Set Boundaries And Set Yourself Up For Success As A Photographer

October 9th, 2020

If you love what you do and you’d like to keep it that way, there is one thing you must learn to do early on in your photography career. You’ve been warned and now you should be prepared to draw a very defined line that clearly marks your limits. I’ll explain why in further detail, but before you surrender to everyday expectations, you have to know what your boundaries are. Learn them, set them, love them, and stand by them. 

Setting clear boundaries will make your business more profitable and your life, in general, much less stressful and more enjoyable!  The reality is, you’ve gotta put in the work if you want to see results. But it’s important to maintain a healthy balance so you can spend more time doing the things you truly love!

There are many reasons why setting boundaries can create long-lasting, positive outcomes in your career. Knowing why you should be setting limits will help you identify how this practice can help now, and more importantly, in the long run. Below are some of the many reasons setting boundaries helped me, personally, when I started building my own photography business and I’m sure you can identify. 

Some reasons to have boundaries: 

  • Helps avoid photographer burnout.
  • Increases the ability to stay focused on career and personal goals.
  • Boosts a greater sense of self awareness, and thus a greater sense of confidence.
  • Aids you in completely avoiding situations where your value is diminished, or underestimated.

Surely, I wasn’t aware of the powers of boundaries when I embarked on my journey as a photographer new to the field. I was eager to please and that meant I was willing to bend over backward more often than not to ensure that everyone around me was always happy. What I didn’t know was how detrimental it would prove to be as the years passed me by. Whether engaging with a new or prospective client, a long-time client, an agency, or my studio staff, I learned that without setting limits I was moving further away from the “work smarter not harder” philosophy. That’s not exactly where I wanted to be as I became busier and eventually turned my part-time freelance photography work into my full-time career as a portrait photographer. 

When I started out, I was armed with a niche concept, an outpouring of ideas, indestructible determination, and the willingness to be relentless.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that being a full-time photographer is highly competitive and physically demanding. Nevermind the high expectations, deadlines, and endless hats we wear as business owners. It can certainly feel overwhelming, but it’s important to acknowledge that the challenges we face serve to teach us valuable lessons along the way. Soon enough I went from thinking “I was made for this!” to the “What was I thinking?!”. There was no one to blame…I simply had to re-work how I worked and how I worked with people.

I had to learn to set clear boundaries with myself, my work, and others. This was a very difficult task for a person who is generally made happy by making others happy. 

Some benefits to having boundaries:

  • The increased ability to have better professional and client relationships through honest communication.
  • Streamlined productivity with more time to do the things you love.
  • The gained respect of your peers and clients. 
  • More time for higher creative potential to be reached allowing for more satisfying future experiences on the job. 
  • Renewed empowerment to keep perpetuating that successful career.  

That sense of selflessness I endured was definitely praised by clients and work peers, but ultimately became a landslide of work-related and personal frustrations. So, where’s that fine line between being agreeable and standing your ground, you might ask? Well, the answers become clearer once you start feeling an unavoidable increased sense of frustration, exhaustion, stress, and even resentment. It’s an unfortunate outcome, but it can be a harsh reality if you don’t set the tone for boundaries and balance early on. This is why acknowledging how important it is to draw a very defined line can help you avoid those not-so-great feelings that can really hold you back from achieving the success you deserve in your career and daily life. 

How do you determine your boundaries? Ask yourself the following questions. 

  • What do I want?
  • What do I value?
  • Do I have the time to do what I have to do and want to do? In other words, do you give up too much of your time?
  • What isn’t working?
  • Do you feel guilty or think that people won’t respect you if you’re not agreeable?
  • Do you often feel that you’re being taken advantage of?
  • Do you say yes when you mean no? (We’ve all been guilty!)

Now that you’ve got some soul-searching to do, you can dive into yourself and determine what is not working for you. Surely, it’s not going to happen overnight but putting in the work to create a more positive outcome, will, in turn, make it much more enjoyable. In no time you’ll be well on your way to easily recognizing those red flags. This will save you from ever entering into not so successful business (and personal) relationships in the first place. Above all, know your needs and trust in yourself!

How do I set boundaries as a photographer? Set these statements to action!

  • Say what you mean, mean what you say.  Before you set a boundary, you need to get crystal clear about what you want and why it’s important. Be direct and don’t feel like you have to apologize for what you need. 
  • Maintain a schedule.  Are you feeling overwhelmed and overworked? There’s a reason why. Limit the time you give and don’t overcommit. Time is money, and money holds value, your time is extremely valuable. The time you give others is as important as the time you give yourself and your happiness.
  • Set boundaries with clients. Outline your prices, packages, terms, turnaround times, image licensing, usage requests, amount of photos you edit, business hours, email time, the amount of time spent on social media, etc. Some things are simply non-negotiable, and be a stickler! You know what’s right for you and your business and this creates a clear path to success. 
  • Delegate when needed. Sometimes we need help. And that is collective wealth. Voicing your need for assistance, showing vulnerability, might make you bring out the best in someone. The ebb and flow of success includes a balance of reciprocity and the okayness within yourself to say “Hey, I need help.”. The results can be astonishing, just voice your need. Boundaries are set for your own well-being, afterall.
  • Learn to say No. Why? Because it can feel so good!  When “No” feels right, say ‘No!”. It’s simple. Trust your gut. You are your best friend. Do you crave creative freedom? Do you work hard? Do you trust in what you give as a person who’s simply doing what they feel right doing? Admit that the outcomes you expect are the outcomes you’ve worked towards. The fabric of a healthy existence within an industry relies on our choice to decide to do better…for ourselves, and for others. 

Setting limits and defining boundaries creates freedom and can protect you from feeling overworked and overstressed in your work as a photographer and your daily life.  If you feel it’s time to draw the line, the best time to start is now. Pick one and start this week…do it for you!

Janette V

Janette has been capturing memorable moments from behind her lens since 2005. Her work has included founding South Florida’s first vintage pin-up photo studio, as well as working with clients like The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, TLC, Chewy.com, and has had work featured in publications like Decibel and Rolling Stone magazines. Janette is currently living in North Carolina and explores new creative outlets in analog photography, videography, and music while providing Customer Support for Zenfolio.