Photographer Dreams of Surviving Burnout

Taken with my new 5D mark iii. Not quite straight out of camera (SOOC) it was over exposed so I brought the exposure back a bit. Colors are natural.

This blog is about far more than just surviving burnout.

It’s about choosing new equipment. It’s about letting your mind and body rest to recharge your creative spirit. I did not plan on writing this blog, but over the past week I’ve found myself overcome by the need to “see” through my creative eye for the first time in too long. A need I haven’t felt in years. I hope sharing this will help surviving burnout, help you choose a new camera, recharge your spirit, or just be kind to yourself through a scary transition.

The past four years have been a whirlwind.

My son was born, it was a traumatic birth to say the least. I was diagnosed with Lyme disease and treatment kicked my tush. I tried to grow my business and growth was slow. I worked on marketing, sales, and organizing my world. I got divorced.

It’s no wonder I’d become burned out.

The burnout snuck up on me and then was just THERE like a lead blanket. Heavy with dread and no amount of movement would dislodge it. I stopped using my camera to capture mundane things. The beloved camera stayed locked away in my studio only to be brought out for paid work. I started focusing on being more productive. My ex lost his job and I ramped up my work even though I was exhausted from Lyme treatment. The harder I worked, the further I felt from my creative self. But with everything I was dealing with, surviving burnout was honestly the last thing on my mind.

I would be energized by helping the women I worked with.

The women I interacted with on Facebook kept me going with messages of support and gratitude. But beyond that, I was tired. Tired of being sick, tired of working hard, tired of being an artist.

Surviving Burnout. Give yourself space and time and the creative spark will return. Shot with Canon 5D Mark iii and 135mm F2L USM. Natural light, overcast.

Artists don’t create on command or just because we want to make something. We create because we are compelled to make a thought become tangible. Often, during turmoil, we are the definition of catharsis. But I was blocked.

It was until this week that my creative spirit started to sing again, and it wasn’t until the burnout was on it’s way out that I realized how deeply it had settled into my bones.

Taken with the 5D Mark iii and the 135mm F2L. This is STRAIGHT out of camera! The glow comes from the condensation that formed on the glass. I didn't even tweak the colors or exposure.

One of the things I wish people in our industry would do is talk about when we DON’T nail something as professionals. Inspired by Sal Cincotta‘s discussion about being honest as teachers, I’m going to tell you something I failed at.

I recently had a job for a VIP. Someone I admire very much both professionally and personally. I used my 8 year old 1DS Mark ii (a veritable TANK for the newbies) and an L zoom lens. I did my best to work around the focusing issues the camera has developed over the years. I’ve had it serviced many times and the problem hasn’t been resolved. Dust is attracted to the sensor. Every time I change a lens the dust is so bad I have to retouch EACH image to remove it. I’ve had the lenses serviced too so I’m not sure what is happening. But I digress. I did not nail this job and was not happy with the sharpness of the photos.

This was a big blow to my self-esteem as a professional artist. I could have rented a camera, I could have gotten a new one, I told myself all the things I should have done. I’d known I’d needed a new camera for some time, but of course put it off.

So after the move and spending plenty of time depressed that I was a terrible photographer, I decided to bite the bullet and upgrade. Part of my procrastination is that I’ve spent the past 8 years shooting on the industry leading Canon 1Ds Mark ii. I saw great reviews for the 5D and it’s successors, but I was sure I’d want and NEED the 1DX.

5D Mark iii, 135mm F2L. Converted to black and white in Lightroom.

My friend and fellow photographer Mary Pantier is one of my idols.

Her style of capturing people is fresh and so vibrant you feel like you’re laughing with them. I adore her portraits whether they’re professional or of the small moments that make motherhood beautiful. Even her daily coffee photos are delicious and jump out from the computer screen. When I started looking for new equipment, I looked to her. I’ve wanted to do more photo journalistic portraits for some time and knew I’d need a camera and lenses that would work well in low light. She recommended the 5D and a few lenses.

Helping on the farm. 5D Mark iii and 135mm F2L. The bokeh from this lens is creamy and jewel-like.

If I bought the 1DX I wouldn’t have anything extra for lenses. And if the life of my 1Ds mark ii is over after a respectable 8 years, I would rather buy a 5D iii and an L prime.

I ordered the 5D Mark iii, the 135mm F2L and the 85mm F1.2. Normally, a new camera means eagerly awaiting the UPS man to pounce upon him and steal away My Preciousssss. But I was so depressed, the boxes sat unopened for several days. My BFF Jenna chided me that I needed to open it. That my mood would change when I did.

So I finally opened it one night after a particularly rough day.

And… at the most unlikely time… something clicked in my heart. I unboxed the camera and marveled at it’s beauty. I was concerned about some reviewers calling the 5D “plastic” feeling, especially coming from the tank 1Ds. The 5D is much lighter and considering the chronic pain of Lyme disease, I appreciate having a lighter weight camera for long days of shooting. Make no mistake, this camera does not feel plastic at all. I like the feel of it in my hands. The menus are intuitive.

Playing peek-a-boo. 5D Mark iii and 135mm F2L. The sharpness of this lens is astounding. The 5D handles low light so well. I love having more focusing points.

The battery grip makes the 5D feel VERY much like the 1DS Mark ii. The complaints about plastic in the tray of the battery pack are silly. Yes you need to be careful, just as you would with a memory card.

The 5D is sleek, fast, and incredible in low/natural light. I’ve been so overjoyed to shoot with it that I keep it at my side. It turns on fast. Focuses fast. Captures those fleeting moments that pass over a three year old’s face.

And I’ve photographed mundane, simple, beautiful things EVERY day since.

All because I have a camera that can better capture what I “see”. And I can “see” again.

WINNING. He ran a race around the yard and then screamed, "I'm winning!" Taken with the 5D Mark iii and 135mm F2L.

If you’re looking for new equipment, find a photographer whose style you admire and ask them.

Just because you CAN get top of the line doesn’t mean you should. I’m a firm believer that you’re equipment doesn’t necessarily limit you. My only regret is that I didn’t upgrade before my VIP shoot. But now I’ve learned the lesson that as a pro, my equipment needs to be up to par.

If you’re experiencing a creative rut, be kind to yourself.

I’ve been so hard on myself these past four years, but I was under a tremendous amount of stress. You can’t make something from nothing if your soul is on empty. I didn’t push it when I realized I wasn’t as passionate about photography in general. And no amount of negative self-talk worked to change what I had to go through. I’ve been spending time watching movies with the Bub. And walking around the farm. And just talking to friends and family. Sometimes we need to be still, like a battery needs to be plugged in to ONE place and stay there to charge.

Here’s a great resource for getting unstuck by our own fearless leader Catherine Hughes. Follow the steps and you’ll be surviving burnout in no time.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel if you’re surviving burnout. A beautiful light you’ll “see” and appreciate.

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Iman is a photographer who, through her unique process of coaching and photography, can show a woman what other people see when they look at her. She is passionate about teaching other photographers how to live and be a professional and making change in the world. She dreams of changing the way women look at their bodies and how the world defines beauty. She also thinks being an instructor on CreativeLIVE would be incredible. Iman battles Lyme disease and shares her unique view of dreaming while fighting for her health. Her post day is Wednesday. Iman Woods If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

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  • Catherine

    I LOVE this post. It blends the truth about dreaming, about chancing your life, about creativity into how you solved it. It’s the reason I started this site – to tell the truth about what it is like to dream big and offer honest solutions and help for others. You’ve helped so many photographers today … and regardless of your camera… I have always loved your photos!