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You’re Not Alone: All Photographers Go Through Slow Periods


Although some may feel like I’m some sort of rockstar photographer that is so busy he has to turn down work he doesn’t want, the truth of the matter is right now I am just a guy sitting on a rock typing out a letter to people he has never met with the hopes that it helps just one person keep their head up.

Photography, especially advertising photography, is an industry whose lifeblood seems to be convincing others that you are always really fu**ing busy, which (pardon my French) is bulls**t. However, be it persona or ego, we hide behind this veil of being in-demand.

Before I get too far into this, let me admit that on many occasions I have been guilty of this very thing. But in these last couple months I have had way too many conversations with other photographers in crisis because they thought they were the only ones not working, so I hope bearing a little of my soul will help those in this situation know that they are not alone. 

It has been three months and two days since I have stepped foot on set for a job; while this isn’t uncommon for an advertising photographer, that doesn’t make it any the more enjoyable. As those of you that are in the same situation know, the first week after a big campaign is nice. The next week a little less so, and when a full month rolls around without work, you can quickly spiral into a dark place of wondering if your work is any good anymore or if your career is over.

The fact of the matter is, nothing is further from the truth. The industry is in a lull and big-budget shoots are few and far between, with many locking up funds due to economic insecurity. This has happened before and will happen again, and getting through it takes a strong mind. It isn’t easy, but it is necessary if you plan to continue as a professional photographer for any length of time.

As photographers, we often combine the concepts of self identity and our art. This is good, as it puts soul into the images we create; however, it’s dangerous when we are not working. All too often a photographer can slide into a deep-seated feeling of low self-worth when the phone is not ringing. In turn, stress flares up, and that can snowball and envelop everything around us.

A while back, I talked with one of the photographers I compete with the most and the discourse showed me that the self-imposed stress I face is not unique in any way. I could hear fear and tension in their words, and wanted nothing more than to give them a hug. As much as I like being busy, I don’t enjoy the cost for those who didn’t win the same campaign. We are competitors, but at the same time, we are family. 

Work being slow, much like a discussion about mental health, is not a weakness. It’s part of a career’s progression that is not easy, but necessary.

Going through a slow period is something that tests all of our (mine included) commitments to this industry—it’s an experience where you find yourself in a pitch meeting trying to play cool, all the while creaming on the inside. This feeling is what creates the love/hate relationship that many photographers have with the industry. During slow periods, I do my best to remind myself why I love this career: the people.

Which brings me back to the dilemma at hand: being honest.

Social media, while it has the wonderful ability to connect us, has really become a catalyst for alienating us as well. For many, the “fake it ’till you make it” approach is a way of life, and convincing others that they are always in-demand helps them sleep at night. But this is a no-win situation for everyone involved.

Those who aren’t working feel that they’re inadequate compared to the person who is faking it, and the person who is faking it knows deep down that they are full of s**t and their projection is a lie. It is a poison that many ingest willingly, but like sweet, sweet alcohol, it is always good to take a break. Whether it be for the purpose of getting stuff off you chest or in order to help other photographers (our family) know that they are not alone, it is most important to be honest.

You never know: sometimes your willingness to be candid could inspire another artist stick it out through their latest rough patch.

About the author: Blair Bunting is an advertising photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona. You can see more of his work on his website, blog, Facebook, and Instagram.