5 Tips to Help Build Your Confidence in Photography

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Think of your last bad day of photography, a time where you just blew a whole batch of portraits, or even a couple’s wedding day images were spoiled. As photographers you can’t go back and fix that. Yes if you use RAW, you can get some info back from under or over exposed shots, and editing tools these days can be incredibly useful. But, when you spend more time behind the computer than with you camera it can be a real confidence buster. It may even be taking away from future business, if not your enjoyment of photography.

So how do you build your confidence?

confidence in photography

These DPRK soldiers show confidence and loyalty guarding the DMZ and the 38th parallel of Korea. The soldiers at Buckingham Palace don’t flinch, and that takes practice.

Having confidence exudes confidence, but where does real confidence come from. Well it doesn’t just come from nowhere, that is often called arrogance. It comes from the awareness of your emotional state relative to your cognitive abilities.

If you use your emotions to create, you are being confident. If your emotions are overwhelming you during your shot or photo series, you are likely under-confident. By the book, you may know everything there is to know about the exposure triangle, rule of thirds, color theory, etc., but when you are actually shooting do they do more to help, or do they hinder you?

Confidence is a delicate balance between what you know, and how well you are capable of performing. So let’s look at a couple of examples and analogies to help build your confidence as a photographer.

#1 – Confidence isn’t always consistent

Real confidence is never consistent, and has its slumps. Professional sports is a great example, even superstars have an off night.

So when you have an off night, remember another night is just 12 hours away. If it is the morning, it is still 12 hours away. Even a broken clock is correct twice a day, so don’t beat yourself up. In the short run you may have really blown a photo shoot, or missed the animal of your dreams because you were not being conscious about your settings, or you were simply absent minded. But that is the short term, and as long as you get right back out there, the better off you are going to be.

The best of the best all fail, but what keeps them on top of their game is the arduous task of owning up to being human, and going out to find a solution to your goof. In the long run, they will be memories that you get to look back on with a laugh.

confidence in photography

Baseball is a national pastime in Cuba. Although it was my first time shooting baseball in the barrios of Havana, it wasn’t my first time shooting it.

#2 – Learn from your mistakes

Few people are perfect photographers from birth. Generally, talent comes through sweat, tears, and sometimes even blood. If you make mistakes you can learn from them. Confidence has a conspiracy with failure. So take two steps forward, and one step back. Stay committed, and speaking of commitment and blood, I am not the only photographer who has taken a tumble, and when people ask you if you are okay, you respond with, “Yes the camera is fine”, while your knees and elbow are bleeding.

confidence in photography

Continuing with the baseball theme, after striking out, it only took one big swing to make the winning home run. Don’t give up, live, learn and keep swinging for the fences.

#3 – Be vulnerable

Enter a photo contest, and don’t expect to win. It is a final process of completing the photography and artistic conceptual circle. Letting your photo hang on a wall, while others look at it, even for a few minutes, is a scary prospect for some. But think of leaving your freshly baked pie on the dinner table, and just looking at it. We don’t do that with food, nor should we do that with our photography.

People will love it, like it, dislike it, or downright hate it, but that doesn’t mean you are wrong. It means you have succeeded in making the photography world just a little more interesting. You also never know who you will inspire. Your vulnerability will soon become a strength that will help build your confidence.

confidence in photography

After years of holding on to this photo, I finally entered it into a regional photography competition. It got in, and although I was not a recipient of anything, another gallery called a month later and wanted to host my work for a show.

#4 – Learn from others BUT don’t compare yourself to them

There is a world of knowledge available, and many people who you can learn from. Use them, ask them questions, share ideas – but don’t compare yourself to them. Generally when you compare your own work to others, it may leave you with a sense of there’s more to be desired, and a sense of failure. So learn from their perspectives, their tutorials, and their stories, but don’t get caught up in who is better.

A happy photographer is the best photographer. Furthermore, over time you will begin to see the merits in some of your earlier experimental work. Perfection is not the goal, it is the journey to becoming a more enriching photographer.

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This Magnolia opening in spring was taken in full sunlight. I saw a series of flowers on a photo stream, and realized I had not taken a photo of something beautiful in a long time. This helped me learn to see, and if our images were side by side, I am sure theirs was better. But I enjoyed doing something different than what I normally shoot.

#5 – Avoid gear envy

There will always be something bigger and better, wait another year and the next new version will be out. So don’t get intimidated by other photographers’ gear, and more importantly don’t let your photos depend on your gear. Think of it as a challenge.

confidence in photography

Taken with a 50mm, manual focus lens from my father’s box of forgotten things, that I found rummaging through his old stuff. Lenses and cameras are fun to have, and fun to buy, but they don’t make the photo.

A small trick I use when the next new thing comes out, and I get in that spiral of getting all gear-junkie about it is to look at some of the classic photographers from 100 years ago or read up on some color theory. This gets me back to the basics, try it yourself.

So if you realize that every showing will not be your best, you can get over thinking that your gear dictates the success and failure of your photos, if you can start to learn from your mistakes, and begin to hang photos on a wall – then guess what? Your confidence will begin to grow, you will have more control (and more power) over photography (situations, light, camera gear, etc.). As your confidence grows it builds and builds on itself.

The next six areas are examples of how confidence will help you in that style of photography. Part one is developing confidence, and part two is a set of examples of how confidence can help in different situations.

How confidence can help you take better photos

In portraiture, confidence helps you connect with, and calm your subject, to bring out their inner spirit. There is little worse than a nervous model and a nervous photographer. Even if you are not 100% sure what you’re doing, show confidence, take your time, and slowly adjust your settings to get things closer to your ideas. Try and keep from getting frustrated and making large adjustments wildly to your gear.

confidence in portrait photography

This young girl in North Korea had never seen an American before, but after me keeping my cool she was much more approachable.

In wildlife photography, confidence lets you trust your gut, and get in the right place at the right time. Luck is important, but perseverance will ultimately lead to success. Having confidence will give you the extra optimism to keep you going, as you wait patiently.

confidence in wildlife photography

On a long road trip from east to west across the US, I hadn’t run into any large animals. In Wyoming I decided to go for another shot at an indiscrete state park, and there were buffalo everywhere.

In travel photography, confidence helps you see beyond the postcard shot. Confidence allows you to see your journey, not the one that is in the travel books. It helps you see the subtleties, and personalize your travel story, rather than trying to just take the photo that everyone else wants you to take.

confidence in travel photography

This sassy little Cuban was just parading on her porch. I walked by without grabbing my camera, then discreetly turned around and caught her exuding luxury, Cuban style.

In fine art photography, confidence will allow your creative side to flow. It will allow you to access what is sometimes referred to in sports as “being in the zone.” This zone, or flow is your brilliance at its best, and confidence supports your ambitions as an artist.

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One of my favorite images from India, where cricket matches were being played. Using multiple exposures, then giving it a symmetrical clone, I produced something that I cherish. Maybe only you like your photo, but that is what being true to yourself is all about.

In bad weather confidence helps you see the silver lining. For all types of photography we rely on light. A great source of light is outdoors, and when that golden hour turns to wind and rain you have a choice – pack up and go, or think outside the box. Confidence helps you control your surroundings, even when they are out of control, so you can begin to work within them, and use them to your advantage.

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I can’t say that the weather was bad here, but the timing was. I was just getting to a ghetto outside of San Jose, Costa Rica at night. I wanted to get in and out before I felt compromised, unsafe. So regardless of if it’s bad weather, or bad timing, confidence can help you to push through.

In tough times confidence gives you the grit to continue. Really, this is what a lot of photography comes down to – do you have the gumption to get up early for sunrise, or not? Can you give a genuine smile to your client, even when you are not having the best day? Can you be satisfied with the gear you have, and not think about the next lens you want to get? Can you be the best photographer you can be?

confidence in photography

Symbolically this Burmese woman has had a few more tough times than I have. Confidence in photography will help you put things into perspective.

Confidence is hard to gain and can take years to attain. It is a process, and is easier for some than others. But if you work at it, it will build. Just as you work on other aspects of your photography, your emotions need work to. Confidence is an emotion, so practice with your feelings, and let them grow alongside the cerebral aspects of photography. Be mindful of your emotions, not fearful of them.

Do you have any other confidence building tips? If so, please share them in the comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Branson Quenzer has chased bygone eras in a vastly changing Chinese landscape for over a decade. He has a Master’s Degree in Economics, whereby he uses a paradigm of seeing the world through a system of interlinking processes and changes, to explore photography and the world. Please visit his website to see more or contact him through Facebook.

  • Cuttie2b

    I loved your article about gaining confidence in photography. It resonated with me concerning my emotions and feeling confident. I remember one wedding a while back where my confidence plummeted and it came because of an equipment malfunction that no matter what I did I could not right the issue until I switched cameras and decided right then that I’d deal with it later. But because that happened at the very beginning of the shoot, I found myself in tears in the anteroom, right before going out and shooting the bride and her escort walking her down the aisle. The rest of the day was kind of a blur, but somehow I managed to capture many great moments and lovely memories and this is because I made a choice in the anteroom. There was no going back and my confidence was in the toilet, but I made a conscious effort to give them my eye, my time and my happiness for them as a couple and I think my photos showed that to a tee. I could have let that one malfunction and my lack of confidence ruin the rest of the day and their photos, but when I made it more about them and less about me, it changed the dynamic of the entire shoot. Thanks for a great article to remind us all that we will fail, win and sometimes shine, but it shouldn’t take our confidence away and we should never compare ourselves to other photographers who have their own voice, talent and style.

  • Kathleen M Pearson

    Although I’m a newbie and have a lot to learn, I definitely have gear envy! I use a Fujifilm Finepix S8100 point-and-shoot which is a nice camera but it just isn’t a DSLR with a great zoom lens! Oh well, baby steps.

  • Lois Lawson-Ellis

    Love the photo samples! I am just learning the basics of photography and it would be very helpful to see details beneath each image (e.g. lens, ISO, S, A etc.). Is there any way to see the specs for each shot? Thanks. LLE

  • Oscarphone

    The best tip here is that gear doesn’t make the photo. Story:Years ago in the “film days” our studio had a fleet of Fs, a Contax and a couple of Hasselblad 2¼s. When things slowed down we made a point of grabbing the old box Brownies on display in the office and headed for a point on the compass, even if it was only a block away. It forced us to see and make good photos with our eye rather than the equipment. You could really take advantage of the softness of the lens to make some pretty nice stuff. It also made you get crafty like breathing on the leans to soften it more. Point is, equipmwnt doesn’t make the photographer. Never did, never will.

  • Yoder Photography, LLC

    Really appreciate this article! Thanks for sharing! Confidence in my photography is something I struggle with sometimes. The other day another photographer happened through my day job and I ended up showing her my website and some pics and she said she really liked all of my pictures. Having someone who does it for a living tell me in person that I have some great work was a huge confidence boost for me!

  • Branson Quenzer

    Happy you gained something from the post. When you show your work it can be scary. Even if you get negative feedback, keep your head up. Share some of your favorite photos here and I am sure you will get some nice comments.

  • Branson Quenzer

    Couldn’t agree more. More important that having good gear is know how to use the gear that you have. Never breathed on my lens to fog it up, but I will soon! Great idea!

  • Branson Quenzer

    photos 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12 were shot with a 70-200 (the panorama was put together in Photoshop and would most likely have an F-stop of 5.6 or 6.3). The Magnolia flower was shot with a 100mm macro with a flash at around 3.2. The cricket photo was taken with a 70-300. Finally the black and white was with an old manual focus 50mm and I am guessing the F-stop was around 5.6 . I shoot most of the time in Aperture priority which means the ISO is automatic.

  • Branson Quenzer

    Baby steps is right… read before you buy. Learn the techniques because gear does you no good if you are not aware of the advantages and disadvantages of them. Refer to Oscarphone comment above.

  • Branson Quenzer

    Thanks for sharing your experience. AND I love your comment about making the photos about them and not you. When you are doing a job, you have to keep your emotions in check. Be mindful of them. Experience and practice is so valuable. Thanks again!

  • Branson Quenzer

    Oh, the fire crackers from Chinese New Year… that was shot on a 40mm prime. F-stop would be around 3.2.

  • Lois Lawson-Ellis

    Thanks so much for this information. Great shots.

  • Branson Quenzer

    Absolutely… I hope it helps you in your photographic journey.

  • Oscarphone

    I’ve seen some pretty damn nice photos taken with some pretty plebeian equipment. If you are shooting so-so photos now, fancy equipment won’t make them any better. Develop your eye, then buy the equipment.

  • Ritesh Dwivedi

    Thank you for writing and sharing this soulful article…much appreciated.

  • Branson Quenzer

    Glad that you could benefit from it… now go out and USE it!!!

  • Branson Quenzer

    When i begin to think about buying a new lens, etc. that i really don’t need, what i do is begin to research an old photographer. I look at their images and think about how they did that with “inferior” equipment. It helps remind me that gear is not going to improve my photography at all. But studying and learning will.

  • Bhanu Bansal

    such an inspiring article .. thank you so much.. Keep sharing

  • Branson Quenzer

    Happy to know you found the article useful. Please share with us some of your color photos. Thanks, bQ

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