4 Tips to Help You Overcome the Fear of Photographing People

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Are you someone who shies away from photographing people?

I this article, I want to share with you some of my journey and four tips to help you become more confident photographing people. I went from being fearful of photographing people to absolutely loving it.

Portrait of an Asian woman with a Nikkormat FTN film camera - 4 Tips to Help You Overcome the Fear of Photographing People

She’s holding the same camera and lens I used to take the next photo in this article.

The fear is real

Many photographers who join our workshops tell us they find it a real challenge to photograph people. Whether it’s people they know or complete strangers, so many people struggle to photograph others. I think this my be one reason selfies have become so popular.

When I bought my first camera I was 19 years old and very shy. I had a small group of friends and a few places I enjoyed socializing. But beyond that, I preferred not to interact with others. I loved taking photos – landscapes, flowers, still life, but not people. I could not bring myself to do it.

My sister encouraged me. She said she loved my photos, but they would be better if there were people in them. So I started photographing her.

girl on the beach in the morning - 4 Tips to Help You Overcome the Fear of Photographing People

One of my favorite photographs of my sister when we were on a camping trip in 1986. Shot with the Nikkormat camera above.

Build your courage and confidence

She was a reluctant subject, which gave me more of a challenge. We used to hang out a lot together with a few other friends, and I started photographing them as well. Slowly my confidence built.

Sometimes I would sneak candid photos of strangers. I had bought a zoom lens which made this easier. Being separated by the distance the long lens gave me, I was not as uncomfortable.

After a while I packed my camera and bag and headed off. When I traveled overseas I found it easier. Somehow being a tourist changed things. I became more confident. Even so, there were many people I connected with along the way that I did not photograph and now regret that I was not bold enough.

Asian woman with a camera - 4 Tips to Help You Overcome the Fear of Photographing People

The story continues

I returned to New Zealand after only six months. My sister had died suddenly so I went back. Thankfully, I have a number of lovely portraits of her.

Not long after I landed a job at a daily newspaper in the Illustrations Department. No, I wasn’t doing drawings, this was where the editorial photographers worked. The task of an editorial photographer is to illustrate the story. Hence the department name.

man holding a photo of himself - 4 Tips to Help You Overcome the Fear of Photographing People

There I learned many things very quickly. The most challenging thing I learned was that most photos published in newspaper stories include at least one person in the image. If I was going to make the most of this lucky break I needed to overcome my fear, quickly. I knew I would not keep my job long if I returned from an assignment with no photos of people and an excuse that I was too shy.

It has not been easy and it has taken a long time to really be confident photographing people, most of the time. But not all the time. Sometimes I can’t do it, as I am still essentially a shy person.

Young Thai woman in traditional costume - 4 Tips to Help You Overcome the Fear of Photographing People

4 Tips for Overcoming the Fear of Photographing People

1. Find someone who will let you photograph them.

This might be a spouse or sibling, or maybe a good friend. If you can find someone who enjoys being photographed then you have already overcome the biggest hurdle.

Photograph them whenever you can. Build a photographer/model relationship. Be aware of times you and your model have the most fun and replicate the circumstances again in future.

If things work out well, invite some other people to join you. Sharing your photos with them and asking them to post to their social media accounts will help boost your confidence.

young woman lying on the grass - 4 Tips to Help You Overcome the Fear of Photographing People

2. Join a club or group and volunteer to be their photographer.

Maybe you are already a member of an organization you could offer your services to. You might be the official photographer for your church picnic. Or perhaps you could start making a series of portraits of gardeners in their element for the local gardening club.

Think of other ways you can offer your services which will give you a valid reason to take people’s photographs. I found this a great confidence boost when I started at the newspaper.

Studio portrait of a mud covered woman holding clay - 4 Tips to Help You Overcome the Fear of Photographing People

3. Offer to cover events for your local newspaper or community website.

Put yourself on the spot. Commit yourself to a task. Make a reason that you have to come up with pictures. You can’t offer to cover an event and then only supply photos with no people in them.

Woman being kissed by an elephant - 4 Tips to Help You Overcome the Fear of Photographing People

4. Practice being bold enough without appearing to be rude or pushy.

Practice this without being self-effacing. Having your camera in your hand will help.

People will respond to you very differently if you display confidence when you ask them to take their photo. If you come across apprehensive they may doubt your ability as a photographer and respond with reluctance.

So much of creating a good portrait is in how you present yourself. If your subject is comfortable when they are being photographed you will get better pictures of them. They are also more likely to appreciate the portrait you have made.

Portrait of a rice vendor at Muang Mai Market - 4 Tips to Help You Overcome the Fear of Photographing People

Start Today

If you have been wanting to start photographing people and have not – today is the day to start. You never know how much you might truly bless someone by taking their photo.

Here’s a video story of how I was able to share a special portrait I had initially been reluctant to make.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Kevin Landwer-Johan is a professional photographer, photography teacher, and filmmaker with over 30 years experience. Kevin is offering DPS readers his FREE course for beginner photographers which will build your confidence in photography. You will learn how to make sense of camera settings and gain a better understanding of the importance of light in photography. Check out Kevin's Blog for a wide variety of photography related articles.

  • George Johnson

    Scariest thing I ever did was take up street photography! I’m 6 ft and built like an outhouse and I’m terrified of strangers berating me. I get butterflies when I shoot in crowded streets but I turn the fear into a driving force that pushes to get interesting pictures, when I see the results I get by beating that fear it’s worth it. Don’t let fear spoil your chances of bagging great images, people are far more understanding than you realise. They’re almost always just curious about why you think they’re so interesting that you want their picture, communicate gracefully and offer them images and you’ll be making friends all over the place!

  • Kevin Lj

    Hi George. Thanks for sharing your experience. I think the combination of overcoming your fear and communicating gracefully are a winning combination in getting superb street photographs.
    If you are interested to have me critique some of your photos please take a look at my new Youtube playlist ‘Kevin’s Critiques’
    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWNcuZT_OdYf2TUCErzO_EhZ04Og018mb

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