The Pressure’s Off
By: Joni Burtt of Joni Burtt Photography
Last summer, my husband and I packed our two kids in the car to go blueberry picking in a clear cut. We picked while thunder rumbled in the distance, and then drove in torrential rain, lightning flashing all around us. On our way home, I spotted a double rainbow, and we pulled into an old logging road. While the rainbow faded rapidly and the rain started to fall again, my son ran ahead until I told him to stop. The sun was hitting him perfectly. “Raise your arms!” I shouted. “Victory!”
It was a case of being in the right place at the right time. I posted it on social media and the response was immediate and very flattering. “I can’t wait to see what you’ll do next!” “Wow, how will you ever top that one?”
Well, hang on. I have to top this? NEXT!?
This point in my photography journey had me at the apex of pressure – pressure I was mostly getting from, you guessed it, ME. Of course I had to top this. Wasn’t that the point of sharing on social media? The past few months had been a blur of dragging my camera everywhere, hoping for perfect backlighting, perfect expressions, nailed focus, and yes – even rainbows. I forced my children to hold hands and stand in tall grass. I felt the pressure to keep churning out photo after photo that was better than its predecessor. Come on, kids, we’re going to the museum, and for Pete’s sake, do something cute!
By that point I’d made a (small) name for myself on social media, entering weekly photography competitions, sharing photos every day or two on my page. People expected to see my name pop up next to pretty photos. If a few days had gone by without nailing another spectacular photo, I would feel crushed by failure. Shouldn’t I, a photographer, be able to take at least one good photo every day? Why am I taking sixty photos with nothing amazing coming out of it? Quick, find me some sunsets, waterfalls, silhouettes, fireflies, sparklers, ANYTHING. People expect it! If I don’t put it out there, they’ll lose interest!
Intellectually, I knew I was being ridiculous. Nobody can be on their game every day of every month. Emotionally, though, this was getting to me. I no longer took delight in any of my photos; the really nice ones gave me fleeting satisfaction (or maybe relief?), but by the next morning I was already worrying that I wouldn’t find anything good to photograph.
For my own sanity I took a step back from SHARING! EVERY! DAY! and from scrolling through my photography newsfeed, seeing all of the amazing photos popping up that were infinitely better than mine. I have always loved documenting my kids’ lives, but I’d slipped away from the purpose of that – the storytelling – in order to meet the demands of social media. Thankfully, this also coincided with my busy season with my (very small) business, so it was easy. I shared fun photos from my sessions, cute photos of my kids, with nary a rainbow in sight.
You will all be shocked to know that people still liked me. 😉
The final move toward easing the pressure came after I read some advice from a fellow photographer who said, “Take one excellent photo every month.”
Not every day.
This did wonders for my attitude toward my own photography. Maybe I wasn’t expected to make magic every time I picked up my camera. Maybe cloudy days didn’t equal a wasted opportunity. Maybe I could bring my camera on outings and get the quiet moments, the fun times, without barking at my children to stand still for that blasted silhouette. (Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE a good silhouette, but my kids don’t.) Maybe it didn’t matter if I shared a photo and it got ten likes instead of thirty. Wasn’t the point of all of this to preserve my own memories? To share a glimpse of my life with others?
This is how I see my life. It doesn’t feature a rainbow every single day. The sun, shockingly, does not follow my orders and align itself perfectly to come in my window exactly where I want it to. My daughter usually doesn’t bother with clothes, let alone pretty ones. My son prefers pyjamas. My dog never stands majestically in the fog.
I’m not saying I don’t still put pressure on myself. In fact, it’s what prompted me to write this, because I was fretting over the lack of variety in my work lately.
One excellent photo a month. More importantly, one excellent photo TO ME every month. This I can do.
Joni Burtt, of Joni Burtt Photography, is a freelensing, rule-breaking, natural light photographer serving families and children in beautiful southern New Brunswick, Canada. When not chasing her children around with a camera, she enjoys cooking, hiking, naps, and thrift shopping. | Facebook | Website