10 ways to keep your sanity this fall and survive the photography busy season

Fall.  It means beautiful leaves, long-sleeve shirts, football, maybe a pot of chili simmering on the stove.  Unless you’re a photographer.  Then it means chaos.  Lots of sessions.  Lots of editing.  Little sleep.  Coffee.  More editing.  Even more coffee.  The photography busy session can be a brutal season if you let it.  More than one of us photographers have ended up sitting at our desks, head in our hands, sobbing in sheer frustration and overwhelm.

That doesn’t have to be you.

With some planning and forethought, you can survive and thrive.  Here are 10 ways to keep your sanity this fall and survive the photography busy season.

These aren’t a checklist to follow.  You aren’t going to do all of these things because some ideas just won’t work with your business model or personal life.  Or you might not be at a place in your business where you can afford to raise your prices or spend extra on But we hope you can take a few of these tips to start making your schedule work for you instead of being a slave to the season!

And while this article was written with the fall onslaught in mind, the tips and ideas are practical no matter your genre or photography busy season.  If you’re slammed in summer with weddings or in the spring with dance shoots, the advice still holds!

Tip #1 – Set and follow a maximum capacity number

Look around any restaurant and you’ll see a sign that lists the maximum capacity.  That’s the number of people the local fire marshal determined to be the maximum number of people the restaurant can hold safely.  Sure, the restaurant could cram more people and tables into the space.  But if there was a fire or other emergency, the people couldn’t get out quickly.  They’d trip over each other, run into chairs or just not have time to escape.

Your schedule has a maximum capacity number.  There are only so many sessions and clients you can provide great service to in the photography busy season.  Yes, you could cram a few more in there, but that’s when things start to break down.  You’re delivery times get longer.  You forget details.  Weather delays throw things off schedule.  And your service breaks down.

The secret is knowing your maximum capacity number and sticking to it.  Don’t just cram folks into your schedule.  Instead, think, “How many clients can I accommodate this season, provide outstanding service for AND still have time for myself?”

Set that number and then stick to it.  Don’t squeeze in a family at the last minute because you can or because they demand it.  Not only will you prevent overloading on work, but it actually helps create demand for your services.

manage your time in photography busy season

Tip #2 –Stop chasing work-family perfection

The most stressful part of the photography busy season for me isn’t managing my business…it’s balancing work and family.  When I’m at an evening session, there’s guilt that I’m not home eating dinner with my family.  If I block off a weekend to spend with my family, I feel guilty that I’m not in editing client sessions.

But here’s the important thing you need to remember: there is no perfect work-family balance.  It just doesn’t exist.  I don’t care what you do or how good you are at organizing things, you can’t keep everything in perfect balance all the time.  It just doesn’t exist, at least not all the time.

So stop beating yourself up because you can’t get it right.  None of us get it right all the time.  Let go of this idea that there’s some secret to keeping everything perfectly balanced.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t work to put practices in place to keep things flowing smoothly in both areas of your life (we’ve got a few of those later on).  But it is permission to stop wasting time chasing an ideal or mentally flogging yourself for falling short.

Tip #3 – Raise your prices

If you are absolutely slammed each season during the fall and are turning away clients, it’s probably time to raise your prices.  That can look a few different ways.  You can just raise your prices overall, or you can try one of the next two ideas.

Set a premium price for premium weeks

If you’re not comfortable raising your prices across the board, consider adding on a high-demand premium.  Instead of shooting more sessions or trying to accommodate every single client in those few weeks of fall color, take fewer clients but charge a premium price for those sessions.  You’ll lessen your workload without sacrificing income.  And with fewer clients to manage, you have more time to focus on really wowing those clients.

For example, if you normally charge $300 for a family session and shoot an average of 10 families during the photography busy season, you could set your premium pricing to $400 and only take 8 clients during those premium weeks.

Offer only mini-sessions

Another idea to limit the amount of craziness in your fall photography busy season is to condense your workload to a few weekends.  Set one or two days aside for fall mini-sessions (make sure to have a backup plan for icky weather).  If they want fall family photos, these are the days and times you have available for fall sessions.  You can accommodate more clients in a shorter period of time and condense all of your work into just one or two weekends.

Tip #4 – Limit the kinds of sessions you shoot during photography busy season

Many of us out there function as community photographers – we offer different types of services, depending on the season or demand for those services.  But during the busy season, you might have to limit those “other” jobs you take on.  For example, if you’re main business is family sessions, don’t take on a preschool picture session or a corporate headshot in the middle of your busiest week of the year.

Likewise, if your main income is volume sports teams and individuals, don’t stress yourself out by squeezing in a family or senior session.  Block off your busiest times to focus on one type of photography and stick to it.  Not only does it alleviate your workload, you eliminate the physical and emotional stress of switching from one type of session to another and simplifies your life.

how to schedule the photography busy seasonTip #5 – Outsource your editing or other tasks in the photography busy season

For most of us, shooting the sessions isn’t where we get backlogged…it’s in the editing.  Taking pictures of so many families in such a short amount of time can create a logjam when it comes to editing sessions and delivering galleries to clients.  Outsourcing your editing eliminates that log jam.

Likewise, you can also edit things like blogging, social media posting or accounting.

It can be incredibly scary to hand over the keys to the kingdom, so to speak, and let someone else edit or create your work.  But you need to decide where your time is best spent, both for the sake of your business and the sake of your personal life.

Outsourcing your editing or other tasks gives you more time to work on your business instead of just working in your business.  How much more pleasant would your photography busy season be if you weren’t sitting in front of your computer editing 8 hours a day?  What else could you get done?

Tip #6 – Save time by automating tasks

Before you get slammed with sessions, take time to examine your workflow.  What tasks do you do over and over again for each session?  Is there a way you can streamline those tasks so they take less time each time you need to do them?

One ideas is to create templates for client communication.  You should do this anyway, but it becomes especially helpful in busy times.  If you have a series of templates, you can use those to speed up your workflow instead of reinventing the wheel each time you need to write an e-mail, respond to an inquiry or answer a question.

Click here for the 7 e-mail templates we think every photographer should use!

Other automation ideas

Don’t just limit automation to e-mails, either.  You can also speed up other tasks like thank yous.  If you know you are going to shoot 15 sessions this month, take 10 minutes at the beginning of the photography busy season to get 15 thank you notes ready.  Put your client’s address, a return address and stamp on them and slide a blank thank you into the envelope without sealing it.  I give all my clients a small gift-card to a local soda shop as a thank you, so I’ll buy all of those ahead of time and slide them into the envelope as well.  Then I simply grab a thank you card, write the thank you and put it in the outgoing mail pile.

Grouping like tasks together in one larger session can also save you time in the long run.  For example, order all your prints at one time.  Write all your thank yous in one sitting.  Make all your social media posts for the week in a single day.  Don’t waste time constantly switching gears between one activity and the next.

Want to save time batch editing?  We’ll show you how!

Tip #7 – Use a workflow chart to keep track of tasks in the photography busy season

With multiple sessions going and each at different phases in the contact to delivery process, it can be easy to forget a step or two.  I suggest using a workflow chart so you know what needs to be done for each client.

A workflow chart lists your clients on one side and all the tasks you need to complete for each session at the top.

Your chart can be as simple or as elaborate as you want.  It can be digital or printed.  Whatever helps keep you on track.

Shootzilla offers a great free workflow template!  It’s a Photoshop design file, but you could create something similar in Word, Excel or Canva.  I have some friends that create one on a white board and hang it in their office to keep them on track.

Download the Shootzilla workflow chart template here!

Tip #8 – Prep your personal life

Again, my biggest stress is making sure my family is taken care of as well as my business.  This will also look different for your family, but here are a few ideas that work for me.

  • Create a weekly meal plan that takes your session schedule into mind. I do all my shopping one day a week and I’m set for the next seven days.  Then, if I know I have a Saturday evening session, I plan to make a big meal on Friday so we can eat leftovers on Saturday.  Or I plan slow cooker meals or freezer meals that can be prepared in the morning so I don’t have to think about dinner right before a session.
  • Hire some seasonal help. Who says you have to do it all?  Think about some tasks in your personal life that you could outsource to free up your time.  It could be someone to prep and deliver meals, a temporary house cleaning service or a baby-sitter for a few hours during the day to give you extra editing time.
  • Create a communal calendar. I do a great job of keeping track of my business life, but last season I wasn’t good at communicating my busy days with my husband.  We’d each make commitments and then we’d be scrambling at the last minute to find a sitter or rearrange plans.  Now we have a printed calendar in our kitchen that lists everything we have going on in our family…soccer games, local football games we want to attend, my sessions, my husband’s events, my daughter’s random days off from school.  Now any of us can quickly look at the calendar and know who needs to be where and when.  Yours doesn’t have to be printed….share your Google calendar with your spouse or create a family calendar.  Whatever works best for you!

Tip #9 – Plan time off.

You can work constantly.  But you can’t work constantly for very long and not have something suffer, like your work, your health or your relationships.

Planning time away from shooting and editing is crucial to avoid burnout.  It might be an afternoon to binge-watch “Fixer Upper,” a mini-golf date with your husband or a hike with your kids.  Whatever it is that you like to do, make time to do it.  Schedule those days off like you would any other appointment.  Mark them in your calendar like you would a dentist appointment and then stick to those appointments.  Resist the urge to edit just one more session or catch up on e-mail.  Your brain and body need a break sometimes!

tips for the photography busy season

Tip #10 – Just say no.

Learn to say no and protect your time.  Say no to last-minute clients.  Don’t go to that fundraising dinner you don’t really want to attend.  Say no to last-minute house guests you don’t really want.  Tell your son’s teacher you’ll be happy to help with the Christmas party, but are unavailable for the Halloween party.

No one else will protect your schedule and sanity but you. 

This is probably the hardest idea to implement because we feel like we are disappointing clients, family, and friends.  But it’s the most important lest we disappoint ourselves.  Say no to those extras so you can say yes to time off, time with family and time for the things you love doing.

Bonus Tip – Make notes for next year’s photography busy season

Sometimes ideas for a better way of doing things come to us after the fact…like when you’re knee-deep in your photography busy session and don’t have time to make them happen.

Write those ideas down for next year.  All the could haves and should haves.  Anytime you think “Man, I really should do this differently next year by…” write it down.  You might have ideas on automation, streamlining or eliminating options.  Whatever they are, write them down.

Then about 8 weeks out of your busy season, review those notes.  What nuggets of information did you leave yourself that can help this year?  Make the best ideas a part of your new workflow!

Don’t let the crush of fall photography season crush your soul.  Getting overwhelmed doesn’t serve anyone, least of all you.  So plan ahead, protect your health and relationships and live to photograph another season with these ten tips!

Do you have a tip for surviving the photography busy season?  We’d love to hear it in the comments below!

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