Tips + Techniques


How Award-Winning Photographer and Educator Jerry Ghionis Avoids Burnout

October 2, 2017

By Jerry Ghionis

Photo © Jerry Ghionis

I told my model, Megan, that I was thinking about a Game of Thrones-inspired shoot, and she jumped at the chance because she is a huge fan of the show. So we put on some GOT music to get her in the mood.

I was just 15 years old when I received my first camera and dreamt of being a fashion photographer—taking pictures of pretty girls seemed more appealing than shooting weddings. Turns out, though, that wedding photography was actually a more realistic genre for me to make money in, and after doing it for over 24 years, I’ve realized that by mastering weddings, I’ve mastered portrait, fashion, boudoir, event, newborn, family, children, landscape, streetscape and product photography as well. And the list goes on! Trust me, when shooting weddings, you not only become fluent in these disciplines, but with more than the usual pressures that those other genres typically demand.

Although I direct most of my shots, I also like to give freedom to my models to see what they can do on their own. Megan was very graceful and very theatrical in her expressions. We made a great team! All Photos © Jerry Ghionis

The Dilemma

When you’ve photographed weddings for many years like I have, week in and week out in the same locations, most of us start out with the burning desire to create something new and the more we work, the more it feeds our soul. Be true to yourself and your style and you will attract clients that pay you for simply being you. To be successful in this profession, you have to be in the habit of not only meeting your client’s expectations, but exceeding them. To this day, I approach every wedding with the experience of my 1,000th wedding and with the enthusiasm of my first. It’s also important to remember that we’re all human. For many photographers, there will be times in your career when you just aren’t “feeling” it. Early last year, I could foresee the creative burnout that was on the horizon. I didn’t wait for it to happen and I recognized it before it manifested itself. Remember, prevention is always better than the cure. Just like any diet that needs a change when your weight has plateaued, I needed to “shock my system” to remind myself what I always loved about the creative process.

The Solution

I decided to schedule two months out of my year to create images for myself without any agenda. I made sure not to schedule any weddings or any teaching engagements so that all that remained was creative playtime. The results were creative heaven! I went back to my fashion roots and spent two months in the studio. And now I am very proud of the brand new body of work that I have because of it. It reminded me of the importance of setting aside some regular time for personal projects. It’s just as important as the work that pays. To this day, I try to schedule at least one personal shoot per month. It’s not only creatively invigorating, but I have booked many fashion and portrait assignments as a direct result of these projects.

The Examples

The following images are an example of the kind of work I produced during those two months. I would usually try to achieve three looks during each session while working with the strengths of the model.

Although the “hair flip” is a cliché, it’s so much fun do with the right girl with the right hair. Movement was used to create this image, but the hair coloring makes her hair look like it’s on fire.

I love the static yet sense of movement achieved in this image. You experience the moment but imagine the moments before and after this image.

Camera: Nikon D5
Lens: 70-200mm f/8
Exposure: 1/250 sec ISO: 100
Lighting: Profoto B1
Background: Oliphant

Jerry Ghionis is widely regarded as one of the top wedding and portrait photographers and educators in the world. He is a USA Nikon Ambassador and has won more awards than any other photographer at WPPI, where he became the first Grand Master.

Related: Ben Sasso on How to Beat that Dreaded Creative Rut in Your Photography

How Jerry Ghionis Captured Vision For Bride and Groom Portrait In-Camera