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What a decade as a family photographer taught me about setting boundaries

I did something super scary. I put it out into the universe (aka posted on my socials) that I’m taking on less. Less family photography work, that is.

Seems easy, right? You wanna do less of something? Just say so.

But for me, it’s not. I LOVE the work … usually. But the last few years, it’s looked something like this:

  • hustle like mad on my weekends and evenings during the warmer seasons
  • begrudgingly say yes to sessions I really don’t want to take on for one reason or another
  • regret all of my life choices when I say yes to too many things
  • rest a little bit over the winter with fewer sessions
  • start getting anxious as spring approaches because I know what’s coming and I don’t feel good about it
  • dread opening my inbox as it fills up with session requests
  • take it from the top again and continue for ever and ever and everrrrrrrrrrr

That picture above? That’s my family. And it was getting really painful to frequently hear my boys say “Mommy, do you have to take pictures tonight?” knowing I was about to disappoint them yet again with my answer.

See, when you become a photographer, you basically sign a contract with the universe that you’re willing to give up all your evenings and weekends to do the work. It feels OK in the beginning because you’re excited about people paying you to do something you love. But these days, I kind of feel like I made an Ariel/Ursula deal like in The Little Mermaid. I traded my own voice for something that seemed good at the time, but after a decade it no longer aligns with my current goals or life stage. Plus, I have a lot of ideas I want to explore that aren’t focused on family photography, but living in a cycle of burnout leaves little time or energy to try anything new.

What’s a photographer to do?

What I needed a long time ago were boundaries. So, I tried:

  • limiting/eliminating certain types of sessions that wore me out (seniors, extended families). But I didn’t consistently say no when asked about them.
  • raising my prices. But I didn’t raise them high enough to get more price-conscious clients to self-select out.
  • being more deliberate with my calendar. But I caved all the time when clients requested extra dates.
  • NOT posting on socials. If they didn’t see my work, they wouldn’t think of me, right? Wrong.

The problem is that my boundaries weren’t clear or consistent. I was letting a lot of things slide. That’s not on my clients, it’s on me. They can’t play by my rules if they don’t know what they are.

They also didn’t know I was drowning … sometimes in the work, sometimes in my own feelings. They didn’t know I needed something or what it was (more time with my family, less time shooting evenings and weekends). They just knew I was open for business as usual, because I didn’t tell them otherwise.

A boundary draws a clear line in the sand and communicates the expectations. For me, it’s really important that I share that boundary has been put in place, and that I do it with a lot of gratitude. I thanked my clients for their past support and communicated how I’d like to move forward with them, if they so desire, on this journey.

Moving forward

I could have said I’m quitting family photography all together. But that wasn’t what I really wanted. I just wanted to reclaim more of my own time, and the only way to do that is to be firm on what I will and won’t do from here on out.

I know I’ll still have to practice a ton of restraint to not keep saying yes to ALL the requests that come into my inbox. But it feels like a huge release to communicate a boundary and set the expectations that if you want to work with me, you’ll need to play by my rules (price, schedule, etc.).

For an Enneagram 9 people pleaser like me, that’s easier said than done, but I’m getting a little bit better every day. And that’s all I can ask for.

How about you?

What kind of boundaries are you needing to set in your business? Are you taking on things that aren’t aligned with your long-term goals? Have you had success in drawing clear boundaries? I want to hear about it!

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