Faith, fear and fatigue: how to manage the many feelings of running a photography business
Hey honey,’ I typed, ‘I thought I’d dump some thoughts on the photo business… I really want to get this thing rolling.’ I was on the 8:49pm train back from London. All the regular commuters had returned home hours ago. The ones still out in town for drinks and dinner would be staggering into seats on later trains. This carriage was full of IT consultants like me, the ones working crazy hours for demanding clients in return for six-figure salaries.
It was 2006 and I was totally disillusioned. I enjoyed the work I was doing, but it left me with very little time left for my family.
By this point, friends of friends had seen some of the photos I created of my own children, and were paying me to capture their own family’s milestones. I was convinced that photography offered a way forward.
In that email I sent to my wife, Sarah, I listed why I loved creating portraits so much, and what I wanted from the business. It was full of lofty ideals and big ambitions. I believed the business would be successful and provide us with a sustainable income. At that point in time, I was fuelled by my faith that it would all work out in the end.
I signed off the email with a question and a little bit of reassurance: ‘What do you think? See you in half an hour. P.S. I’ve only been drinking coffee.’
That email marked the birth of our business. I started getting clients beyond two degrees of separation. Those clients recommended me to their own connections, and the bookings increased steadily. A few years, awards and qualifications later, and our business was no more a baby, or even a toddler, but a full-grown adult.
I was no longer one person with a camera. Now there was a small team behind me, depending on the business for their livelihood. At first, it was just my parents and a few friends following our social media accounts. Now there were tens of thousands, and my irreverent social media posts suddenly seemed a bit… risky. What I said, how I looked and the photos I created were no longer just about me: they either strengthened or undermined our brand.
Over that same period, the faith I had in the business was elbowed out by a new, stronger emotion: fear. Fear of losing what we had worked so hard to build.
Suddenly, I had a lot to lose if I said or did something off-brand. Whenever things in the business didn’t lead to the result we expected, we amended our processes. We were no longer led by our hearts – how we felt things should be done – but motivated by avoiding potential client problems or damage to our brand. Our business was now its own entity, with a reputation all of its own, and we wanted to keep it safe. Our strategy was defensive.
And then came the third ‘F’: fatigue. Sarah paused one of my latest Mastering Portrait Photography podcasts and turned to me, with worry in her eyes. “You sound tired,” she told me. It was true. I adore this job, and that means I put everything I have into it. When workloads spike, I don’t always get the rest I need. I eat food that’s quick and easy to consume, rather than something more nourishing and nutritious.
The highs from running a successful photography studio are completely euphoric. But when I’m tired and under pressure and little things start going wrong? I feel a darkness start to gradually swallow me up. The lows drain me just as much, if not more so, than the highs that pick me up.
So what can you do to manage these feelings? Harness the faith: chase your dream with passion and energy, using your belief to power you through those early challenges of starting something new. Write down why you love photography and what kind of business you hope to build, either as a letter to yourself, or someone who is supporting your new (and exciting) venture.
When the fear inevitably sets in (and it certainly will), remember how you felt and what you aspired to when you first set out on your venture. Re-read your letter, celebrate how far you’ve come and perhaps smile over any initial naivet you once had. Bring in an external set of fresh eyes – a consultant, a coach or a business guru – to reflect back to you what you’re doing well and what could be better. Then knuckle down and carry on to better the business.
But when the fatigue hits, remember to take time to recuperate. Find someone you can talk to. Schedule in time to have a life outside of your day job.
And lastly, take solace in the fact that all of us, no matter where we are on our business or photography journeys, are grappling with the same f-words that you will encounter. So try to always be kind to yourself, and carry on.
This article is adapted from my article in issue 111 of N-Photo – the unofficial Nikon Magazine,
N-Photo is the only magazine devoted to Nikon photographers. Brimming with expert advice, product tests, tips and tricks, plus beautiful images to inspire your next session, you’ll be motivated to get creative with your photography and learn brand new skills with every issue of N-Photo magazine. Packed full of interviews and masterclasses with award-winning photographers, you will discover how to shoot great pictures, as well as enhance any imagery using Adobe Photoshop and other popular tools with helpful guides and step-by-step tutorials.
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