Finding Your Passion Even When You’re Burnt Out


Finding Your Passion Even When You’re Burnt Out with Shannon K Dougherty

I want to start off with a personal story. In 2018, I was booking new and exciting clients. Referrals were coming in from past clients and friends. I should’ve been ecstatic about this, right? Well, I definitely was happy to have clients coming in the door, but something was missing. I realized I wasn’t shooting enough for myself. 2018 was the year of a burnout for me. This lasted into early 2019, and I’m talking about major burnout. I just lost my drive and passion for photography. I was never going to give it up, but what could I do for myself to relight that fire?

Creatively, I needed to start planning more photoshoots for myself. Not only was this burnout affecting my business, it was affecting my mood in my day-to-day life. I needed to make a change, and fast.

Taking Control of the Burnout

That was the point when I decided to plan at least one or two creative shoots a month for myself and my soul. When I did that, something changed. I felt more excited. I wanted to run into my studio every morning and just create. After that, I was giving even more to my clients in their sessions and as a whole. I had re-lit that fire I had for photography and creativity.

It’s easy to lose ourselves in client work and tell ourselves we don’t have the time or energy to shoot anything for ourselves. I’m here to tell you: shoot for yourself. Collaborate, get weird, or just do something outside of your comfort zone.

I like to call these creative photoshoots “Passion Projects.” It’s important to me to still give the same care and attention to a creative photoshoot as I would with any client, but there is something freeing about there being less pressure. This should be something fun and for your soul, so do not get too stressed over it.

I’m going to start by explaining what my Passion Project was and how it’s benefited me. Next, I will explain what you can do to start your own.

I started really thinking about doing a photoshoot project for myself the last few months of 2018. I wanted to work on something that would be important to me creatively. Black & white photography was my first love when I started shooting. I was obsessed with the contrasts and tons of monochromatic images. I wanted to go back to the feeling I got when I stripped down my work and just had minimalistic imagery. Right before I started this project, I’d been using a lot of props, wardrobe and locations in my work. As much fun as that can be, I needed to prevent the burnout and step back from that.

This black & white Passion Project was done mostly in my studio. It was one friend or model, sometimes a makeup artist or hairstylist, and simple wardrobe. Another purpose for me in doing this was to get back to what I really loved when shooting by having a raw connection with the person in front of my camera.

Originally, this project was only going to be one or two people, but it has since turned into close to 100 (and counting). I’ve even added this element to my client work sometimes, with clients loving these images of themselves.

How Can You Get Started With Your Own Passion Project?

Sometimes, I want to work on something that I can’t really do with a regular client, whether that’s a themed shoot or wild makeup something else, so planning with models or friends is the perfect opportunity to play. Personally, I’ve never had someone tell me “no” to playing dress up and getting their makeup done. It’s just too much fun.

Use this as an opportunity to collaborate with local hairstylists, makeup artists, models, and boutiques. A good way to find out who is around you is by doing a local Google search or using the tags or places search option on Instagram. I have made lifelong connections doing this. It never hurts to ask someone if they want to work on a project with you. Making these connections can help you down the road if you’re ever in need of staff for your studio or commercial shoots. I make sure to compensate whom I’m working with, either in payment or by trading services. Offering your team images to use for their marketing is huge. It’s basically free marketing. Please always credit your team, too—you’re all working hard!

Be clear with your team about your vision. For example, I will pull up a Pinterest board or explain my notes in detail to my team the day of the shoot so we are all on the same page. Sometimes, I’ll start a group chat or email beforehand so we can all discuss our ideas together. If I need to meet with a new collaborator in person in advance, I always make sure it’s in a fun environment like a coffeeshop, a bar, or even an arcade. The point is to keep this enjoyable for yourself so it doesn’t end up feeling like a normal meeting with a client (unless you always meet your clients in an arcade—then keep doing that!).

Now that you’ve done all the planning and gotten a team together, just go shoot. It’s really as simple as that. There is no need to put pressure on yourself at all. Some of my favorite creative shoots with a team were when we all just relaxed and went with the flow.

For me, editing burnout is also a thing if it becomes too monotonous. I have to take the time to get out of the post-production doldrums as well. I might be one of the rare people on this planet who does retouching when they want to relax. Do you ever find yourself stuck in the same routine in Lightroom or Photoshop? Take this time to start a new workflow. It’s not a complicated process to make presets, so don’t let that intimidate you. Open up your editing software and get playing. The past few years of doing this, I’ve learned so much in the editing process that has made my workflow for client work more efficient and more enjoyable. This had been an invaluable part of my post-production flow.

What Positives Happen With Creative Projects?

So let’s go back to my story about my black & white photo Passion Project. What have been the benefits to me from doing this?

  1. I’m happier. I’ve taken the time to remind myself why I love photography again. It’s not just about clients in the door sometimes. Deep down, we are artists, and we should get to be that and let creative ideas flow.
  2. I’m more driven. Taking the time to do things for myself creatively has made me more driven in my business. I’ve been able to share, teach and help others, whether my clients or students.
  3. My business has benefited—a lot. I am more present and enthusiastic in my sessions. I feel more excited for my clients coming to the studio. I no longer feel like I am stuck in the same routine, and I have grown in my work, which has made my clients ecstatic with their sessions.

Don’t Let Burnout Stop You From Reaching Your Full Potential

Also, know that you don’t even have to have a team. Grab a friend or a family member, or use yourself, and just shoot. You need to feed your creative soul! Now is the time to grab a coffee or cocktail and jot down all the exciting creative ideas you have and get shooting!

One thing to keep in mind is to not let this overwhelm you. The point of creative projects is to shoot something you want and let the creativity flow. If it starts to feel too overwhelming and more of a chore than a fun opportunity, then step back and find out where the feeling of it being too much might be coming from. Don’t forget, shooting for yourself should be fun and a way to create all the little things you want to do, not something that becomes an even bigger headache for you.

Get the full story

To read the full article, launch the digital version of the January 2020 magazine.

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