Jul 2019

#ShootProofPro: Van Middleton (“I still struggle with burnout.”)

6 min read

Van Middleton photographs weddings and owns Wildernis Lab. But his journey wasn’t always easy. Here, Van talks burnout and the hard work of creativity.

#ShootProofPro: Van Middleton ("Creativity is hard work.")


Get Inspired by: Van Middleton, Wildernis Weddings

  • Also Known for: owning Wildernis Lab
  • Photographing Since: 2010
  • Three Favorites: “Marni, Luka, and Soomi – my daughters and my wife!”
  • Name One Inspiring Photographer: Anthony Hoang, Lover Of Mine
  • Home Base: Tweed Valley, New South Wales (Australia)
  • Van’s ShootProof Plan: Unlimited

Van Middleton: Detail image of couple's hands and feet as they walk on the beach.

Van Middleton

Van Middleton:

“I began shooting photos with my dad’s Minolta film camera out of high school . . .

. . . and then through university, where I studied journalism. When digital cameras arrived I jumped on board right away, and I shot travel photos for many years. When I returned to Australia, I studied photography and film.

“I had no idea I wanted to shoot weddings, but I did understand what I had always known: I wanted to use my imagination, my creativity, and I wanted to work for myself.

After graduating, work didn’t come easy, and I did more study – this time to become a teacher. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure I had much choice.

#ShootProofPro: Van Middleton (“Creativity is hard work.”)

While I studied, I shot a few weddings. I did them for next to nothing, for experience. My clients were happy. I looked around and realized that I could do as good a job as my competitors. So I didn’t raise my prices, but instead I shot dozens more weddings. Because I wanted to improve and to learn, I studied the best wedding photographers in the world, bought the best equipment, and I got better. I’ve now shot more than 500 weddings.

“I’m still learning, and hopefully always will be – not just about shooting, but about business too. And about longevity and life balance.

Van Middleton: Black and white photo of newlyweds kissing, covered in scattered birdseed.

Van Middleton

“I’m not sure I’m a natural creative. What I know, how I shoot – it’s all come from practice. And I’ve practiced a lot.

I scout religiously; I’m always planning ideas and ruminating on new techniques and trying new equipment; and I’m never happy at a wedding until I’ve got a photo that I think the client will love.

Van Middleton: Bride and Groom stroll down seaside pathway through arches.

Van Middleton

“Probably the largest hurdle I’ve faced has been dealing with burnout.

I’ve always shot a fairly high number of weddings. I’ve never really had a choice: when I started my business I was newly-married and had a newborn baby. I didn’t have the luxury of shooting what I wanted and when I wanted. I needed my business to succeed, and I needed to work hard.

“I always enjoyed shooting, but my workload was heavy: 50-70 weddings a year in my early years – and I was editing all my images myself.

Van Middleton: Newlyweds stroll down cobblestone alley.

Van Middleton 

Outsourcing and automation became a way for me to cope, and it quickly became a cornerstone of my business. I loved shooting, but I was burning out from all my spare time spent in front of my computer.

“The whole ShootProof system is a game-changer.

One of the best aspects is the print fulfillment. I want my clients to get prints, but fulfilling orders myself was arduous. Now I let them do the ordering, and the printer do the delivering.

Van Middleton: portraits of bride and groom in ancient stone courtyard.

Van Middleton

ShootProof has helped with simplifying and automating delivery, and outsourcing my editing has helped with the weekday grind. Outsourcing was so helpful that I built a second business based around my personal editing philosophy.

“I’m now the owner of Wildernis Lab, an editing outsourcing company.

It’s something I’m so passionate about, it almost came about by accident. When you believe in something enough, it’s an easy sell.

Van Middleton: Bride and groom stand under a seaside rainbow.

Van Middleton

Family comes first, and then business. But within business, you have to Focus On What Matters Most™ [to keep] the work coming in. Blogging, social media, submissions etc – all stuff that can get neglected during busy wedding seasons. It’s no good being an amazing artist if no one knows you exist.

I now have time to spend on the other parts of my business that I’d been neglecting – and most importantly I get to be a real dad to my two daughters.

“Outsource and automate – or get left behind!”

Is Van’s story at all like your own? How have you been inspired, encouraged, or motivated by what Van shared?

Comment below!

Written and photographed by: VAN MIDDLETON | WILDERNIS LAB

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