Navigating New Challenges and Anxiety: A Photographers Guide

a drone photo of a woman taking pictures of cattle

Recently I was asked the question, “When I will stop feeling so much anxiety about photoshoots or just starting something new in general?”

As a photographer, each day brings new challenges constantly coming up with new ways to express myself creatively. Starting a new photography business was exhilarating, but steeped with the daily challenge of will I be good enough for the job.

I can say that after over 900 photoshoots and 14 years of experience, I’m still confronted with a whirlwind of emotions before each shoot. Admittedly there is usually a persistent shadow of anxiety looming in the background.

There’s the thrill of creativity, the anticipation of capturing something extraordinary! But beneath it all, there’s an undeniable anxiety.

Will the lighting cooperate? Will my clients be pleased with the results? Will all the elements come together for me and will I remember all the things that we talked about in the consult?

These questions bounce around in my head, a constant reminder of the weight of responsibility that comes with being a photographer.

I recently had a new photographer ask me, “Why am I still experiencing anxiety, even after two years of shooting professionally? The feeling of anxiety about performing a job that we seemingly feel completely competent in is all too common across any platform where we are challenging ourselves in a new area.

To combat this anxiety, I have employed a fake it till you make it approach at times. It is somewhat helpful because if I seem confident in my abilities, the contagiousness of that attitude will rub off on my clients helping them to feel relaxed and confident as well! Beyond that thought here are some solid principles that I have employed that keep me solid and steady when it comes to managing my emotions before and during the shoot!

Questionnaires and Consultations

Always send out a questionnaire and conduct a consultation leading up to the shoot day. This preliminary step is crucial for me, especially as a shy introvert. It allows me to get to know my clients a little beforehand, easing any nerves. Each new shoot can feel like a first date—we’re unsure of what to expect from each other. But preparation goes a long way in calming anxieties.

Take the time to answer their questions and plan out the shoot details.

  • Where to meet
  • What to wear
  • The locations
  • Timing

Document everything and organize it in your calendar for easy reference. I personally use a platform called HoneyBook for this purpose.

Remember, they are just as nervous as you are! This shoot is significant to them, and they want it to go smoothly. By calming their nerves and establishing yourself as the authority, you’re also reinforcing your confidence in yourself.

Balancing Authority and Collaboration in Photography

With that being said, balancing the role of being in charge is a delicate tightrope to walk. On one hand, there’s the need to assert authority, direct the flow of the shoot, and ensure everything runs smoothly. On the other, you want to strive to foster collaboration and create an environment where clients feel comfortable and empowered.

It’s a delicate dance, one that requires finesse and adaptability. During the shoot, checking in with your clients is key. Observe their body language to be sure they are at ease. When suggesting poses, gauge their comfort level, asking if it feels natural to them.

Throughout the shoot, provide positive feedback, acknowledge their efforts, and simultaneously request their input on locations and poses. This collaborative approach ensures that both their vision and comfort are prioritized, resulting in authentic photos.

Technical vs. Creative Balance

Muscle memory is pivotal in navigating the balance between technical proficiency and creative expression in photography. If you find yourself struggling with camera settings during a shoot, dedicate time to familiarizing yourself with your camera in everyday situations.

When I first began my journey, I photographed everything around me – trees, animals, birds, cars, anything that caught my eye. I made sure these were very low-pressure situations where no one was staring at me or expecting an outcome. Carrying your camera everywhere and actively using it is crucial. Trust me – over time, adjusting camera settings becomes second nature, freeing up mental space to focus on the artistic aspects of photography.

As you grow more comfortable with your camera and its settings, you’ll avoid those awkward moments of fumbling around, allowing your camera to serve as a reliable anchor while you immerse yourself in the creative process of the shoot.

On the other hand, even with experience, there are times when I still find myself making mistakes with my camera settings. It’s a reminder that nobody is perfect, and it’s important to be patient with yourself as you continue to learn. These moments of imperfection are opportunities for growth and development in your photography journey.

Break it down into small steps

When tackling big goals, it’s essential to break them down into smaller, more manageable steps. Often, looking too far ahead can be overwhelming as the big picture might seem daunting. Instead, focus on identifying the very first step and commit to completing it. Once that initial step is accomplished, move on to the next one.

By taking it one step at a time, you gradually progress towards your goal without feeling overwhelmed. Each completed step builds momentum and confidence, propelling you forward. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself at the finish line, having achieved what once seemed insurmountable. Remember, progress is made through consistent effort and taking small, actionable steps toward your goals.

Making a list

Making a list can be an effective way to cope when feeling overwhelmed by a project or life in general. Not only does a to-do list help in organizing tasks, but compiling a list of reasons for the anxiety can also be incredibly beneficial. It’s a method of bringing concerns to light and confronting them directly. Often, insecurities can feel overwhelming when they’re swirling around in one’s mind, but seeing them written out makes them more manageable.

If the situation feels too overwhelming, it’s helpful to run the list by a trusted confidant or cheerleader. They have a knack for debunking worries and offering a more positive perspective. It’s remarkable how much better one can feel when their sneaky little ego is no longer hiding in the shadows of their mind. 

Honesty in Client Communication

Transparency is key when starting something new, especially when it comes to your clients. While there’s a certain effectiveness to the “fake it till you make it” approach in building confidence, there’s also value in being honest and open about your level of experience.

If you’re venturing into unfamiliar territory, don’t hesitate to communicate that to your clients. Let them know upfront, “I’m new to this area, but I’m eager to give it my best shot.” Offering a discounted rate with the disclaimer that it’s a one-time deal can help manage expectations. After completing the job, ask for feedback so you can learn and improve for next time.

When your clients are aware that you’re learning, they’ll have realistic expectations. This gives you the space to explore and learn through trial and error without making unrealistic promises. Ultimately, honesty builds trust and fosters a healthy client relationship.

As photographers, we’re deeply invested in the experiences of our clients

Yet, despite the comfort of muscle memory, and all the preparation we can withstand, from my perspective, for me the anxiety never truly dissipates. I have just learned how to navigate it with systems and strategies. As photographers, we’re deeply invested in the experiences of our clients, and in the stories we help to tell through our images. We, to a fault, carry a sense of responsibility, and a desire to surpass expectations and create something truly memorable for our clients.

With that being said I’ve come to understand that clients, as a rule, are never as critical as we are of our own work. This insight is liberating because it illuminates a fundamental truth: our harshest critic is often ourselves.

Love is contagious. Bring it with you wherever you go. It’s the magic formula that transforms a simple photoshoot into a profound experience—one where clients are truly seen.

Falling in love with our subjects is the final piece of the puzzle, the secret sauce that elevates our work from good to extraordinary. When we connect with our clients on a deeper level, when we see beyond the surface, they feel it. They shine not just for our camera, but from within, radiating beauty, confidence, and grace.

Our ultimate goal is not just to capture moments, but to create a feeling.

When our clients look back at their photos, they don’t just see images—they remember how they felt in that moment. They remember the laughter, the connection, and the love.

So, for anyone struggling with anxiety, remember this: embrace it, for it is a sign of your passion and dedication. Ground yourself in moments of stillness and reflection. Infuse each shoot with passion, enthusiasm, and genuine connection. And above all, fall in love with your subjects, because when you do, you can truly experience the magic of photography—the ability to capture not just moments, but the essence of the human spirit.

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