About two years ago, I took a ‘break’. I took a break from the sessions, from blogs, from research, and sadly from my cameras. I stepped aside quietly, but eventually I came out, and spoke about it a little bit. This is something I’ve dealt with for a few years now- I lot of thinking, evaluating, and general back and forth. But one thing has been for certain- I’ve been very low-key for a while, ever since I took my break.
At the time, its something I felt I had to do, and looking back, I don’t regret having done it. Did I miss my photography? I think I did, but didn’t realize it. Not until now at least.
While I had a bunch of wonderful sessions in my portfolio, and so many great images that I personally loved and took pride in, there were a handful of sessions that I wasn’t particularly proud of. These few ‘bad’ experiences pushed me into this little corner, where I felt the defeat was greater than my urge to ever get up and keep trying.
As time passed, I remember thinking that I was just bored; that I wasn’t cut out for photography; that I wasn’t good enough for any of this… Really, what was the point? So I put away my cameras (except for the cell phone), I rarely turned on my computer, and stopped reading books. I felt ok, but I felt I was missing something all along.
‘Cause you know what? I wasn’t bored. I didn’t dislike photography. I don’t think my work was horrible. This hobby had become such a part of me, that it hurt to see it fail sometimes. In retrospect, I can now recognize that I was merely burned out. I was one of those burned out photographers you read about when you’re just learning the basics of the photography business.
Being a caseworker, I KNOW what burn out is. I KNOW how it aches, how it can rip you up, and kill your strength. But photography burn out? I didn’t get it. Now I do, but back then? No. Again, I just thought I had gotten tired of this whole thing.
In these two years, I’ve managed to step back, and see what I had done wrong, and where I made careless decisions.
Here’s the thing. I was doing so many sessions, but for cheap. Meaning, I was putting so much work, time, effort, and love into my sessions, but wasn’t adequately compensated. Bottom line. As with any job, I was away from my family- during sessions, during post session. I was commuting, I was providing a service, and product, basically all for free. Back then though, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. I loved what I was doing, so it didn’t bother me to get ‘little’ in return. Also, I was ‘learning’ so I wanted to take it easy. But each time, Id go to edit a session, my energy went flat. I loved what I was seeing on the screen, but I wasn’t connecting, and I think it was because I wasn’t valuing my work. Love and value are two different things.
Yea, I loved my clients, but meeting with them for two hours, hoping Id get some smiles, and pretty looks, heading home to edit, to then send them a cd with their pictures, then most likely never hearing from them again, was so impersonal. And that’s not the foundation I wanted to build my work on.
Then there was thing about my ‘vision’. When you’re starting out, you hear all about it, from other photographers who speak about their visions, ideas, and styles, and you keep wondering when life is gonna smack you in the head with your own vision. For years, I knew I liked photography. A lot. And early on, I knew I had a knack for pulling emotions out with my camera. And for a long time, I had a list of favorite things I liked to photograph. Still, my vision took sometime, like a couple of years, to emerge. But it finally did. And I eventually realized that I wasn’t always photographing how, and what I loved, but despite knowing this, I kept shooting what other people wanted of me, and not what I preferred. I kept doing this, and I’d feel my creative spark diminish each time. I was constantly reminded that I needed to take a step back. And I eventually did.
While on my break, I thought a lot. I knew what I missed, I recognized what I wanted, where I saw myself going, and I finally acknowledged the worth of my work. I have a very long way to go, and so much to overcome, in regards to my confidence, and to photography in general, but I now have a different approach, and new plans in place.
In the last year, I’ve picked up my cameras a zillion times. Among some of the wonderful pictures I’ve gotten, and sessions I’ve had, I’ve taken some crummy pictures, but that’s fine. Im learning as I go, and I don’t necessarily mean photography-wise, but rather in regards to the emotional side of this business. The same way I embrace the images that make my heart skip a beat, Im also learning to weed out what I don’t want, nor need, for me or my clients.
So here’s my reminder to you- take your breaks. If you feel you need a break from a hobby, from the kids, from your job, from family, from a project, whatever it may be, then you need a break. Don’t apologize for it, and don’t feel guilty. And don’t condemn anyone for choosing to take a step back. Sometimes its just what a person needs.
Breaks are good for breathing, for reflection, for prioritizing, and for planning. If we were to sit and sulk in the midst of our stresses, we’d never grow. We would be so consumed with the agony from ‘burning out’ that our thoughts would be clouded, and taking further steps to be better, would be nearly impossible. Just keep that in mind.