily lives. Sometimes though, there is no relief from stress for several days (or even weeks) at a time. This is when burnout can occur.

Burning out provokes feelings of physical and emotional exhaustion, social detachment, and inadequacy. Each of these can hurt your photography in different ways. The experience is different for everyone, but the first step to truly dealing with it is to recognise the different symptoms. Let’s start there.

How Does It Affect You As A Photographer?


Exhaustion is more than simply feeling tired or fatigued. Exhaustion can manifest as a weakened immune system, leading to increased illnesses, forgetfulness, loss of appetite, anxiety, anger, and/or depression. Naturally, none of this is good for your photography, or your life outside.

Photography, and especially volume photography, is highly physically demanding. Wedding and school photographers are constantly on the go all day long. Physical exhaustion can therefore really impact your life.

The same can be said for emotional exhaustion. Most photography evokes some emotion. It is difficult to do this when all you are feeling yourself is numb. Feelings of apathy will show in your images.

Cynicism and Detachment

Loss of enjoyment in photography is usually the first thing noticed by those suffering from burnout. This is accompanied by pessimism, or feeling as if your skills will never improve. Burnout can cause you to experience detachment—feeling disconnected from others. You may miss your photo club meetings, stop returning emails or pull away from other activities. This is ironic because one of the things that can often help is to become more involved in groups that support you.

Ineffectiveness and Lack of Accomplishment

It can seem that no matter how hard you work at photography, you never see your skills improving. You can develop feelings of hopelessness because of this, even though your photography is developing at the same rate as before. It’s just your perspective that’s changed.

All of these feelings combine to make you less productive, and even though the burnout may have started in photography, it can spill over into other aspects of our lives, such as relationships or your family.

How To Avoid A Photography Burnout

Get a Hobby (Other than Photography)

At some point, you need to put down the camera and do something different. Yes, going out and taking pictures of subjects other than what you focus on for business can be relaxing, but you are still very close to ‘work mode’. Learn to play a musical instrument, read, volunteer…do something other than taking pictures for a little while every week, to have a ‘vacation’ from the business.

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

Actual human interaction can do you a lot of good. An hour or two spent with family or friends can 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. Let your hair down. Have a little fun now and then so that you can continue to feel excited about your work!

Time Management is Everything

Especially when you don’t have set working hours, it’s important to keep track of the time you spend on your work and the time you spend on other things. It’s easy to do a bit more editing and get booked for an extra shoot, but just keep in mind that you also need to schedule some time for things that are not photography related. You might think: ‘How am I supposed to do less? All these things have to be done.’

But ask yourself: which things are important in your work and which things can you change to save time? Maybe you just have more shoots planned than you can handle, or maybe there are things in your workflow that could be done in a more efficient way. Because in the end, a responsible workload means more personal happiness and health.

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. Just don’t stare at the screen continuously for eight hours a day. It’s not good for you. Many photographers would likely rather be out taking pictures than editing or running the business side of things. But if you are running a business, these things need to get done. However, that does not mean that you can’t take a break occasionally! Indeed, you really should.

Stick to the rules for regular office places such as a 10-15-minute break every two hours. You will be surprised how much better you feel.

Making the most of your time is incredibly important and of course, GotPhoto can help you with plenty of those tedious administration tasks. This is crucial in getting you away from the desk. Slow Road owner Erica Morrow explains further the difference it made for her in this article. 

Julia Buck Fotoleben

Advice From Other Photographers

Tim Macdonald, Image Art Studio

“Stay ahead of the game. Always look ahead to deadlines and preparedness for shoots. Make sure the deadlines you give are reasonable and reachable. Do not promise then not deliver; if anything, underpromise and overdeliver. That’s what your accounts/customers will remember. 

“Accomplish things one day at a time: set your goal for the day or make a simple ‘to do’ list, and make sure you get it done. Then repeat the same process for the next day.”

Want to hear more wise words from Tim? Take a look at his photographer showcase for the inside track on his school photography business.

Larissa Lord, Larissa Lord Photography

“My biggest recommendation is to try and set business/desk hours. As a society, we’ve become quite accustomed to immediate responses, but I find if I can give clients/prospective clients a time where they know I will be available to answer emails or phone calls, then I don’t feel as guilty when my desktime is done.

“I think it’s so important to try and reduce the elements of business that tie you to your desk. If you have a good client management software system, software to streamline your workflow – that’s golden. Getting all set up in the beginning reduces the amount of time you spend at your desk later. 

“Make time for yourself: to walk outside, reconnect with the things you enjoy, and pick up your camera for your own personal work too. The less bogged down you feel, the happier you will be. And please remember: just because you say no to time at your desk doesn’t mean you have to say yes to another commitment that will occupy your time in a stressful manner! If you’re thinking no internally, say no externally! You’ll be happier for it.”

Like how Larissa thinks? Hear more from her as she takes a closer look at her a few of her favorite images in her photographer showcase.

Erica Morrow, Slow Road Photo

“With the nature of our work being so seasonal, the most important thing you can do is give yourself grace. In the busy periods, give yourself permission to work hard and give your very best to your work. It may feel disproportionate in a snapshot, but the pendulum always swings back. There are times when you simply have to dig deep and just get down to work!

“Then when things are slow, give yourself the same grace and don’t get down on yourself. Enjoy the rest, the deep breaths, the time to play. Find the beautiful part of whatever season of business you are in and give it everything you’ve got!”

Want to hear more advice and tips from Erica? Dip into her photographer showcase for her perspective on style, interacting with kids, and more.

From the GotPhoto Team

At GotPhoto, we also work hard on various different projects and tasks, always with the aim of making our photographers’ lives easier. We asked some different people around the office what they do to keep themselves focused and in top form.

Clara from Marketing puts it down to “meditation!” Taking some time to slow down and relax can never hurt, but it doesn’t work for everyone…Kai from Sales prefers to head off to a soccer game or play some sports himself. Remember, what works for some won’t always work for others.

Finally, we have some words of wisdom from GotPhoto USA CEO, Benedikt: “There are a few little things that you can do:

  • Number One: Change your clothes to make sure your body understands when you are home.
  • Number Two: Establish set reflection sessions.
  • Number Three: When you eat, take time for it and concentrate on the food; it actually doesn’t matter what you concentrate on but it should be something not related to work.”

We hope you’ve picked up some handy tips and strategies that will help you on your way to your best season yet this fall! Please note, if you’re experiencing chronic exhaustion or fatigue, please seek professional help or see a doctor. These tips are designed to help put together a healthy work/life balance, but not to be used as medical advice.

Further Resources

Want to read up more on the topic?

Here’s a podcast where a photographer discusses just this topic.

Forbes also wrote a comprehensive breakdown for people of all industries on what to watch out for and what the potential causes could be.

Gallup carried out a scientific study, this one focusing specifically on employee burnout, and also put together some useful solutions for reducing or managing burnout.

Got any top tips of your own? Let us know in the comments of the Facebook post for this article!

Paula Houben