What I Learned Stepping Away From My Photography Business


I’ve had quite the personal journey in the last year and a half concerning my personal relationship with photography and the role it plays in my life. I started shooting for money in 2006, finally got official in 2008 and by the close of 2010 I was ready to quit photography forever. I was burned out, overwhelmed, and the joy was gone.

I made a startling decision to my family and my clients and announced that I was taking 2011 as a sabbatical from portrait work. This was an easier choice than just saying, “I quit.” It was a way to take a step back and clear my head and in truth, fall in love with photography again.

What Good Came of This?
1. I Got Really Good At Saying No.

One reason I was burned out was from the habit of accepting any job that would pay my fees, regardless if it was my style or something that I enjoyed.  Now that I had the “sabbatical” excuse, I found it much easier to say no and refer work to other photographers in my community.

Most things were easy to say no to. Then there was the phone call I got where I graciously explained my sabbatical and the caller said,

“But who is going to take our family pictures?!  YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE that I want to do it!  I want YOU.”

I still politely declined, but I knew in that moment that if I were to choose to go “pro” again, that I would only work with people like this. Those that weren’t hiring me for photographs, but they were hiring me because they wanted Brooke Snow and no one else.

2.  I Suddenly Had Time For Personal Projects.

It was important to me to not just announce a sabbatical as a fancy word for “taking a break”.  Though I wasn’t shooting commissioned work, I was still shooting. A LOT. I was shooting all the things that I wanted to shoot. I got together with friends for lifestyle shoots, I filmed all my Inspired By Life video’s, I filmed more videos for a fabulous new class still in the works  (TBA SOON!), I shot commercial work for magazines, I shot complimentary sessions as gifts for important people in my life, I explored Beloved Sessions, and …

I shot my family. My little family.  The ones that had got short changed before because I was too busy.

In summary: I shot what made me happy. I shot what brought me joy. I shot out of love and desire and money had no place in the equation (amazing topic for another day.)

3.  I Received Opportunities That Never Would Have Happened If I Was Busy With Portrait Work.

Deep down, I really believe when we remove things from our life that are not serving us, it makes a space for other good things to come into our life.

This past year, I took three online classes (one for photography and two for business), I got my first magazine contract and was published in five national magazines and four local magazines. I travelled for a photography convention, consulted Jesh De Rox in his own online course creation, made the final cut to be profiled in an upcoming book being published in May, added two more of my own online classes to the world, and went on T.V.!  I don’t list these opportunities to boast, but to boldly assert that I passionately believe that the only reason these opportunities came is because my time, focus, and life were open for them.  Let me restate the most important point here,

“When we remove things from our life that are not serving us or bringing us joy, it makes a space for the things that will.”

Sometimes we ourselves have to close our own doors of opportunity so that another one can open.

We only have a limited amount of space in our lives. Make sure that what you allow to occupy your time, focus, and life is serving you and bringing joy. If not, explore the option of closing a door so something better can have a place.

4.  I Know What I Want.

I thought I already knew what I wanted. But it wasn’t until I gave myself a year to really listen to myself (the self that is too often buried deep in other people’s expectations and to-lists), that I learned what really makes me happy and what I want. Surprisingly, it wasn’t riding the wave of the industry. It wasn’t being a full time successful pro photographer. It wasn’t making large profits from portrait sales. It wasn’t being popular or famous or well known. It wasn’t being “busy” with work. In fact, a lot of what made me happy this past year would go against all the advice of the photo industry (like shooting for free…gasp!).

I’m not at all saying that every pro needs to take a year long sabbatical or that my own discoveries for myself are the answers for anyone else. What’s important here is to take the time to figure out what makes you happy and listen.  Those answers will change just as life changes.  But if we can make an art out of paying attention to our feelings, cutting out what no longer serves us, and embracing new opportunities, we will be far more likely to craft a joyful life.

“We must become the change we wish to see in the world.”

– Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi

Do you need time away for clarity?  How do you  personally find it? Please share in the comments below!

Brooke Snow is a Lifestyle photographer in Cache Valley, Utah.  Her deepest desire in life is to live simply and fully. Taking time away or looking for moments of solitude have proven to be among the most challenging things for her to make happen, but have brought the deepest rewards.  She doesn’t think it will ever get easier to integrate into life, but the clarity is worth it.

Brooke teaches inspiring online photography classes that bring you confidence in your skills and creativity.

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17 Responses

  1. Oh my goodness what a wonderful message!!!! I have been thinking about this recently, and you are able to communicate it just right! And can I just say that I’m super giddy about a new class!! You’re such an amazing person. Thanks for being you and sharing your wisdom. I am forever grateful 🙂

    1. Oh fabulous Tori! I have missed you! Thank you so much for commenting! I’m delighted that you enjoyed the post! I hope you are doing well!!!!!

  2. Because I want to specialize in senior photography I have felt the pressure of creating a senior model program. I don’t know if it is because I am a newby in the industry and have fear making my choices for me, or if if the notion of senior models does not ring true to what I want to do for my ‘brand’. Either way, for now I have decided to put off creating a model program this year and focus on marketing for seniors through fb and word of mouth, while giving an incentive for referrals. We will see what this year will bring.

    1. Susan, I’m proud of you for following your gut! It can be really hard to do in this industry. I love the photo industry for all its generosity, but it can often set up expectations of how everything is to be done. If there is anything that I have learned in business, it’s that there is not a “one size fits all”. Do what’s best for you and the greater reward will come!

  3. Brooke, as always you are inspiring. I am preparing a talk for Sunday’s meeting about Knowledge. I found what you said fitting perfectly into my thoughts & hope you don’t mind if I use part of what you said as a quote (don’t worry I’ll give you all the credit) 😉 Now I just need to find how to implement this great lesson into my own life & eliminate unnessecary taxing things in my life.

    1. Wahoo! of course you can use anything from my post! I hope other people are helped along the way! Good luck in your talk 🙂 I should come 🙂 Since you live around the corner and all! You’re fabulous!

  4. I know just what you are saying! I got bronchitis a week ago and had to take time off. It gave me time to think, so I pulled out my Morning Pages in the middle of the day… and started writing. I realized that the workshops that I was teaching were totally wearing me out. I’d started out teaching just one class in the fall, but it grew and by winter, I was teaching 4 days a week. I had no time for my own photography. And, I was starting to dread the classes! They had taken over my life. I found myself telling my husband how much I missed having time to even do ironing-not my favorite thing in the world. What I missed was quality of life. So, I decided I would not teach again until 2013, after the workshops end in 2 weeks. We’re moving back to the States from Korea this summer and I know I will be challenged to protect my time. So, thank you for your thoughtful piece. Just seeing all that has come your way by opening up time and space for it (sort of like clutter clearing your life!) is an inspiration!

  5. So, so true. Oh how I am trying to remove the unnecessary things from my life right now. Thank you for this fantastic post and for always inspiring me. Do I need time away for clarity? Absolutely! I often think of the council from our former prophet to “be still.” Clarity comes best in my moments of solitude. I also think this “be still” concept can apply in other areas of our life. Things, events, hobbies, etc…Let them “be still” for a season and then go back and reevaluate. For you, it was portrait work. But, just because something isn’t inspiring *right now* doesn’t mean that it won’t find a space in our future. Only time will tell. The key is to discern between those things that truly bring joy and those things that just bring about a fleeting satisfaction. Thanks for sharing a small part of your journey with us. Sounds like you have had a year of joy.

  6. I think that almost everything has been said about your nice and inspirings articles. I finished my artistic photography oficial studies some months ago and I feel like “stuck” because I have all the tecnical information and theory in my mind, but still I haven’t found my way into the photography world. Only when I read your wise advises I fell more relaxed and inspired than ever. So thank you for sharing with all of us your wisdom.

  7. Thank you Brooke. It’s amazing how I feel I know you through your posts, a testament to how honestly and openly you write. I’m struggling with some of the same things in going back to work (my little girl is only a little younger than Buzzy). I was just thinking how to fit in the things that bring me joy, but maybe I have it the wrong way around or maybe I’m even asking the wrong question. I’m not a pro, just an amateur, and I find there’s something so fulfilling about shooting my family and friends. I read somewhere that when kids are asked – at the time and later as adults – what they wanted their parents to do more or better, more than anything they want their parents to be relaxed and happy. They are so wise.

  8. Brooke, you hit it right on the head for me. Beautiful post and well written. I thank you for always being such a great inspiration and teacher.

  9. Brooke, wow! What a perfect list of what happens during a sabbatical from the industry. The clarity of what you’re meant to do and the path you start on to get to that destination is completely life changing. During my sabbatical I didn’t realize that I was learning these things and getting more centered. It wasn’t until after it had passed that I understood what a blessing it was…I’m still seeing it’s affects and understanding them two years later. Love this distillation of that year for you. Awesome! You are an incredible inspiration!

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