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Overcoming Fear in Photography

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Fear. It’s an emotion to which we all can relate. Luckily, nervousness or fear in photography can be overcome with practice and patience. After speaking with a few fellow photographers and borrowing from my own experiences, I have listed some shared fears among photographers and ways you can learn to overcome them.

Overcome Fear

1. The fear: I’m afraid I don’t know what I’m doing.

Every photographer at some point feels a little out of their depth when encountering a new situation or problem. Whether it’s learning to use a new piece of equipment, a lighting conundrum, or simply making a careless mistake during a shoot – we all can feel a little lost from time to time. This is especially true when a person first begins to learn the art. There’s a lot of somewhat technical information to absorb and it can be frustrating to understand new things. I recall shooting my first large wedding. I was so nervous that I was sweating more than the groom. There were some hiccups but overall the shoot went smoothly and the client was pleased.

How to beat it:

Acceptance. That’s the best way to overcome your fear of being inexperienced. The most effective thing you can do as an aspiring photographer is to constantly remind yourself that we all start somewhere. At some point, even the most celebrated of photographers didn’t even know how to operate a camera. You will learn as you go and you will make mistakes. You will also have successes. The key to beating the fear is the determination to keep going.

2. The fear: I’m afraid people won’t like my work.

The fear of rejection is a biggie. We all feel it to some extent and we all struggle with the fact that some people simply will not like the work we produce. This is the beauty and the bane of any art form. Art, by its very nature, is extremely subjective. Each person will view a piece with there own eyes and make judgements based on their experiences.

Here is one of my personal favorite images and one of the least liked by the public.

Ferns

How to beat it:

When I first began my photographic journey I was easily discouraged. It seemed that for every roll of film I used there would be only one or two decent exposures. I would get so frustrated to point I would just put down my camera. Fortunately for me, I stumbled upon this quote from Ansel Adams:

“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.”

That sentence hit me hard. I realized that if one of the most influential American photographers of all time was happy with twelve good images in an entire year, then I should be thrilled of the progress I was making! As painful as it can be, failure is an essential learning tool. Seldom do we gain new knowledge only from our success. Do your work as best you can and show it to the world. The rest is out of your control.

3. The fear: I’m afraid to photograph people.

Making photos of people can be compared to public speaking. Very few people (I haven’t met any) are able to hit the ground running when it comes to street or event photography. It’s just not easy. Anxiety is a constant, at least it was for me. I would worry about how the subject might react to being photographed or if I looked strange photographing a stranger on the street. Even the act of carrying my SLR around in public made me feel out of place.

Child and Grandmother

How to beat it:

The short answer – just do it. Go out and confront your fear. It sometimes helps to begin in a place where other people will likely be carrying cameras such as a public park, farmers market, or other large gathering. You will feel more at ease knowing that you aren’t the only one making photos. As you become more relaxed, begin taking your camera with you on a daily basis.

Practice short excursions around your street or neighborhood and get used to being around people while using your camera. The more you do something the less frightening it will likely become.

Boston Common

Before you know it, you will be able to approach public situations with confidence.

Party

4. The fear: I’m afraid my gear isn’t good enough.

Gear envy. That nagging notion that if you only had this lens or that filter or if you could afford the newest whatever – we all experience it to some degree. It’s a basic condition of humans to want what we don’t have and photographers (most, not all) are notorious for never having enough. We can sometimes let ourselves be afraid that our gear just isn’t up to the task and become convinced that all we need is more and better equipment.

Gear

How to beat it:

The best way to overcome the fear of gear inadequacy is to understand that you will never have the best gear because the best gear hasn’t been made yet. Everything is evolving and you only have to do a quick internet search to realize most camera gear updates every couple of years. Stop focusing on what you don’t have. Instead, learn to make the most of what you do have. Study the capabilities of your gear and know what it can do. More importantly, understand what it can’t do. Constantly I see eager photographers become disappointed and discouraged because their expectations grossly overwhelm the capability of their gear. If you have realistic expectations then you won’t be so prone to doing the worst thing a photographer can do – which is quit.

Do you suffer from any of these fears? Do you have others not listed here? Share with us in the comments – we’re all friends here and support each other in getting over our fears.

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Adam Welch is a photographer, writer, educator, adventurer, baconographer, and beerologist currently based in the western portion of his home state of Tennessee. You can usually find him on some distant trail making photographs or at his computer writing about all the elegant madness that is photography. Follow his work over at website , Instagram , and on 500px .

  • me too! I don’t judge other people but I do think people are judging me, and I am terrified of getting in trouble!

  • Thank you for writing it – you can probably see we are FULL of those little secret nagging fears, and not only is it great to read how normal it is, but how many people have them and also how they deal with them.

  • I actually am a student enrolled in a course, but I’m still too scared to say it lol. I did have that thought almost immediately though – that I can just say that.

  • I have this one too. I am scared no one will ever take me seriously.

  • chrysmarty

    i think I need therapy. Have been shooting for 5 years. Developed a collection. But I am extremely shy about what I do. This last year began entering online contests and did well. Showed a few to people I trust and got good feedback. But, was asked by two shop owners if I would consider selling in their stores, and I had a major meltdown both times. Went home and cried. Then the local art gallery asked to see some work and I completely fell apart. I couldn’t even pick up my camera for a week. I like what I do but the idea of putting them on display horrifies me. My husband said If I love it, just keep doing it. I am fine until the idea of selling shuts me down. I have given some as gifts and no problem. Ever had this happen?

  • Chrysmarty – so why not listen to your husband, he sounds like a wise man? Just do it for you. Clearly there is something about selling your work that either terrifies you or it simply may not be something you interested in doing.

    If it is fear let me ask you this – #1 what do you think the fear is about, if you had to guess? and #2 do you want to do it? If not see point above.

  • David Corito

    I have been into photography my adult life and had the fear my images were just okey. I joined a photography club sat on the sidelines for about 3 months before I started to enter my images both digital and prints. To my surprise I received high scores and a 3rd and 1st place ribbon in the beginners class. The club now placed me in the Advance group. Have no fear join a photo group you will learn from them and your fear will be gone

  • There’s nothing wrong with being shy about what you do. In fact, there are no right or wrong ways to do anything, especially when it comes to photography. There are only different ways and paths which we take. Darlene really hit the nail on the head about following your husbands recommendation for doing what you love. A fine line must be observed between two distinct actions: 1. Confronting your fears of something new. 2. Confronting the fear of success/failure.

    If its the fear of the unfamiliarity of publicly displaying your work then you have two choices and those are to either decide to display or not. No one can decide that but you.

    If your fear has to do with people’s opinion of your work then I have great news. You’ve overcome it already. As I read your post I was thinking “Man, she’s already made it past one of my biggest obstacles.” It’s true, I contribute to dPS and other photography resources and have been fortunate enough to find my own momentum. But I still struggle with finding an outlet to display my work and in turn that leads to fear that my photography simply isn’t up to snuff. But that fear, if I had let it, would have only done one thing for me…and that one thing is nothing. I would have put my camera down. I would have stopped. I would have never answered the open call to write for dPS and I would have definitely not found myself sharing my experiences with all you fine people.

    Just don’t quit. Feel the fear and don’t stop.

  • Mukund Umra

    I , being a medical doctor, I am so shy and feel what the people may be thinking about me.Is this doctor not having good practice that he has to do photography? I had been to a 1st wedding of my cousin’s daughter-and was so hasitant and nervous to take pictures.But I collected courage and started
    .Then I took about 500 photographs.
    THANKS TO D.P.S. It taught me what to do, how to do, when to do, how to plan in advance and so on and so forth.
    I also felt that I should have had other gadgets.
    Dr.MUKUND UMRA.

  • Janine-Kitty Bee

    Thanks for putting these in a list, makes you feel like you are not alone! I very much relate to these things listed, being self taught is also a great fear I’m slowly learning to overcome, but you are right, the more you shoot, the more confidence you gain!!

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