Taking a break from photography isn’t a popular idea. We are bombarded with advice on how to shoot daily and find time in our hectic lives to make room for photography. We’re told to pick up our cameras even when we don’t want to, and we’re encouraged to choose editing instead of doing the dishes.
We’re groomed to believe that those who are the most dedicated — those who make the most sacrifices for their art — are the ones who are truly successful.
But what happens when you simply don’t have what you once had to give? You could find the time and the energy if you really wanted to, but it’s terrifying to admit that you don’t want to. Can you still love photography and be an amazing artist if you don’t put as much of yourself into it anymore?
Oh my gosh, yes!
Photography isn’t going anywhere. It will be right here waiting when you’re ready to come back. And no, you won’t have forgotten how the exposure triangle works, even if it’s been ages. Just like seeing an old friend, you’ll pick right back up where you left off. So if you’re burned out, bummed out, or feeling overwhelmed, try taking a break from photography and come back when you’re ready.
Stop putting so much pressure on yourself.
Let me tell you a little story about a girl who wanted to be an artist (Spoiler alert: It’s me). She’d had an interest in photography for years, but one day, January 1st, 2016, to be exact, she picked up her camera and didn’t put it down again for an entire year. Yes, that’s right, a 365 project.
I grew leaps and bounds that year. But do you want to know what else grew? Pressure, self doubt, and that nagging desire to try and please everyone with my images.
I wouldn’t change it for the world; that 365 project really did change the way I shoot and brought about countless opportunities. But, I purposely didn’t pick up my camera on January 1st, 2017 for fear that I wouldn’t be able to stop shooting, like, ever.
The pressure, self doubt and the desire to create images that pleased everyone did not fade away. But I kept trucking along, as we are often taught to do. I felt guilty if more than a day or two went by and I hadn’t taken a picture. I cringed when I culled my images, angry with myself for not shooting an Instagram-worthy photo.
If I’m being honest, I could see areas of my life that were suffering because of the time and energy I was giving to my photography.
Then something amazing happened. I let go. It wasn’t overnight. It wasn’t some big, dramatic event that culminated with me throwing my camera out the window. In fact, people who follow my work might not have even noticed a change. But I simply let go.
No longer did I worry when my Instagram followers dropped by the thousands (yes, thousands). No longer did I keep shooting throughout the day, mentally and sometimes even physically exhausted, until I finally shot something that I felt was worthy. I just let go of photography and the pressure that came with it.
It was glorious.
How to let it all go and regain your creative freedom.
Letting go and taking a break from photography can mean something different for each of us. For me, it didn’t mean the end of photography altogether. It meant not picking up my camera if I didn’t want to. In September of last year, I picked up my camera three times for a total of 130 images. Y’all. This is from a girl who used to shoot 4,000+ in a month in her heyday.
For you, letting go may mean something else. Here are three ways to take a break from photography so you can get back to what you actually love about your art.
1. Stop sharing.
Maybe it’s just the sharing aspect of photography that has been bringing you down. Or more specifically, maybe the culprit is social media. It is great to be inspired by images from other people, but what happens when sharing your images with the world starts to make you feel less-than?
When you spend more time worrying about which hashtags to use and how many features you’ve gotten instead of focusing your efforts on growing as an artist, it may be time to take a step back and reevaluate what role social media and sharing in general have in your photography journey.
Shoot a day in the life project and tell yourself ahead of time that you’re not allowed to share any of the images. You’re shooting it just for you. Even if you shoot the most amazing image you’ve ever shot in your life, it will never see the light of Instagram. It is for your eyes only!
If the thought doing a project like this makes you cringe, it’s probably exactly what you need to do.
2. Stop editing.
You don’t have to love every part of the creative process. You don’t even have to do every part of the creative process. Taking a break from photography means taking a break from whatever parts you need to take a break from. For me, it was editing.
I used to edit every single “keeper” image that I took of my family. If it was blurry or a duplicate, it got trashed. If it didn’t get trashed, it got edited. That was my process for years and I can’t tell you the struggle it was for me to finally admit that I couldn’t keep it up anymore.
Once I started shooting my 365 project, the amount of photos I was shooting that needed to be culled and edited was absurd. I tried so hard to keep up, and even when I couldn’t, I held out hope that one day I would have the time to go back and edit all the tens of thousands of images that were piling up.
Then one day I asked myself, “why?” Why do I need to edit every image that I take? Years from now, will my family care when they look through our photo archives? Will they even notice? I couldn’t give myself a good reason why every single image needed to be edited, so I just stopped.
More importantly, I also turned my back on any guilt that was lurking. I stopped naming folders things like “June 2017 – NOT FULLY EDITED YET” and went instead with the completely acceptable “June 2017.” No guilt attached with my file naming system anymore.
If editing is bringing unneeded stress to your photography journey, just let go. Give yourself a break!
3. Stop shooting.
Quitting social media and refusing to edit, check. Those aren’t the hardest things in the world to let go of. But could you actually stop shooting? Or the better question may be, do you need to stop shooting?
I’m not talking about forever here, but could you put your camera in a closet and forget about it for a week? A month? Maybe a year if you needed to? For you, does taking a break from photography mean taking a break from all of it?
If so, it’s fine! The beauty of having photography as a hobby is that when it gets hard, you can step away. Can you do that with parenting? Your job? Most relationships? Nope. So take advantage of the fact that you don’t have to pick your camera up when you don’t want to, even though we are conditioned to think that way.
Sure, we could push though and pick our camera up anyway. But what are the consequences? You don’t want to end up resenting photography and the hold that it has on you. Take control, take a break, and jump back in when you’re ready.
Photography isn’t going anywhere.
The point of all of this is to stop. Just let go!
Taking a break from photography — all of it, or just the parts you choose — will be good for your soul. It might be scary, I’m not going to lie. But aren’t we always telling ourselves to “do hard things?” Letting go is hard, especially when you’ve worked so hard to build a name for yourself.
But do you want to hear the good news? Photography is not going anywhere. As long as you have a desire to return, it will be there for you. Photography doesn’t hold a grudge. The guilt you may feel for not throwing yourself into your art as much as you once did does nothing but put even more distance between yourself and your passion.
So let go, take a break, and return when you’re ready. Your art, your life, and your sanity will be better for it.
Photos by Natalie Greenroyd