What To Do With "Down Time"

What To Do With "Down Time"

So you have some down time eh? You’ve been pacing the floor, obsessively checking email, conjuring up clients etc and still nothing is coming your way? Welcome to the harsh reality of freelance life. Sometimes shit will be so hot that you can barely sleep:  you’re high on life and you’re convinced that this is it! You’ve finally made it!  Hot damn! But then, a week later, you’re sitting around wondering why you weren’t invited to the party this time. Bummer.

Now there are the usual recommendations for what to do with your free time:  put together a test shoot or personal project, update your website, work on your advertising strategy, write a new blog post, update your social media, etc. But WHAT IF you have already done those things? Gah!!!

Things not to do:

1.)  drink.

2.)  Repeatedly call/email people until they no longer want to talk or work with you

3.)  Have an existential crisis

4.)  Stalk an art director’s online profiles

5.)  drink.

6.)  Consider giving up and looking into that teaching gig your dad mentioned

I did ALL these things at some point in my career. All of them.

My boyfriend kept telling me I needed to get a hobby. “Yo- you don’t understand I made my hobby MY CAREER.  I’m living the dream!” This was apparently not an acceptable answer.

Obviously not all of us can afford to take vacations when we have a substantial amount of time “off.”  So I asked some trusted fellow Fstoppers what they do in these periods of down time.  

Things TO DO:

1.)  Sometimes it's a good idea to use this down time to learn a new skill.  David J Crewe says he likes to, "research, read books on my peers/idols/dreams and watch tutorials to enhance my skills as a business owner and artist."  It's important to both know the past, and prepare for the future.

2.)  The world is full of things we haven't seen before, and the more we see, the more we can build up our inspiration bank. Peter House says, "When I have a spare moment I will hop in my car and head north into the open country." I've lived in LA for the better part of a decade now, and I know there are things within driving distance that I haven't explored. I'd be willing to bet it's the same for most people. You may even find a great location for a future shoot!

3.)  Clay Cook says he, "Loves to hang with friends in the creative community." This is one of my favorites.  Instead of comparing yourself to other photographers and wallowing in envy and what not, get to know your fellow photographers. Often we are all going through similar struggles and it's nice to feel that sense of community and have people to talk to about both the positive and the negative aspects of our careers.

4.) Pinterest is amazing people. Amazing. I have never gotten so much inspiration in one place.

5.) Contribute to your community. I've been volunteering at spcaLA for about six months now, and man is it relaxing and fulfilling. And every once in a while, I get to take pictures of the dogs and cats available for adoption. It's a win-win. With all the "glamour" in my photography life, it is nice to feel grounded.

6.) If all else fails, it is completely ok to watch TV or play video games once in a while. Or go for a pointless walk. Burnout is real folks. Don't be afraid to chill out. For me, the best ideas often come to me when doing the most mindless things.  :) 


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I find going to the gym and taking a drive to be the best way to kill time. Sometimes I'll post something from my drive and lo and behold I get an inquiry about a job. Staying at home and doing nothing gets you nothing.

Chip Kalback's picture

I bought a road bike about a month ago and have been making every effort possible to ride around 25 miles each morning. I've found riding in the morning lifts the mental 'fog', both in my creativity as well as my efficiency. By the time I get home I have a number of ideas I focus on for the day and I start working.

I have the best and worst of both worlds since I have a full time job. I don't get sick of work because I have photography as my outlet, and I don't get sick of photography because I can't do it all the time and only work on what I want to do. BUT with that comes waking up completely and utterly exhausted every now and then because I don't have a lot of actual down time (I'm also a single parent). Monday morning, I didn't want to get out of bed due to my 5am call time on Sunday.

So in my down time, I tend to veg in front of Netflix. Or we go to Universal Studios where I totally embarrass my kid by speaking in a British accent and run around with a wand yelling Harry Potter spells. Theme parks can be lame, or they can just allow you to get lost in another world for a bit. Or I go for a hike in the many parks and wilderness areas close by. Or we drive to anything within a few hours to do something completely out of the ordinary. I'm lucky to live in a city where so many things are driving distance.

Savi You's picture

Movies and books are great for inspiration. I recently read Dan Winter's Road to Seeing and it's an amazing read (coming from someone who has read a book since school)

Dave Lehl's picture

I was in the same spot two years ago, burned out and lacking work. I'm from the film era and was always of the opinion that photoshop was for people that couldn't take a good photo in-camera. One day with nothing else to do, I decided to ditch my 'ignorance is bliss', purist ideal and buy a Phlearn tutorial. That one tutorial turned into 10 and I pretty much considered it my job to burn through as many tutorials in the next three weeks as possible. They completely changed the way I shoot and how I go about coming up with new ideas. So my advice would be to buy and complete as many Phlearn tutorials as you possibly can!

Mark Fore's picture

Running is what satisfies me right now! But I wouldn't mind tuning up the old road bike and taking an extensive bike ride :)

Ralph Berrett's picture

You have spare time?

I agree about drink, but there is a lot to be said for a good Muduro (cigar) with Tequila, Sake and/or "Death in the Afternoon" with a few good friends. Yes, I did start in photojournalism in the film days. ;)