When Passion for Photography Dies

When Passion for Photography Dies

Have you ever found yourself wondering where the passionate photographer in you has gone?

If you’ve been doing photography long enough and have met people of the same interest, you would have seen this happen a lot. One minute, you see a person spewing out images every day as if they do nothing else but shoot. Then, another minute, you see them dropping the craft entirely, selling or giving away their gear. But why does this happen? And no, for context, we aren’t talking about newbies who gave it a try for a couple of weeks. Let’s talk about people who did it for years as if they’d do it all their lives and suddenly didn’t. 

It may be entirely different for you but personally, I find it tragic when someone who was so passionate about photography suddenly gives up on their dreams. They can be an aspiring professional who lives off of photography or they can be very passionate hobbyists who find refuge in shooting. No matter which category they fall under, it’s tragic to see one’s passion dying out. So, why does it happen? What are the factors that affect a photographer, or better yet, an artist’s motivation to keep doing what they love? And whether you’re a fellow creative looking out for another or just a concerned friend, what can we do to keep their passion burning? 

Burnout


This is probably more common in full-time professional creatives than in hobbyists. A lot of hobbyists do photography as a way to relax and vent. Many professionals also see the craft that way, and they can sometimes be the healthiest in this sense, but a lot of professionals can also dip into a muddy puddle of physical and/or psychological exhaustion, especially when they feel as though what they earn does not compensate for the hard work that they do. Burnout comes in many forms. It can manifest as easily getting tired at work or lack of enthusiasm, and it can end in two opposite ways. Many creatives bounce back and find new motivation, but some end up giving up and pursuing another career. 

Impostor Syndrome

It’s safe to say that most photographers in the world (maybe even safe to say that 99.9% of us) compare ourselves to others. You can either be comparing yourself and your achievements to someone else, or you could be comparing your work to theirs. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because you could be taking some points for improvement for yourself and using it as a way to achieve better. What’s wrong is when you compare yourself to someone else and take it as a reason to stop. All types of creatives are prone to experience Impostor Syndrome. Many of us often feel inadequate or unworthy to give ourselves a pat on the back for a good job, and even more, many of us doubt ourselves when it matters the most. Impostor Syndrome can hit you when you’re publishing something when you’re showcasing your work when you’re promoting or marketing your craft or when you’re pitching to potential clients. There’s always that stinging blister of self-doubt. Sometimes, it’s a good measure, as it keeps you grounded or at least reminds you to refine your work even more. But sometimes, it can be a huge hindrance when you allow it to keep you from taking risks and seeking bigger things. Remember that art and beauty are subjective and that the goal is not to be the best (because such a person does not exist) but instead, to be better than yourself yesterday. Real progress always happens in small increments and very rarely in huge and drastic leaps. 

Pressure and Trauma

Yes, trauma can happen in this context, especially now that the internet and social media have broken barriers among photographers all over the world. It can still be a good thing, of course, since inspiration and learning can be shared very easily from one person to another, and the fun of being able to socialize with people of similar interests can often be encouraging. But, we have to acknowledge that amidst all that, social media can be a very toxic thing. While there are people who will compliment and encourage you to keep doing what you do, there are also thousands of people online who will bring someone down for not living up to their expectations (even if they don’t really matter). The internet is a valuable source of feedback, but the key is to determine which feedback is actually of value. Many photographers think that just because another photographer can’t or hasn’t produced what they can, then they have the right to put them down. In reality, these people forget that at one point in their lives, they were just as bad and most likely, even worse than the person they are criticizing. Whether you’re the one being criticized or even bashed for the quality of your work or you’re the one lashing out, it’s important to remember that we all started as newbies, and we all have different paces of learning and progressing. One person being better than the other never makes it anyone’s right to put someone down enough to make them give up something they love doing. Some people can withstand intense negativity, some people can’t. But no one has the right to throw negativity at others anyway, so resilience shouldn’t even matter.  

Circumstantial Hindrances

There is a multitude of things that can hinder one from pursuing what they are passionate about. Of course, the obvious example is the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of photographers and other creatives were forced to change routes due to hindrances of lockdowns in their area, a decline in demand for their craft, or worse, having to sell their investments (mainly their gear) for quick cash to survive at the height of the crisis. There are other more subtle hindrances as well, and these are the more modifiable ones. Much like any form of success, a good support system is vital in this craft or in this industry. To say the least, the most vital, yet often missing source of support are those of the artist’s family and friends. Support comes in many forms, of course. It can be in the patronage and actual availing of their services or purchasing their work. It can also be in referring them to friends and family who might need something that they can offer. It can even be something as small as a social media like, follow, or share. As shallow as that sounds, it is true, not because it’s a valid measure of how good they are, because it’s not. But because in this day and age, social media is the strongest marketing tool for any brand, product, or service. 

If you’re reading this, then you could be one of many different types of people in this context. You could be the struggling artist whose passion is running almost out or you could be the one shoving their enthusiasm and hopes down as an unnecessary toxic person. Or you could be an untapped support system. Either way, the death of a creative’s passion is definitely tragic but can be averted very easily. It may not seem as crucial as physically saving someone’s life, but in many cases, they could mean the exact same thing. 

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27 Comments

Fritz Gessler's picture

well, there's kind of psychoanalytical explanation for the urge to take pictures: sublimation of voyeurism (look at the great success of all nude/naked photos:)) ... once this urge peters out - as the photographers (a lot of them) now are old impotent granddaddies, the interest in taking pics diminishes and disappears,
the other, rather simple, explanation: it's internet and its photo-sites/communities, which kills your interest in shooting pics - first because of over-saturation of pictures you see daily (why to go and find for yourself, if you can see them in the net?), secondly, because I never have seen so many assholes as in photo-communities - admin staff and users alike :)
latest experience: I used to contribute regularly at the russian www.photoforum.ru - with my absolute innocent (digitally mirrored) treescape pics... guess, what happened? recently I detected a user to insult and attack me commenting my last photo- because he disliked the picture :))
blocking him led to a ban for me (!) by the staff... but the site pretends to host my pics (as if nothing had happened)... but denies me access to my own account and photos (without explanation, of course).
so, why to waste time and energy, if the outcome is like that?

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

It’s rather unfortunate what has happened to you in photography communities. I wouldn’t ever disagree. I do believe that a lot of people in groups and forms can be really abusive. However, there are also a lot of good people around and I hope that soon you find yourself around them. Your voyeurism point however, I would have to disagree. Yes, there are people who do photography for that reason but they’re too small a fraction to represent everyone. Photography has better and deeper roots for most of us.

Lawrence Huber's picture

UHH (Ugly Hedgehogs) is the same. Mostly 80 year old Nikon fanboys that despise anyone different.
Best definition is loser seniors trying to keep relevant.

Michael Phelan's picture

I don't think age is a factor in the attitude you describe. I've attended photo groups where some young people tried to show off how knowledgeable they were by arrogantly criticizing other people's work.

Christopher Boles's picture

I know of burn-out first hand. In the military, I found the creative freedom I was looking for as there were many opportunities for great images and the awards followed. I followed up by graduating from a prestigious photography school with top awards. Then I worked for a large national company in the photo dept. I was in my element.

"when they feel as though what they earn does not compensate for the hard work that they do. Burnout comes in many forms. It can manifest as easily getting tired at work" I was working hard at my career, shooting great images, but the money never followed. In the 5 years, I was in the dept. I never earned more than 3% of a pay raise. The money for raises went to someone else in the dept. You begin to question whether your hard work is worth the effort.

After 5 years of "everything was due yesterday" syndrome and little financial compensation, I threw in the towel and never touched a camera for 14 years. It came on suddenly. It took 2 years to just unwind from that mentality of working so hard for so little.

There on the top of my dresser was a camera loaded with film ready to go all that time. There were thoughts of wanting to be creative, just no motivation. My life spiraled down the proverbial drain until I discovered digital photography. That opened a new vista and I have never looked back. I am creative again and will be until I can not hold a camera. My work may not make money, but there is the satisfaction of being competitive and making beautiful images.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

I’m glad that your camera found its way back into your hands and reignited your passion for the craft. :)

Sam David's picture

A really thoughtful piece. Your prescription for thinking about Impostor Syndrome is the best I've seen. Thank You.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Thank you, Sam! I guess it’s just because I’ve been throught it a lot myself. Impostor syndrome hits me everytime I turn in an article here. This one included.

JERRY Casciano's picture

Burn out.... LOL. I have been a pro for 45 years. 3000 political campaigns.... colleges... healthcare.
You compete with 25 year old geeks who get A JOB.... do it for NOTHING.... to shoot them selves in the foot
Soon enough they realize photography is HARD WORK.
Early mornings.... late days.... weekends....pushy subjects ALL asking for perfection to be produced in one twentieth the time it actually takes!
Then..... some HACK takes a job to spend HOURS in photoshop to fix the crap they produce.
Photography used to be fun ... 8x10 Deardorffs... Hasselblads... film... lighting.
Digital makes a great photographer even GREATER!
Today it makes HACKS... able to get A JOB... and FADE away
If I have to see one more photoshop image of some hot chick flying into clouds with fire under her I’ll vomit
Today.... all it is is crap...camera reviews... computers... and zero talent.
I’ll put Edward Weston... Gary winnogrand.... w Eugene smith.... Diane Arbus....and Ansel Adams up against ANYTHING created today.
NO CONTEST
GLAD I’M RETIRING SOON.... burned OUT!
And .... GOOD luck to all you young Turks!

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Hope you have fun and enjoy the fruits of your hard work when you retire, Jerry! Cheers! :)

Christopher Boles's picture

The print was the final object when you pushed the shutter. Now you can fill a card with thousand images and pick one. You are right, digital makes a great photographer greater. I wonder what a photographer today would do if he was given a camera with a roll of film. That is where we separate the men from the boys. Shoot a wedding on 120 film and see how great you are. :)

Harry lener's picture

Lots of political process also most of the time those requests like shoot like this one or that one makes you feel less creative .That means you had limited choices but most is pleasing others . it has been obvious FB , instagram, are uninspired sites cause most users are don't really care.Personally I'm aware of the aftermath effects I don't need to put down my self or trying to understand why. My inspiration still healthy & live. Of course I'm very sad seeing very talented (gifted) photographers given up completely.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

I think it’s safe to say that EQ really is a huge factor in this. And yes, I do think that a huge chunk of a photographer’s passion is based on how much creative freedom they have in projects. Cheers!

John Pyle's picture

My friend (also a pro) owns a studio in the Midwest with his wife...still generating 400k+ in sales a year, seniors, families, headshots. He hired a college girl to post his social media stuff and never looks at competition and never been on one photography forum. He’s been doing this full time for 23 years. Don’t wallow in mediocrity.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

That’s a great move!

Sean Russell's picture

As a full-time photographer currently transitioning into a new career, I can say the largest factor for leaving for me was inaccessibility/scarcity of steady employment.

I will always love photography - I don’t plan on selling my gear anytime soon! - but the industry can be a lot of hard work for little reward, and full-time positions are few and far between.

As a side business I hope to focus more on the subjects that bring me joy, and get back to what inspired me to start shooting in the first place.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

That’s a courageous move. I wish you success, especially on that last line. What new career did you move into?

Trey Mortensen's picture

I totally understand your sentiment. It's actually why I've never been tempted to even try full time photography. Even though my friends know me as a photographer first, I'm an auto engineer working for a big OEM in a 9-5 with benefits. I'll gladly keep doing that and simply do a few fun shoots every year to pay for new gear. It lets me keep my passion passionate.

Good luck with the new career!

Leonard Smale's picture

I noticed my passion had died and could not figure out why. It started about the time my wife was getting better shots with her iPhone than I could achieve with a DSLR. For example, she walked up to a cage with a snake in it and went click, with a perfectly fine image by 20th century standards. It had automatically removed the cage wires from the image. My DSLR smeared the cage wires all over the image. If I want to see super still images that I would never go to the trouble of taking, I can get my fix at FStoppers. These days image communication is all about streamed videos, drones, underwater cameras, etc, etc. TBH still images is for the old farts. And they always lose interest eventually.

Marcel Rapuano's picture

Very sensible piece! I feel the part about Impostor Syndrome very thought-provoking, not only in photography but in all sorts of challenges in life, be it in a corporate environment or in a creative business. The issue with the advent of social media is that the same time we are yearning to be more sociable, we are in reality becoming more isolated. Sometimes to boost my creativity/spark in photography (or any other craft) taking a few steps back from social media works wonders.

Neil Janeke's picture

Thank you for this piece. Been looking for something like this for some time now.
Been struggling the last year or so to understand why my passion and drive for photography has gone down the drain.

Being in IT my whole life, photography was my escape and fell so madly in love with it.
5 years into photography as a hobby, I decided to go full time as a business. I couldn't have made a more wrong decision as this. Long story short, after a year and a half my business failed so bad. Lots of reasons why, but we are not going into that.
As life is a funny thing, things started to get better and I am back in IT and full time employment and photography is a hobby again.
But, my passion and drive is still missing and after reading this, I think I might found why I am struggling to fall in love with it again. I have lost all connection with my work. I don't see it as an extension of my existence anymore.
It is all mechanical and don't see the art, the beauty or the flaws anymore (the beauty in flaws, BTW). Even my light is so plain and boring, but hey... I have an exposure and focus is okay. No connection, no emotion, no feeling.... just nothing. No planning, just shoot from the hip and hope all is fine.

And you search for all the reasons as to why my work is lacking in something... is it burn out, imposter syndrome, or what ever reason, or just maybe not good enough.

My latest is seeing other photographers within my home town now doing the same thing as me, but in my mind their work is looking much better than mine, almost like I had the niche, but now someone else has it. Makes me mad, but mad with jealousy. Rather seeing it as someone exploring and working towards a high standard, I am jealous of their work, also something I have to sort out within myself.

For me, I think I will have to find a way to connect with myself and my work again, somehow.... for, at the end of the day, I am not only showing the world what I see, but the world needs to feel what I feel in my work, and I can't do that if my own connection is missing.

Again, thank you for this article. Made me realize a few things.

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

You're telling my story, Neil. Photography as an escape from an IT career ---> failed photography business / passion for photography lost in the process.

I didn't go back to IT, though. Along the way to failing at running a photography business, I got good at marketing and video and put the two together and built a consulting business on that.

Now, I'm exploring ways to regain my love for photography.

I think part of this is we're all trying to recapture the puppy love stage and it's really not possible. Just like it's not possible to fall in love as an adult the way you did when you were a teenager. You can still find love, it just will never feel like it did when love was a brand new sensation.

I remember how much joy I used to get from learning so much from Fstoppers and SLR Lounge and from the Scott Kelby books. Everything was so new and fun.

I remember how much fun it was to watch the adventures of the Digital Rev team back when it was Kai, Lok, and Alambi. I'm so glad I got into photography in time to enjoy their work in real time.

The breakup of that Digital Rev team is kind of an analogy for the lost passion that many of us feel. Life changes and we have to go in different directions and all that fun that we had with our schoolmates goes away.

We have to find new ways to have fun as adults in our new station in life.

I'm working through that now, just trying to bring back that fun.

Going to try using my library of photography books as part of that. I always did want to master double exposures and never got around to it. I also committed to shooting only B&W for an entire year and never did it. And I have a 50mm lens that I never committed fully to using. And a 100mm macro.

Lots of creative stuff I didn't do because those were not revenue-generating photography skills for the kind of photography business I was trying to run.

Now that generating revenue isn't part of the equation, hopefully I can recapture some of that puppy love.

Neil Janeke's picture

Could not have said it better myself, Lenzy. And a very true, true hard hitting fact you just pointed out. We are not kids anymore and everything changes. If we don't change with it, then we are going to be left behind. Thank you, your comment is truly inspirational.

joseph cole's picture

I think you missed a good point to talk about, The seasonal slump. I believe this is really only applicable to landscape and nature photographers, but for whatever reason there are certain times that the urge to get up and explore dies, especially for those who have been at it for a while. Starting out I would go out every chance I could get, getting up before dawn staying out late trying to find something special, difficult to do in my area. Now being winter in suburban Pennsylvania it's like someone shot me with a retardant dart and I have slowed down to a creative dribble. I'm wondering if this scenario is enough to destroy someone, to the point they put down the camera and forget to pick it back up.

Tom Reichner's picture

Joseph,

You mentioned that you live in suburban Pennsylvania, and that you do nature and landscape photography. Lucky you! There are so many solid opportunities to create wonderful nature photos in your region of the country!

Just some ideas off the top of my head for what you could shoot in the winter time in your part of the country ......

In the Poconos, there is the Delaware State Forest and the nearby Delaware Water Gap national Recreation Area. A vast majority of the small forest roads in these areas are plowed and maintained during the winter, so you will still be able to get around by car. The forest landscape, replete with lakes, ponds, waterfalls, and cliffs can make for some great winter wonderland imagery!

Perhaps a weekend road trip to West Virginia! There is the Dolly Sods area of the Monongahela National Forest, which can be quite photogenic. Then there is the magnificent New River Gorge! The Gorge and surrounding areas offer a great variety of spectacular wintertime image-making opportunities.

There are also some great wintertime opportunities for nature photography right over in New Jersey. The Barnegat Inlet where the lighthouse and jetty are is a phenomenal area for ocean and beach scapes, and a lot of wildlife makes the area even more interesting, as many sea ducks and shorebirds spend the winter there. I especially recommend walking all the way out along the jetty where one can experience close-up encounters with Seals, Harlequin Ducks, Sandpipers, Eiders, and many other forms of sea life.

Another great winter place in New Jersey is the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge near the town of Brigantine. Sure, it's known mostly for its wild bird populations, but it also has some great landscape opportunities, especially at sunrise and sunset.

Back in PA, near the center of the state there is the Susquehanna River. The stretch from Duncanon to Dauphin is especially photogenic, as the river is almost a mile wide and has a plethora of islands popping up out of its surface, ranging in size from car-sized boulders to Berrier Island, which is a mile long .... and everything in between. Quite literally, hundreds of islands, big and tiny, throughout this 7 mile stretch. A canoe or raft float down this stretch of the river would be a dream for the nature photographer ... especially in winter, when some of the river surface will be clad in ice, making for even more dramatic landscape imagery! The only time such a trip is not do-able would be those rare, brief times when the river is completely frozen all the way across ..... but such times are very rare.

For one such as yourself, living in suburban PA, whether it be in the eastern part of the state near Philly, or the western part of the state near Pittsburgh, you have great number of awesome opportunities to do winter nature photography, most within a half-day's drive!

joseph cole's picture

I absolutely can't argue with you, I love heading to the Jersey shore where I just recently captured the snowy owl and heading up to the waterfalls at Ricketts Glen. My biggest struggle is my 4 young children. I should have far more flexibility in the next couple of years but for now my 30 min local area is far less inspiring to me that's all. I will soon be exploring the entirety of the east coast and all it has to offer.

George Loch's picture

Motivation is critical in creative endeavors. If you find that money, opportunity, or community starts to wane, getting excited about your art is really hard. One thing I have discovered in my relationship with photography is to find personal meaning and then the ability to communicate that meaning. It has been very helpful to recognize where my "passion" really comes from.