A Story of A Photographer Leaving Her Comfort Zone

A Story of A Photographer Leaving Her Comfort Zone

tasra.jpgIt was the first time she had done anything like this.

After all, fear of the unknown took her outside her comfort zone. Treading on new territory, pushing the boundaries of her photography, and allowing herself to be stretched would take all the courage she could muster. In her mind, there were a good many others more qualified. In the end, none of that mattered, she would do it anyway.

Tasra Dawson** climbed onto the bus with 33 other photographers. They had met for the Pictage PartnerCon (a photography conference) in New Orleans, taking 4 days to network, learn, and be inspired by massively successful pros in the industry. Tasra herself had spoken, and helped write and produce a film series for the event along with her husband Ron, but the experience she was about to walk into was less familiar and more daunting than standing on that stage before hundreds of people:

Shooting street images of strangers… with their permission.

She would meet her goal while out on a photo walk. It was the first she had ever done. It was to be a time when photographers pile onto a bus, travel across the city, and take pictures of various things, places, and people.

The fact that this photo walk was in New Orleans was surreal for her. When Hurricane Hurricain Katrina had hit in 2006, her parents had been on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Being in a place that had been touched by the same destruction near to her parents, made her feel as though she was experiencing family history. She was seeing it all with her own eyes. She would be documenting it with her own eyes too.

Tasra breathed. She had her camera. She had her gear. She had comrades. Together, they could embark on this adventure, and she was excited about what might come her way. The sense of adventure motivated her. She was a capable and successful photographer. The confidence she always instilled in her students and blog readers would have to be placed in herself.

The tour would cover the lower 9th ward – one of the places hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina. The first stop was Flood Street. She had ten minutes. She got off the bus, and didn’t allow herself any thought but one: Take pictures and go wherever it may lead.

She began to shoot. After a few shots, she turned and began taking pictures of what looked like a building just after destruction had passed – not years later. As she photographed, she noticed a man coming toward her. Her heart began to race wondering if he’d tell her to stop or get mad. She looked around for support but found herself alone.

This is it.

She took her courage and started a conversation. “Were you here during Katrina?” She asked him and received a nod in response. “Do you live around here?” His response “Not around here. I live here,” and he motioned to the building she had been photographing. He was there during the rising of the waters. He was there, in the top story of his house, when the water was up to his waist. He just couldn’t bring himself to leave, even in the face of danger; he had to stay.

For Tasra, the moment of truth came at that moment: “Would you mind if I took your picture in front of the house?”

To her relief, he said yes. After a few shots, the man asked if she wanted to go inside – inside his house. Her heart jumped. She was amazed. Amazed that the moment was not nearly as intimidating as she thought. She wondered if there were other moments and opportunities she missed because of her lack of confidence. She knew there were.


She walked into the house with a few other photographers. The first image she saw was the broken roof on the right side of the house. The light was streaming through the vacant opening, creating a beautiful shaft of light. As she took pictures, she asked about the different rooms, and the man shared. She could hardy believe how much she was able to document such a precious story of a man who would have rather died than leave his home. His courage was inspiring.

And she was able to experience this simply because she stepped out of her comfort zone.

The time passed quickly. After 15 minutes, she heard the bus honking for the return. She didn’t want to leave. The time had been unreal. As she walked back through to exit, the man passed through the light shaft – first image she had seen upon arrival. A quick snap captured one of her most precious images; not because of the rising smoke in the light, and the intense contrast of the textures, but because encapsulated in this one image was the entire story of a courageous man.

Tasra walked away with a new sense of confidence. She could be the photographer she had always wanted to be, but never thought she was. A photographer who captured beauty in stories and experiences that other people may not have. As she got back on the bus, she was content. They had only finished their first stop but she felt as though she had her story – the one she came for.

The lesson ushered in a new level for Tasra. She realized that situations may require certain risk, but sometimes the risk is not the end. There are rewards for stepping outside ones comfort zone. And often, those rewards are priceless.

** Tasra Dawson is a nationally acclaimed Senior Portrait photographer from Georgia. Tasra is involved with her husband Ron as a Creative team member for DareDreamer Media, and spends full time work as a photographer, blogger, and artist. Tasra takes part in “Pro: You”, a series of lessons learned on the road of professional photography. Her daily work can be found online at: www.TasraMar.com and www.TeenIdentity.com.

DPS thanks Tasra for the time she invested interviewing for this story.

Read more from our category

Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography www.BrideInspired.com and leadership with www.RevMediaBlog.com.

Some Older Comments

  • TheHolyFatman February 15, 2010 04:21 am

    Great story, but little correction: Katrina hit in 2005.

  • nina friedman February 14, 2010 05:56 am

    Very inspirational and know exactly where you are coming from.
    It is extremely difficult to get out of our "comfort zone"...I guess one can always
    say "what is the worst that could happen"...rejection is not that bad.

  • Nancy February 13, 2010 02:42 am

    If you like this, check out the 100 strangers group on flickr. The idea is to gather photos and stories of 100 people you don't know. Some of my most memorable photos and certainly most memorable stories have come from the photos I have shot for this project. Join us! http://www.flickr.com/groups/100strangers/

  • Carroll Owens February 13, 2010 01:16 am

    Cathode may be friendly and polite on the street, not so much in the Feb 7 post.

  • Jim Williams February 12, 2010 08:09 pm

    Not sure I get all the excitement here. I agree with the comment re: '..cheap romance novel..' It is a shame that such a strong subject matter and moody location produced a resulting image so lacking. Just seems badly focussed with an attempt to cover it up/recover it by passing off over processing as creativity. Focus on the eyes is not always vital in a portrait as energy and mystery can come from unconventional focal points but here there is no focus on any aspect of the subject or his surroundings. The story here is surely that of his suffering, the destruction of his home or that of the failure of the US government to deal with the tragedy. Not really sure how this blurred image portrays any of that.

    One can only assume that in having finally overcome her fears regarding approaching a stranger as a subject, that she was still shaking too much to concentrate on any technical basics. Odd for an otherwise accomplished photographer (great images on her site) Bravo for getting out there and having a go I guess!

    It is important to remember that what matters is the image, especially in this kind of journalistic endeavour. Not the photographer behind it.


  • Loraine McCall February 12, 2010 11:26 am

    This made me think that the worst thing that could happen is that he'd say "no". Thant doesn't really hurt does it? It's always best to think "Well, at least I tried!" rather than "If only..."
    Mojica Photography

  • Mike Stan February 12, 2010 06:51 am

    Nice story, and I like the idea and emotion of the picture.

    Unfortunately it looks like a lot was done to it to recover from a poorly exposed and blurry shot. If I'm wrong, perhaps the photographer can explain her motivations or idea behind the effects she was using?

  • Pied Crow February 12, 2010 06:21 am

    Interesting story, and such interesting replies, ranging from "you inspired me" to "what's the big deal?" I think some of us photographers are fundamentally shy people with a powerful interest in others. In street photography, those characteristics collide, and it can take enormous courage for the shy ones to get out from behind the camera and ask permission. This woman took the step and it made her feel great. That's good, right?

    And for those who say there's nothing to be scared of -- well, then you guys are still working in your comfort zone. So get out of it, instead of dissing those who don't share it. But don't fool yourself that there aren't times when you will risk making someone angry, or having your gear stolen, or other unpleasantness. It does happen.

    I agree though that the image itself seems pushed to the limits. It could work well as a b&w, I think.

  • Diana Powell February 12, 2010 05:11 am

    I thought your article was inspiring as well. I liked your post processing work - I use topaz adjust to get those effects sometimes. The image certains tells the story for me. I don't think you were being overly dramatic. As a woman shooting alone it is difficult to go up to a stranger and ask them for permission to shoot. I have to be in a certain frame of mind before I can do that, lighthearted and happy. :)

    You don't mention whether you actually got a release from the man? I love to travel to locations to shoot and always try to get one or two "character" images. I do them for the memory of the moment, not for sale or publication, so I do not worry about a release. I'm not sure, but isn't the relase for commercial use anyway. If you have it posed in a gallery (on line) but not for sale, is it all that important? I agree that often if you have to do this you wind up staging, and my best character shots are spontaneous. One of my favorites were of two characters sitting (and drinking) on the river walk in New Orleans, and they had a good time mugging while I made the shot. I did ask their permission but not for a release.

  • Bill February 12, 2010 04:01 am

    There is no doubt in my mind that the photographer is great, but this article reads like a cheap Romance Novel from a used book store.

    I agree with cathode, grow up.

    What is going on here? The dPS newsletter used to have some substance to it.

  • Jana February 12, 2010 03:25 am

    I think it's a gorgeous photo and a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing!!! It brought tears to my eyes (yes I'm emotional and sensitive and even sappy commercials make me cry!!!) :-)

  • Bhumika February 12, 2010 02:28 am

    what a great story! the portrait captured my eyes immediately. such emotions in the picture!
    i feel so inspired

  • Whalebone February 10, 2010 07:44 am

    A great story and for me, the portrayed emotion is one of the reasons I think photography is so popular - exploring boundaries and apturing emotion within an image. A simple courtousy of asking to take a photo seems so difficult.

  • juan February 9, 2010 11:34 am

    You're right. But gathering the courage to do so is hard. I guess with time it should turn into something like buying eggs round the corner had you practiced!! I think is a matter of risking, at the end we could find ourselves not risking as much as we thought we would.

  • Greg Taylor February 9, 2010 09:59 am

    Very cool. I've done some street portrait photo work and it's amazing how much it takes sometimes to ask, " Can I take your photograph?" Leaving your comfort zone is a risk/reward thing for me. Some of my favorites portraits came from me being brave enough to ask if I could take them.

  • Karen Stuebing February 8, 2010 04:09 am

    I think that street photography should tell a story. I like to do stealth photography and then ask permission. Once you've staged it, you've lost the spontaneity. JMO.

    This photo illustrates that. What exactly is it meant to convey? I don't like to post negative comments about someone else's photography but I don't get it.

    I'm not the world' s greatest photographer by any means but out of the many photographs she took that would not have been my choice. Of course, I always like the photos other people don't myself. :)

    She posed him perfectly with the light hitting his face so what's up with the HDR software gone wild look?

  • Arun February 8, 2010 03:44 am

    I have to agree with Ken.. I'm not all for the processing that's been done to the pic..

    That apart, I'm not too keen on street photography either. I've done this exercise of strolling the streets, talking to strangers, shooting some candids - all for what? I mean, if you're not there for a story, what do you shoot?
    And by far, I've seen most such street shots of - beggars, people in illness, people in sadness, striken souls searching for happiness, slums, poor etc. Well, yes, I do know there's also the other part that few photographers shoot, but this beats them by great margins!

    Why is it that it's always a sad story that gets the front page?

    Like I said, unless I'm trying to document a trip/story, I try not to cover myself with street photography. It can be aimless! That's my opinion though. I know some who're wholly into it!

  • Bridget Casas February 8, 2010 02:53 am

    I also don't have the courage to ask strangers. Then there is the matter of model releases. How do you handle that when you are on a photo walk? You don't want to miss out on having a great shot and then not being able to use it any where. I guess you need a good sherpa to help out!

  • Susan February 8, 2010 02:14 am

    This is a fantastic story. One error though..Katrina was in 2005, not 2006.

  • Ken February 8, 2010 01:05 am

    I agree this is a great story, and an inspiration - I have not yet had the courage to approach people in the street like this either.

    But - while I appreciate the circumstances in which the photo used to illustrate the story was taken, and there is a lot of atmosphere in the shot itself, I do have to ask - what on earth did she do to that poor image in post?

    There's a weird luminous fringe behind the man and a dark fringe in front of him, the background looks artificially (and distractingly) blurred, and the contrast is weird. Too much "shadow & highlight" adjustment? Why are his fingers blurred?

    I guess what I'm saying is that I would have preferred a light touch, and the degree of post-processing spoils the image for me.

  • George Estrada February 7, 2010 11:34 pm

    This is a great piece! I have so often felt the same way, apprehensive, when it comes to taking the next step. Especially with strangers. And I totally feel too creepy taking pictures of people without their permission.

    Thanks for this story, judging from the result on this piece I am now ready to take some chances.


  • Brian February 7, 2010 06:55 pm

    Wow, powerful photo, the sunbeam coming through and the smoke in it plus the expression. Knowing what's behind the story makes this a photo to stare at and take in.

  • Wendy McLaughlin February 7, 2010 01:58 pm

    What a wonderful story! I've always wanted to do something like that but never had the guts. This story really inspires me at a perfect time. I've known I am going to photograph a friend's wedding in October for about a week now. It's going to be my first wedding and I'm kinda nervous. However, I now realize that it's the bringing me out of my comfort zone that is making me so uncomfortable!!

  • MeiTeng February 7, 2010 01:09 pm

    Inspiring! :)

  • Cathode February 7, 2010 11:53 am

    Wow, what an over-written, over-wraught piece.

    Talk to people, what a revelation!

    I have never been turned down by someone I encouter in the street whose portrait I ask to shoot. Not once.

    I often have to head into the streets with a video camera and get people to comment on the news of the day for a national news agency, and its not that big a deal.

    Ask. Be friendly. Be polite. You get turned down. No problem. You get a thumbs-up, make the shot and move on. Don't be a hero about it.

    Grow up,


  • Ron February 7, 2010 11:41 am

    I applaud you for being able to 'cross that bridge' but I am not clear what was causing the intimidation. I can understand caution in unfamiliar circumstances but 'street photography' always carries the risk of rejection, or inciting anger but I have found, more often than not, acceptance and graciousness. I would like to believe, maybe naively, in the good of people rather than its opposite.

  • SexyNinjaMonkey February 7, 2010 10:29 am

    Awesome work, It's great to see you pushing your bounaries.
    I hope this works out so we can see more of your work.

    I do forget how hard that first approach can be, took me a long time to get used to it, these days they almost have to push me off when doin this kind of street stuff.

    But great to see you getting out there Tas, if you ever make it to Aus let me know and I will prepare a big photowalk.

  • Anna K February 7, 2010 09:27 am

    Well-timed for me as well.

    I had a similar (though not as significant) experience in my photography life - but once you are beyond the awkward, beyond the challenge, beyond the extinct to avoid eye-contact, you realize you have an even stronger foundation to base your work on.

    I thought I was the only one.

  • Cai Graham February 7, 2010 07:54 am

    Again, a well timed post for me !
    Thank you .... I so need to cast aside my comfort blanket.
    Push the boundaries and explore what lies beyond self doubt.

    I alway tell my kids - "what's the worst that can happen ?"

    Perhaps I should start practicing what I preach.

    Thank you

  • Miguel Carvajal February 7, 2010 07:20 am

    Wow! What a great story. I wish I too had a group of people to go taking photos with, because I think this would help me gain more confidence in asking a stranger if I could take their picture.