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You know the feeling; shyness around strangers, dreading new situations, sleepless nights worrying, completely self-conscious in a crowd, thinking that everyone is judging you. In short, a fear of people.
Your fear and inhibition are like having “stage fright” in everyday life. All of this leads to you suppressing your personality, your creativity, and any chance to share your gift of photography with your culture and the world. All of this fear is dangerous because it blocks your creativity, making you become miserable and anxious.
But there is hope for you because many folks have overcome their fear of people and gone on to thrive as photographers. Below are five exercises that will help you to conquer your fear of people too.
“If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie
The way to overcome self-consciousness, fear, and shyness is to practice the healthy opposite.
What is the healthy opposite of fear and inhibition? Having a healthy confidence, the ability to enjoy other people, and the courage to try your best and accept constructive criticism. Here’s how you can work toward that.
Without healthy goals to aspire to, your life will be stagnant. You need a goal or you have nothing to move toward. Here’s a good goal for you if you’re a fearful photographer. Aim to become a creative photographer who is comfortable and confident with people.
Setting a goal doesn’t help you much unless you’ve got some steps to achieve it. Let’s see how to practice the healthy opposite of fear so that you can become “a creative photographer who is comfortable and confident with people.”
Begin with the smallest steps possible, and gradually improve from there.
If you’re afraid of people, you probably don’t speak much. You’re likely afraid of having your ideas rejected, giving damaging advice, or being locked in a heated debate. But as long as you’re a kind and thoughtful person, these things aren’t likely to happen often.
The worst part about speaking up is the nervousness you feel just before saying something. Ignore that “stage fright.” Overcome it by saying something small. Don’t go big, just practice by making small talk.
Perhaps you’re interested in street photography, but you’re so afraid of people that you could never ask for a portrait of them. You could practice getting comfortable by making small talk with strangers. Don’t even bring your camera along, that’s too much pressure. Just practice small talk.
Once you get over that initial discomfort of striking up a little conversation, asking strangers to take their picture won’t be as scary.
Another way to become comfortable working with people is to get a job working at a department store portrait studio. If you work during the Christmas rush you’ll have the opportunity to photograph hundreds of families.
Because it’s your job, you’ll be forced to talk with them. This repetition will help you get over your fear of talking with people. Remember, you’re not there for the photography itself. You’re there to practice talking with people so that you can get over your fear and move toward your goal of being a creative photographer who is comfortable and confident with people.
If you’re not sure how to start a conversation, start by noticing something that you can sincerely compliment a person about. Self-consciousness and fear paralyze you by keeping you focused on yourself in negative ways. If you’re always self-conscious, then you need to just take the spotlight off yourself by focusing on other people instead.
When you focus on offering people compliments two things will likely happen. First your attention is turned away from yourself and on to them. Second, your mind is turned away from negative thoughts (about yourself) and toward positive thoughts (about them) instead.
When I was a senior portrait photographer I would always find some little thing to compliment students about. If it was obvious that they spent a lot of time on their hair, that’s the compliment I gave. Maybe they had a great smile, or were funny, or we had something in common.
Focusing on the other person and having something nice to say will build bridges and help you to overcome your fear and discomfort around people.
You may quickly get over the fear of talking to people or the anxiety you feel over negative thoughts about yourself. But how about receiving criticism of your photographs? This is one of the worst things imaginable for some photographers.
If you panic or become consumed with anxiety and want to “just give up” over the slightest criticism of your photos, then you need to learn to take criticism better. It’s not comfortable at first, but it can be done.
First, admit that you are not perfect and that you should always focus on improvement. Be humble and admit that some healthy criticism could actually help you.
Second, seek it out. That’s right, go looking for critiques! Look for people who are better than you who can show you how to improve. You want to grow as a person and a photographer don’t you? Ask successful people how you can be better.
Third, visualize criticism. You can practice receiving the image critique comfortably before actually receiving it. Close your eyes and imagine someone saying, “These photos are terrible” or “That’s not your best work.” Just imagine hearing those words. Get over the shock and uncomfortable feelings. How could you respond to their harshness in a positive way?
Do you think it seems weird to use your imagination this way? Yes, it may seem strange at first. But it’s exactly how you’re already using your imagination.
Your self-conscious fear is leading you to imagine what people are thinking and saying about you. Your imagination is causing you to fear criticism and be paralyzed instead of receiving it graciously, improving, and moving forward toward your goal of being a creative photographer who is confident and comfortable with people.
Consider who you are receiving the criticism or critique from. If you post photos online, you’re eventually going to receive harsh criticism from someone, solicited or not. The internet is an easy place for people to be mean and remain anonymous.
Please feel free to ignore people who are harsh and cruel. But always listen to the constructive criticism by other photographers who actually care about you and want to help. Their insights can be very valuable, making you a better photographer.
Your fear and shyness of people may come from your honest desire not to bother anyone. You avoid saying or doing the wrong thing. But are you also avoiding friendship and positive interaction too?
Begin with small talk and offer compliments. Become comfortable with conversation and criticism. Once you’ve done this then opening up and going deeper with people won’t be so hard.
Do you know what you might discover? You’re not alone in your fears. Other people (and especially photographers) are afraid too. And they’ll be thankful that you spoke up, and shared your ideas and your creativity. Courage is contagious.
I used to be terrible with people, especially with kids. But I used all of the ideas above to break out of my shyness and conquer my fear of people. I still feel uncomfortable at times. But now I run my own photography business specializing in people! Whether it’s families or individual portraits, I’m able to connect with people and help them to feel comfortable in front of the camera.
If your goal is to become a creative photographer who is comfortable and confident with people, follow the steps above. It’ll take time, but start small and soon you’ll be thriving among people.