I think anyone working in the creative industry understands the feeling of burnout. Whether you’re a photographer (myself), creative/art director, Illustrator or whatever, when you’ve been hitting it extremely hard for clients for a few months straight it’s difficult not to need a break. My idea is that there are actually two types of time off that are needed.
A few down days are an obvious necessity just to get your life back a bit, run errands, hopefully connect with friends and family, hit the gym (or not). Those are simple basics and just a matter of being able to feel human again, the point of this is to also remind creatives that another type of break is needed, time to work on personal projects as well.
Early on in my career, when I thought I’d “made it”, an agent of mine reminded me of three things. The first is how lucky we are to be able to do what we love and be able to make a living doing it. The second was the better your resulty, the harder you have to work just to keep progressing. The third was the idea of shooting personal work as a necessary gift to yourself. Without the personal, you will eventually burn out the work.
The commercial creative world is very intense. I think when many people were young and starting out it was all about the creative. Whether one was constantly out making pictures, doing massive amounts of hours drawing, designing, or concepting, it was a simple time just bubbling with ideas…Not much money, but life was simpler, the good old days. However, I think as many people’s careers in the industry progress, there’s a strange distancing of actually DOING the thing that we fell in love with in the first place. Meeting after meeting, iteration after iteration, the great idea and (sanctity) of being a “creative” can get side-tracked a bit.
I do truly love working with clients to make concepts come to life. However, from my perspective, all of the pre-production that needs to go into each project, while a very necessary part, is not actually MAKING pictures though, and that is what I fell in love with and why I became a photographer. I think it’s the same with creative design, no one really gets into the industry out of a love for conference calls, meetings, extremely literal clients, flight delays, etc. The time we’re actually able to really DO the creative work, the real concepting, the physical fun work, seems small. I would guess on an average year I probably work about 330 days but I only am truly out there, with camera in hand, making pictures for possibly 80-100 days at best. My answer to client burn-out: personal work.
There are always parameters and expectations around any client project. My idea is to help emphasize the importance of making sure one fits in time to create work where there are no particular boundries or client needs to fulfill. The opportunity to start with nothing, create whatever it is that that comes out from wherever ideas actually come from, and in the end, serve only your personal creative desires. It’s both a huge treat and a huge source of creative reinvigoration and seems potentially not really optional if the goal is to stay creative and happy for the long term.
As a photographer, I try to make sure I do, at the very least, one big personal shoot a year somewhere of interest to me. I hire a local producer, do some preliminary research on locations and ideas and then off we go. If I’m away for 21 days I will actually be shooting, camera in hand, for 21 days - really doing the work. I always come back from these trips incredibly visually reinvigorated having fallen back in love again with image-making process. This makes everyone from myself, to my clients, to my wife and family infinitely happier and allows me to keep a high level of energy on my client projects.
It may be counter-intuitive that more work can make you feel refreshed when you’re already overworked but, like “pants with little whales on them shouldn’t be worn after Labor Day”, not all presumptions hold true…
Richard Schultz is a commercial advertising photographer based in the Northeast U.S. For the past 13 years he has focused on advertising photography, prior to that he was a frequent National Geographic & Vanity Fair Magazine contributor. His personal and commercial work can be seen at www.rschultz.com