Camera shy photographer? Here’s the secret for getting over your fears

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Have you noticed this awkward moment at photo workshops? The presenter needs a volunteer model during a demonstration, but none of the photographers in attendance want to get in front of the camera. Grown-up professionals cower in fear, looking like school kids who don’t want to be called on. Everyone waits awkwardly for someone to jump in, and when someone finally does, the volunteer feels obligated to mumble some self-deprecating remark to make it clear that they don’t actually like this.

Being camera shy may be perfectly normal, but if you’re a photographer, it’s borderline unprofessional. You should get comfortable jumping in the frame at any time. We ask our clients, friends and family to put up with our constant barrage of modeling requests. We should be willing to do the same. It’s only fair.

But there’s a bonus. Getting comfortable in front of the camera will make you a better photographer.

  • It will give you one more way to connect with your subjects. During a shoot, you’ll be able to say “I’ve been in your shoes,” and mean it.
  • You’ll get a better sense of how the subtleties of posing make a huge difference in the final product. And you’ll understand what all those poses feel like.
  • It gives you more credibility, in the eyes of your clients and your fellow photographers. It shows that you trust the process, and can be trusted in return.
  • During a workshop, things just flow better when there are plenty of volunteers ready to jump in. The presenter will appreciate your help, and participants will be glad they’re not paying for long moments of awkward silence.
  • And who knows, you might just get a great new portrait for your website or social media.

It’s time to face your fears and find that repressed model deep inside. Here’s the secret: It’s not about vanity, it’s about practice. Confidence in front of the camera is just another skill to develop. It takes a little time and effort, but it’s not difficult, and it’s worth it. To get you started, here are three ideas to start breaking down the nerves and flexing your modeling muscle.

Give your camera to a kid, and tell her to fire away at you.

Find a safe spot for both camera and child — seated on the grass is a good bet. Dial in the settings or just go with full auto mode (the settings aren’t the point). Insist the neck strap be used. The kids love it and you won’t be nervous because it’s so funny to watch a little kid put her forehead against the LCD and randomly fire off shots. Who knows, there just might be a few keepers.

After making this portrait of my daughter, she declared it her turn to the take the pictures. So I handed over the camera and she made this frame of me. 

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Grab your tripod, set up a selfie, and work like a scientist.

Use your camera’s self timer mode or a remote trigger. Grab a 50mm equivalent lens (or longer). You’ll probably want either full auto or aperture priority mode. Try a few different poses. Change up your expression. Work with intention — have a list of shots you want to get, questions you want to explore or experiments you want to try. Do you have a favorite side (and why)? What happens when you try to emphasize each different feature of your face? Take notes on the results. If you focus on this “research” process, you’ll have plenty to think about and any initial fears of being in front of the camera will fade. In the process, you’ll learn a ton about both shooting and modeling.

Ask a fellow photographer to make some portraits of you.

Trading formal sessions with another photographer can be great, but if you’re just trying to get more comfortable as a subject, keep it casual. Ask them to give you some posing directions, which can be silly or serious.  When you review the images, don’t just think about what you like, think about why.

Keep at it.

Whatever you do to get in front of the lens, do it again next week. It’s a lot like public speaking, the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll be. Your clients will appreciate your efforts to empathize with their fears. And you will be a better photographer, I promise!

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Comments
  • Tobias Armstrong
    Reply

    I really liked your tip to work with another photographer to get more comfortable. Portraits and headshots are really pretty intimate types of photography, so getting extra practice is a smart idea as far as I can tell. i also appreciated the tip to simply keep at it. It always helps to be persistent. Thanks for sharing!

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