The Difficulties of Being a Socially Anxious Photographer

Being a photographer who shoots people in some capacity requires the distinct ability to readily socialize with near-complete strangers and build engagement and trust in a relatively short timespan. For those who are introverted and/or socially anxious, that challenge is doubled. Here's how one successful photographer deals with that.

When I first started riding horses, I was put on a very feisty thoroughbred that was a bit beyond my ability to handle because he was the only horse in the barn big enough for my tall frame. For the first few months, every ride would eventually devolve into bucking and bolting, and it wasn't until I realized that I was the root of the problem that things got better. I was telegraphing my own anxiousness to the horse, and he was responding by assuming he had something to be worried about, which created the vicious circle that led to disaster each ride. When I learned to project a sense of calmness even if I was a ball of nerves, things instantly improved. It's not unlike that with a client; if you project condience and "take comfort in their discomfort," as Ortiz' wife puts it, it can be much easier to work. Check out the thoughtful video by Manny Ortiz above for more thoughts on the subject. 

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Deleted Account's picture

Interesting. I wonder if he has the same issue I do after "turning on" for a photo shoot. Afterward, I am absolutely exhausted and need to "recharge my battery." Introverts tend feel spent after social interactions. Whereas, extroverts are energized by the interaction.

Robert Nurse's picture

Wow! I thought it was just me! I am no social butterfly! I don't know if this is the right thing to do. But, with people I'm unfamiliar with, I go in honestly: "Hey, I'm always a little nervous in the first few minutes. But, we'll warm up as time goes on". And, it always works out that way. I can even see it in the work. The best shots are midway and towards the end of shoots.

Jonathan Brady's picture

I'm definitely introverted. And the irony is that I'm a pharmaceutical sales rep, so theoretically I should be VERY extroverted. As DJ Mac said, I am SPENT at the end of each day and I need time to myself to recharge and be present for my family. Usually, it's me cooking dinner before my wife gets home after work with the kids.
When it comes to photo shoots and any social interaction in general, it's definitely a GREAT idea to do what Manny said and ask a lot of questions. Get the other person talking, for three reasons... 1) if you're introverted it takes the pressure off of you, 2) whatever you ask the other person, you can always chime in once they're finished and provide your version of whatever the topic was, and you can keep it short AND use that as an opportunity to ask the next question, and 3) research shows that when people speak more than 50% of the time during a conversation, they're more likely to think positively of the other person (in other words, they like them) and feel like they care about them (ie, they listened).
As I mentioned, I'm in pharmaceutical sales and I ask a TON of questions and I try and keep my answers as succinct as possible. Most sales reps (any industry) feel like they have to be constantly talking and I believe, that's where the negative stigma towards salespeople comes from (that and dishonesty). Because these people don't shut up, they don't appear to care about the other person and they don't give the other person the chance to share some of themselves (which could get them over that 50% threshold).

Kirk Darling's picture

I realized some time ago that my camera was both a ticket and a shield. It gave me a rationale to be there, and it kept me from having to validate being there by virtue of my own personality. It gave me a subject for interaction with others while at the same time being immersed in my own activity. And as has been mentioned, yes, I'm drained afterward...which is one of reasons I do still miss the therapeutic benefits of spending the subsequent hours in a cool, dim, analog darkroom, with the constant trickle of water in the print washer and some smooth, light jazz (no heavy bass--it vibrates the enlarger) on the stereo.

Toastmasters also helps. I am an introvert (INTP on the Meyers-Briggs).