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Have you ever felt fed up with your photography? Disillusioned? Frustrated? Uninspired? Burnt out? If that’s the case for you, you are not alone in those feelings. Most of us feel that way at some point or another, often on multiple occasions. Fortunately, there is and always has been a lot of sound advice available for when you feel that way.
Advice that prompts you to try new techniques for a different perspective and a fresh outlook is one great example of common advice that may help you to overcome the frustration.
This article discusses one particular piece of common advice that’s given to photographers a lot. You will have probably heard (or read it) given to someone else at some point, even if it hasn’t been given to you. That advice is when you feel this way, take a break from photography. On the surface, this can seem like a great idea and a great piece of advice. However, once you dig a bit deeper and dissect the possible outcomes (as this article does), you should see that the repercussions of following through with a break from photography can be significant.
This topic is quite personal. I followed this advice several years ago after struggling with severe burn out. Because of this, the topics discussed in this article are based on some of the things I experienced after taking a break. That said, even though this is quite personal, I try to keep that aspect out of this article as much as possible and keep things analytical and leave the anecdotes to a minimum.
Even so, you’re situation and experiences won’t be the same as mine. I may have experienced these consequences, but that doesn’t mean you will. If you are considering taking a break from your photography, do have a good, hard think about if any of this applies to you.
As mentioned, the advice photographers often get is to take a break from photography. This does have some benefits (and I did experience those).
By taking a step back, you can gain both space and time to give things an honest appraisal and discover exactly what is causing the feelings of frustration that led you to the point of wanting to take a break in the first place. This a huge advantage and if used well, you can take that insight and fix, or cut out, whatever was causing your frustrations.
Some of the things that are easier to evaluate from a safe distance include: what you like and don’t like, the direction your photography is heading in, your working habits, and your personal values and how they apply to your photography.
That time can also give you the opportunity to let some information sink in. If there’s a concept or a technique that you just can’t wrap your head around, stepping away from actively pursuing it gives your brain the opportunity to work on the problem in the background.
While the positive consequences of taking a break can be obvious, some of the potential negative consequences are less so.
If you’ve been involved with photography for any amount of time, you have gradually built a series of habits and systems that you go through every time you take photos. This could be your post-processing workflow, it could be the way you research locations, or it could be the way you conduct yourself on social media.
The thing is, these habits and processes were built step by step. You didn’t just wake up one day and have a complete post-processing workflow in place.
When you decide to take a break, you’re taking a break from your habits and routines. If these were developed over years of practice and daily ritual, what happens when your break is over? Chances are, when you come back, you may very well struggle to jump back into those complex habits. Instead of building things up gradually, you are trying to get back into a routine all at once. This can extremely difficult at the best of times.
If you think about this just in the context of social media, posting content everyday (or at least regularly) can be a significant job with plenty of work going into each post. Stopping that routine and then trying to come back to it months later could be overwhelming and it might take significant effort to overcome a challenge like that.
Once you add that to the possibility that once you step away from social media, you may very well recognize just how toxic it can be, which makes it all the harder to willingly step back into that arena.
Depending on how long your break is for, things that you take for granted can change dramatically. My break lasted a couple of years. In that time, Photoshop transformed into something only slightly recognizable. Lightroom transformed into the go-to for photographers, and Instagram went from iOS users only to taking over the world.
You can probably see the disadvantages here. In this technological world, everything changes at a ridiculous pace. By taking time out, you are removing yourself from a position where you can adjust to these changes as they happen. When you decide to come back, you now have an enormous workload of stuff that you have to learn or relearn just to put yourself at the same level you were before.
If you’re a portrait photographer, or any sort of social photographer, this is probably the most applicable point to you.
Much as the tools of the trade change over time, so will your network. Once you’re on a break, any previous contacts or clients will move on and find another photographer. Models, make-up artist and other collaborators may move on or change focus themselves.
This applies equally to social media and real life networking.
If you weren’t on a break, this would still happen, but your network would still be growing naturally. However, if you’re not there to grow that network, the holes that these people leave will be empty once your break is over. If your break is an extended one over a couple years, you may come back to find that the network that you put a significant amount of time and effort into building is decimated.
All of these things on their own may not seem insurmountable, but once you add them all together, they can accumulate to an enormous challenge that will set you back in both time and effort.
Having to refocus on these things also means that once you’ve decided that you’re ready to come back to photography, you have to put a great deal of time into the things that aren’t photography.
For a lot of people who are frustrated and disillusioned with their photography, it is often these ancillary administrative tasks that cause the feelings of frustration and disillusionment in the first place.
If you are in a position where you are considering taking a break, I understand and I empathize. A lot of photographers have been there before.
Before you make a decision, please, please take the time to consider all of the possible consequences of taking a break.
Again, my circumstances will be different from yours and your consequences may not look remotely like mine, but there will be consequences that you may not be able to see yet. Please try to take them into account.
Have you taken a break from photography or considering it? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.