The irony of this post is not lost on me. I’m about to write this blog post on mental health in photography at 9:59pm on the day I’ve been roasted by the trolliverse, compared myself to 4495838 Instagram accounts, and had a wobble about the fact my arrows on YouTube Studio are pointing down with double-figure minus percentages next to them (that’s because December was advent – it’s completely normal for January’s figures to be taking a nosedive!). Great.
No amount of rational explanation from “Calm Jess” can console the faceplant that “Anxious Jess” loves to wap out at any given moment. Hi guys, welcome to my brain.
If you need help now, go here.
The good thing is that after my wobble I watched the video on this topic, sat scheduled in Creator Studio on YouTube, and I felt better. I hope that maybe others will too? The video on this topic is here:
First things first, I didn’t know that the dark side of social media/the internet would come at me as a teeny weeny micro-influencer (gak hate that term!). So for me, this last year has been a bit like climbing up mountains, celebrating for 0.0004 seconds, and then being literally launched off the top and hitting all the rocky bits on the way down. Legit.
However, I didn’t come into this weird world completely naive.
After hammering over various mental stumbling blocks in a lovely (turbulent!) decade as a professional photographer, you can either give up or get tough. The latter is what happened to me. However, 10 years ago, social media was nowhere near as volatile as it is now, people weren’t so divisive and it seemed a little easier. Also, no Covid, that was nice wasn’t it?!
As a Photographer, you are thrust directly into the path of two mental health steam trains most weeks. These are:
- Social isolation, and
- Sustained stress
Those two are usually enough on their own to play havoc with your brains wiring and, left unchecked, can leave you in a really bad situation. Never fear though, there are some things you can do!
First things first, you need to be aware of the causes of your own wobbles. Only then can you protect yourself from them. Examples of causes for photographers would probably include:
- Social isolation
- Customer issues
- Cashflow issues
- Work-life balance
- Social media
- The Dunning-Kruger effect (there’s a video on that)
There are so many more that are not related to photography (family, friends, health, other work commitments, finances, living situations etc). It’s very true that you don’t know what another person is dealing with in their own life, so being kind really is the best way to be!
Let’s take that list up there of potential causes and look at them a little more.
Trigger 1: Social Isolation
If you’re an introvert, like me (honestly!), then sometimes social isolation is heaven on earth. However, even for the hermits amongst us, you can have too much of a good thing. The extroverts have it tougher, thriving on social interactions, so whichever camp you fit into, you need to be around humans.
No, dogs don’t count.
If you’re in a tough relationship, a bad home situation or you’re literally flying solo, this will hit you harder than others. I’ve been there, it is tough.
Two things I’ve found really help:
1. Get a hobby that isn’t photography – Easier said than done, but honestly, my whole social circle is in dog sports. I don’t really have any friends outside of Agility that truly know me for me. Covid screwed up my mental health mainly because I couldn’t compete and see everyone on the weekends. We’d camp out, drink, chat, eat and walk dogs, and man, it was bliss!
If dog sports aren’t your thing, there are so many other options out there. There are a near-infinite number of clubs, sports or activities that you can do with other human beings. Just make sure it includes another human being (ideally one that isn’t living with you).
2. Join a community focussed photography organisation – Non-photographers kind of don’t understand everything. So having a community of photographers that span different genres and niches is really very good for the social part of your brain. Most organisations have regional meet-ups, online mixing, and educational events, but some do it better than others.
You know which I’m going to recommend so I may as well not say it at all. I’ll just put a link here instead. Yes, they’re global.
Note on social mixing – try not to mix with people who are all very very similar to you. Variety is the spice of life so try to have a variety in either your hobby or your community (ideally both!).
Trigger 2: Customer Issues
I get a lot of messages and see so many threads about photographers being upset, frustrated or worried by client issues. Some things that I have seen are customers being “difficult”, customers wanting everything for less, customers complaining about coming to an in-person viewing, customers not showing up at the shoot, customers putting filters on images on social media, and so on.
Although there is always an exception to any “rule”, I can honestly say that every photographer should use customer issues as a learning point for their processes. If you have a clear, friendly and professional customer journey that everyone (you and them) are aware of before you book them in for their session, realistically there should be absolutely no issues whatsoever.
It’s probably also important to note that you can only control how you react to things, you can’t control how other people think, feel or act.
That being said, you can do everything in your power to ensure there are no miscommunications throughout your working relationship. Everyone has different ways of doing things, but for me personally I send out a variety of things before the customer actually books/pays for the session. These include the product guide/price list and a document called “The Vital Read”. It’s named that so it’s read and all it contains are a written step by step of how we work. It starts with session booking and ends way past the viewing session and payment methods, on referral rewards.
So far, in the last decade, I’ve not had any customer issues at all, and general feedback is extremely positive for everything including my pricing and the fact they come out to a viewing session.
Do I lose bookings from sending a product guide/price list out before they book? Yes. And I’m absolutely fine with that. At the end of the day, if the client wasn’t happy with the price list, or I was out of their budget, I don’t want to be wasting both of our time doing a shoot and full edits to then have to handle an awkward situation at the sales session.
Not every client will be your client. “Not my client” is a common phrase in most professional studios!
Trigger 3: Cashflow Issues
This is a huge issue for any self employed individual and I think it’s probably the cause of most “stress” in photographers. A lot of people are amazing photographers, but not amazing business people. Some people are not great photographers, but brilliant business people. It’s far rarer to find an amazing photographer who is a brilliant business person. This, sadly, is the problem.
There are some things you can do to improve your business prowess, but the actual tactics you use will be completely different depending on your business, your local market and the economic situation at the time. Because of that, I’m not going to list tactics here – that’s irresponsible and will probably cause more harm than good.
It would be an idea, if you’re having cashflow issues, to assess a few things before you go out on a mission to find more customers. These things, loosely, include:
- Your brand – is your brand attracting the right people
- Your portfolio – would you hire you?
- Your customer journey – is it clear, are there unanswered questions?
- Your pricing – does it match the above? Does it make sense? Do you clearly know your costs?
- Your sales process – are you expecting IPS results from online galleries?
- Your marketing activities – are you doing any? Do you know they work? Are you consistent?
I have covered a few of those in a separate video, that’s on making money as a portrait photographer.
There are so many online resources available for business support with photography, but I would say that with two very large caveats:
Follow processes from people who have successful businesses with similar target markets to you (not niche, they can be from a different niche!). Ignore the comments or advice from anyone else because that can lead to:
Follow a single process without variation. If you feel your business will align with my own process, don’t chop and change parts of it with other systems. You can switch systems, absolutely, but don’t mix systems – this will cause a disconnect in the process and may impact sales (often quite heavily!).
I could write pages and pages on this topic, but we need to move on to…
Trigger 4: Work-Life Balance
I have to say, straight off the bat, that I am not a good example of this at the moment. I am addicted to work – completing tasks and helping people gives me an enormous dopamine hit so it’s something I am working on myself.
However, the best advice I can give for a healthy work-life balance is to be quite serious and specific about your time. There is work time and there is non-work time.
The difference between being self-employed and being employed is that you are managing you, you are accountable to you and you have to also protect you, from you. Only you can set boundaries and stick to them so it’s on you to decide how you want to split your time, and it’s up to you to ensure you stick to it.
That is so much easier said than done, but I think it’s a tough truth that more of us need to be aware of.
Actually, just writing that paragraph has made it so much clearer for me – I’m definitely going to make some positive life changes in this department!
Trigger 5: Social Media
I’m hesitant to write about this because I see the irony of what I’m about to say. I’m a YouTube Creator, an Instagrammer and technically, I have a label. At the moment, nearly 1 year into this project, I’m a “micro-influencer” and therefore social media is actually a large part of my business.
Having said that, I really really dislike it.
I think social media is the best and the worst thing to have happened to the human race. It’s the best thing because of the ridiculous potential for knowledge transfer and international connectivity. That’s the side I try my absolute hardest to add to!
However, it’s the worst thing because it causes international scale comparisons of ourselves to literally everyone else in the world, all day every day. It also widens your social circle so significantly that you can’t really control who is part of it anymore. That leaves a huge door wide open for all sorts of nastiness and morally questionable behaviours. This side of social media physically hurts for me – I have a pang of pain in my heart for the dark side of what we do.
As a photographer, you have the community connection with customers who may never have heard of you – this is a win!
As a photographer, you have the algorithms on <insert fave social platform> showing you the absolute pinnacle of your niche on a minute by minute basis. That’s a massive problem.
The social media platforms have one main aim: to keep people on-site for longer, to consume more content, so that the ads can run making them money. It’s no surprise then that the algorithms show the best of the best, the most engaging, the most dramatic, the most WOW things available at any one time.
Nobody can compete with that.
You may start out inspired but very quickly you will probably have a comparison spiral that has a firmly downward trajectory. Hell, I have a comparison spiral with my own work from shoots gone by. How can I create at that level all the time? Truth is, I can’t. And that sucks!
So, what can you do? Here are my top tips that I personally use:
- Unfollow or block (your call) any accounts that are consistently causing a negative comparison spiral
- Unfollow or block (your call) any accounts that are consistently causing negative/damaging emotions
- Follow only accounts that make you feel better – either about life or about yourself
- Follow only accounts that add something to your social experience
- Remove yourself from any toxic situations as fast as possible – these include groups, group chats and social platforms
- If you need a break, turn your notifications off so that you control your social screentime completely
- If you need a proper break, take a social media sabbatical – they’re really refreshing
I know that this list may tell you to unfollow me, block me, or see you *poof* off social media, hitting my follower count and engagement or whatever, but honestly so what? You have to do what’s right for you, because (as I’m sure you’ve gathered by now in this post,) only you can protect yourself.
Trigger 6: The Dunning-Kruger Effect
I felt this needed to be included here because the Creative Process is tied to it quite strongly. Most of the time as photographers we’ll feel super confident about something, then be hit with a reality bomb that sucks so bad it’s hard to recover. This is usually a little something to do with the Dunning-Kruger Curve but I’ve done a video on this, so I won’t delve too deep here.
All you need to know is that if you keep learning, you keep pushing, you keep trying, you’ll smash it!
I hope that at this point in this post, you have some actions you can work on, you feel less alone in the universe and you feel more in control of the stressors we’re dealing with on the daily. That being said…
Need help now?
I got you. There is ZERO shame in reaching out – genuinely, none at all. Here are my favourite resources in times of need:
Everywhere else: GET HELP OR HAVE A CHAT.
We’re in this life together, so together we will continue. I’m with you throughout, so stay strong and fight on!