Dealing With Fear as a Photographer

Fear is a dangerous thing. We all have to find ways to deal with it and maybe even use it to our advantage. Unfortunately, I let fear make decisions early in my career, and I'm still feeling the effects. If you struggle with putting your work out in the open, maybe you can learn from my mistakes. 

It can be easy for people in a creative field to associate their self worth with their work. Vulnerability is a daily reality. If you identify as a photographer, it can be intimidating to make your work available to be judged, accepted, or rejected; your skills and by proxy, your identity, are measured. This is what I dealt with during and shortly after graduating from college. 

In this video, I talk about how I deal with fear now versus earlier in my career and how fear can be used to propel you forward. 

Throughout my 20s, I worked in the photo industry, but instead of making images full-time like I wanted to, I kept my creativity at arm's length. It was close enough to point to and remind myself that I've done some work I was proud of at one time, but far enough away that I didn't have to test my skills, and in that way, I insulated myself from failure. 

Of course, I didn't realize it at the time, but I was terrified of failing as a photographer. Being a photographer was who I was. It was how I introduced myself to people. I had thought of myself as a "photographer" since I was a teenager. I felt that if I failed as a photographer, then I would fail as a person. 

That, of course, wasn't true. Even so, I became more preoccupied with not failing than succeeding. I didn't do work, and I became bitter towards people that did. I became depressed, and for a while, I gave up the idea of ever shooting again. It was that bad. 

As I've neared my thirties, I've turned introspective. It took a long time to realize what I've written above and said in the video. Fortunately, I'm dealing with those feelings of fear and have started using fear to my advantage.

Now, more than failure, I fear regret. I regret letting fear make those decisions for me when I was just starting. Feeling that sting of disappointment now makes me not want any more, so I've made conscious decisions to address fear. I've learned to get excited if I feel afraid to approach a client, submit to a contest, or pitch an idea. That fear is a signifier that I should keep going, and that doing so will help me grow as a creative, as a business owner, and as a person. 

Posting these things on a site that used to give me anxiety when I was younger is, I think, a step in the right direction. I'm writing this article for two reasons, the first being a therapeutic exercise for myself. The second reason is for anyone who might be going through something similar. I think if I had been exposed to someone talking about fear in such blunt terms earlier, I might have been able to call it what it was far sooner and do something about it. 

How do you handle fear? 

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9 Comments

Travis Ackerman's picture

It's so funny that you post this article today. I've dealt with/deal with those same fears, both of failure and regret. This weekend I finally submitted into a photo contest for the first time and I spent most of today working on building a website. Hopefully they're steps to moving past that fear. Thanks for reassuring people that they're not alone in those feelings!

Timothy Gasper's picture

Maybe it's not 'funny' that he posted this article today. Maybe it's....kismet. After looking at some of your photos I'd say you don't have anything to fear. I never enter contests and the photos I posted are definitely not my best works. I keep them to myself or with the agencies I shot for. Keep up the good work. Just fine.

Travis Ackerman's picture

Thank you very much!

Zac Henderson's picture

Congratulations, Travis. Not alone at all!

Peter Abzug's picture

Thank you so much for this video. I can relate to every word. As you said, if something is challenging, then it's probably worth pursuing. It reminds me of John Kennedy's famous quote: "We go to the moon not because it's easy, but because it is hard." And as Franklin Roosevelt said in the depths of the 1930s depression, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Fear is a powerful emotion that hits the gut. But you're correct in saying that if you accept and own the feeling, we can use it to harness our courage. Best of luck on your new YouTube channel!

Zac Henderson's picture

Thank you Peter!

Owain Shaw's picture

Hey Zac - I left you a comment on YouTube but wanted to show some support here too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, fears and how you're overcoming or working with them. Fear is something many of us photographers (and creatives in general) struggle with, often in different ways over the years.

I've recently gone through a similar process with uploading a video to YouTube for the first time as well ... I don't speak to camera in mine but I was still a bit anxious about putting what I had created online for all to see. Thus far the reaction has been pretty positive. Pushing through the fear isn't easy but it's worth it. I now need to keep this attitude going, and apply it to other areas ... and that will again be easier said than done.

Zac Henderson's picture

Hi Owain. Thanks for the kind words. I don't think anyone ever completely overcomes fear, so we just have to find ways to deal with it and use it productively. Sub'd to your channel :-)

Owain Shaw's picture

Hey Zac. Likewise, subscribed to yours too. Agreed, there's always an element of fear, though it may manifest itself in different ways, and we have to try to minimise its negative effects and use it to strive for the things we want to achieve with our work. All the best in working with yours.