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How Photographers Can Avoid Burnout, With Kate Callahan

The moment I started focusing on refilling my creative tank by visiting museums, reading inspiring books, spending time in other artistic endeavors, and planning personal unpaid photography projects, I suddenly felt inspired like never before.



It can be a challenge to be creative on demand. And as a professional photographer, that’s exactly what my job demands of me. My clients expect me to show up … and create magic for their family. It doesn’t matter if I’m tired, my back is sore, or if I haven’t had enough coffee that day. I’ve been hired to deliver something amazing … and that’s what I want to do every time. But if my creative tank is on E, there’s no way I can do my job well. This was something that took a few years for me to learn. I just assumed that since my job was a creative one, that I should always feel “creative”. But I would burn out and I couldn’t figure out why. The moment I started focusing on refilling my creative tank by visiting museums, reading inspiring books, spending time in other artistic endeavors, and planning personal unpaid photography projects, I suddenly felt inspired like never before.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Callahan from Kate Callahan Photography. Kate’s an award-winning child photographer located in the Hudson Valley region of upstate NY. Since beginning her full-time photography business 11 years ago, she has become well known for her honest and heart-warming portraits of children.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thanks for chatting with me! I began my career as a marketing writer and graphic artist. And while I loved my work, I decided one day to quit my job without any other employment lined up. Before I had a chance to find another job, though, photography found me. As my friends were having babies, they’d ask if I’d take photos for them. It felt like a fun way to pass the time and enjoy a new hobby. But things quickly snowballed and I realized that THIS was now my new career.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Without a doubt, the most interesting thing about my job is the people I meet.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Oh man. I remember this like it was yesterday. In my first month of business, I had just done a marathon of sessions one morning and I was filthy from rolling around in the grass with kids. I had only 20 minutes or so before I had to leave for another evening shoot, so I went home, ripped off my muddy pants, and threw them in the washer. About halfway through my shower, I realized that I had left my large CF card that had ALL the images from the morning’s shoots in the pocket of my jeans that were now tumbling around in the washing machine! I jumped out, ran to the washer, pulled the card out … and just started crying. But I had only a few minutes to get it together and leave for the next shoot. I was SO stressed that I forgot my camera batteries and arrived at the shoot unable to perform my job. For about a day, I decided to quit and go back to an office job. But then, I calmed down … took my CF card into a camera store where they were actually able to salvage the photos (thank you SanDisk for making such awesome cards) … made things right with the clients I hadn’t been able to photograph that night … and set some very strict rules that I’ve followed ever since. 1.) I never overbook myself. In fact, typically one shoot per day is my happy place, especially since most shoots take two to three hours and I don’t like to rush people (or myself). 2.) I have a checklist for preparing my camera bag the night before a shoot. 3.) I also have a CF card system that I always follow … and that includes NEVER putting them in my pockets. 4.) Additionally, I stopped using really large CF cards and instead use several small ones each session so that all my eggs aren’t in one basket, so to speak.

It’s really too bad someone didn’t film me, though, in that moment when I was absolutely freaking out. It would have made for a great laugh these days!

What do you think makes your company stand out?

I call myself of a photographer of hearts because I try really hard to capture true expressions. My goal with little people is to capture the exact looks their parents are used to seeing on their faces on a daily basis RIGHT now … because those looks will change one day. But that means that the kids have to feel comfortable in my presence. They have to feel so at ease that their true feelings and emotions come out even when my camera is pointed at them. It’s something that usually happens very naturally on a session … mostly because I genuinely like the little people I’m photographing! And kids are so smart. They KNOW if you really are having fun with them … or if you’re just someone taking their photo. So I think that’s where I stand out in parents’ minds. I really, really do care … and because of that, I can give clients images of their children that are real, raw, and full of emotion.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

It can be a challenge to be creative on demand. And as a professional photographer, that’s exactly what my job demands of me. My clients expect me to show up … and create magic for their family. It doesn’t matter if I’m tired, my back is sore, or if I haven’t had enough coffee that day. I’ve been hired to deliver something amazing … and that’s what I want to do every time. But if my creative tank is on E, there’s no way I can do my job well. This was something that took a few years for me to learn. I just assumed that since my job was a creative one, that I should always feel “creative”. But I would burn out and I couldn’t figure out why. The moment I started focusing on refilling my creative tank by visiting museums, reading inspiring books, spending time in other artistic endeavors, and planning personal unpaid photography projects, I suddenly felt inspired like never before.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’ve been so impressed with my peers in this industry. With a few exceptions, most photographers are willing to share tips, tricks, and insider business information with the goal of helping less experienced individuals find success. In the beginning stages of my business, I learned SO much by reading blog posts and watching videos by successful photographers I admired. Not only did it inspire me to want to grow as an artist … it helped me to see that it was absolutely possible to make photography a full-time career. As my business has grown, I’ve continued to look for ways I can give back and share that same knowledge with others. It’s a wonderful thing to be part of a community of givers and sharers!

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

I have a few projects I’m working on … but the one most near and dear to my heart at the moment is something I call Life Lessons with Little People. I photograph kids ages 3 to 9 while I also interview them. I pair their words with the photos and share them on social media and my Web site. Kids just blow me away. The way they look at life is just so wise and beautiful.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

One of my favorite projects I’ve done is to give away free photo sessions to families deserving of a little something special for one reason or another. I typically put out a call for submissions to my clients who can nominate a family. Sometimes the nominations are of families that wouldn’t be able to afford the session … and other times it’s simply families that are dealing with a heavy load. When I read the nominations, it’s always so touching to hear the love that people feel for one another. I’ve gotten to photograph those that are terminally ill … children who are here on the earth for a short time … and families going through a wide-variety of challenges. It can be so emotional for them to have a photo session; for me, too. But I know those photos mean so much in the present … but will mean even more in the future. Photos have such power and it is incredibly special to be able to show love to a family with the power of beautiful imagery.

Can you share “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Take Stunning Photos”. Please an example for each. (Photos in email)

The honest truth is that there are a few teeny tiny tweaks that stand in between your current photos and STUNNING images. None of these changes require upgrading your equipment. In fact, your camera’s phone is pretty amazing. And none of these changes require a technical understanding of your DSLR (although, the more you do acquire that knowledge, the better your photos will become). Anyone can make these changes … and I really hope you will!


  1. Hold the “cheeeeeese!” I don’t know who started the whole line-your-kid-up-and-tell-him-to-say-“cheeeeese!” thing when taking pictures … but I’m here to say that you HAVE to stop this awful act if you want genuine photos! There’s nothing less genuine than the smirk your little one makes while screaming “cheeeeeeeeese” at your camera. You may, in fact, get a smile … but it’s no where near as precious as when your child smiles from the heart. His REAL smile. The one that melts your heart. Boycott the “cheeeeeese!” and get your child used to just carrying on as normal around your camera. You’ll start capturing all kinds of expressions that will make for more than just good photos … they’ll literally mark stages of growth and help you remember the real way your child was during this stage of his life.


2. Remember to pull back. It’s great to get beautiful shots of faces … but don’t forget to back up and include the bigger picture, too. You’ll be better able to include the story that goes with the expression when you aren’t so tightly cropped in on the face. You’ll also be able to capture more natural expressions since your child may even forget that you’re taking his photo.


3. Get down to their level. If I wasn’t such a stickler for “no cheese!,” I would have made this suggestion the first one! But this is just as important: Don’t be a lazy photographer who points her camera down towards her child. Do whatever it takes to actually get your camera to be on the same level as your child’s eyes. This will help to create a photo with real connection. So … squat. Lie on your stomach. Kneel. This takes a bit more work (especially since kids are always on the move) but you’ll find the results to be completely worth the effort.


4. Turn off your flash and learn how to use available light. If you spend time learning the principles of working with added lighting (like your flash), then you’ll be able to really create some amazing photos. But until that moment, turn OFF your flash. There’s no faster way to create harsh shadows, unwanted blinking, and unnatural expressions than with a flash. Kids eyes especially are sensitive. Start paying attention to which rooms in your home have the best light throughout the day and use those rooms more for photos. Take advantage of reflective surfaces that can naturally add light to your photos. Try facing your subject towards white walls, white garage doors, white concrete sidewalks, or even your own white shirt. Depending on just how reflective the object is, the change in your lighting can be subtle or dramatic. The more you pay attention to this little trick, the more you’ll start to learn how to better take advantage of it!


5. Stop worrying about rules. Have fun! The most amazing photographs happen when people are truly just doing their thing. Pinterest may be full of amazing ideas and photos you want to imitate … but avoid the trap of always trying to recreate other people’s images. Sit back and watch for your own amazing moments and people will want to start copying your photographs! This is especially true with kids because the more times you try and force them to do something they just don’t want to do (in the name of photo recreation, of course!), the more frustrated they become. When attempting to capture amazing photos of your children, never forget this one thing … kids are creative geniuses! So, sit back and watch for a magical moment to happen. I promise that it will!

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Social media has SUCH power. One thing I’m trying really, really hard to remember is that there are moments when depressed or sad individuals are scrolling through their instagram and will see my photo. Will that photo make them smile? Will my words brighten their day? It’s certainly not my responsibility to make someone happy … but if I can, what a wonderful thing. So I often think about that before I post. And that simple act of posting thoughtfully if done on a wide scale could really go on to make a difference.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.instagram.com/katecallahanphotography/

https://www.facebook.com/Kate-Callahan-Photography-185123978226/

https://www.pinterest.com/kcallahanphoto/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

It was a real pleasure. Thank you so much for chatting with me.

Originally published at medium.com

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