How I Deal With Anxiety When Working With Models

How I Deal With Anxiety When Working With Models

Photography is far from merely pressing the shutter; it encompasses so many people’s skills. So, what can you do to help yourself feel more comfortable working with strangers?

Based on my personality, there is no surprise that I enjoy wedding and street photography, where I focus on documenting the right moments and creating a visual narrative of what I am seeing and experiencing, which means intense one-on-one interaction is a miniscule part of it. 

However, when I am shooting models or clients in a more personal way, such as intimate boudoir or sensual portraiture, I feel like I need to focus more on mentally preparing myself than worrying about the actual technicalities of the shoot. If you’re the same as me and enjoy the creative process, but feel anxious just thinking about photographing someone in a one-on-one situation, what steps can you take to make it a positive experience?

Preparation

Every photographer has their own rituals and ways of preparing for a shoot, and whatever they are, I believe they’re an integral part of ensuring we’re feeling our best before the shoot. For example, because I often end up running around and tiring myself out during a shoot, I like to decide on the clothes I’ll be wearing for maximum comfort and confidence. Equally, there’s nothing I dislike more than rushing, so I always go over my equipment a few times to check I’ve got everything I might need and everything has been charged up and is accessible. It may seem obvious to many, but having these little rituals can really enhance how you feel at the start of your session.

A young woman sat on an armchair

Pre-shoot Conversations

Photography to me is not a technical exercise; therefore, I find it crucial to ease myself and my model into the shoot by having generic conversation with a cup of tea or coffee beforehand. To me, this pre-shoot bonding has always been important in slowly creating a good rapport, and the conversation doesn’t necessarily have to revolve around the shoot. I like to get to know my models and clients, and finding something in common or simply sharing stories about my experiences helps me slow down tremendously. Not just that, it also acts as a warmup for the model before jumping in front of the camera and helps me observe their personality and body language.

Music

Unless I’m outdoors, music is a must for me. Finding the right playlist that brings out the mood for the shoot has become a ritual for me, because while it can help the model to relax and move their body in the rhythm, it also helps me enjoy the shooting process more. Having that sound in the background allows me to focus on shooting, instead of feeling like I have got to keep up the tempo and continue converse. Sometimes, even familiar playlists can help me slow myself down and remind me that everything is fine, I just need to relax myself a bit more. 

A young blond woman laid down on the bed.

Small Breaks

I’m definitely not one to shoot continuously for hours, whether I am in front or behind the camera. I use small breaks throughout the shoot to make a cup of coffee while I upload a part of the shoot into Lightroom. Depending on the type of the shoot and whether I am shooting with a client or a model, I sometimes use this time to do a few quick edits, discuss the shoot with the model, learn more about the type of imagery they enjoy, and share my thoughts or ideas about the shoot. 

Often I’d also show models some of the photography books I’ve made or acquired, because I enjoy exchanging thoughts with another creative as much as I enjoy the actual process of shooting. If it’s a collaboration, this is even more prevalent because I want us both to go away from the shoot feeling like we gained something; therefore, these small exchanges of conversations throughout the shoot allow me to collate and process my own thoughts and how I want to proceed with the shoot. 

No Negativity

I’ve been in shoots where the photographer projects their self-consciousness onto everyone else involved, and I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of it. When I photograph models, I try to focus on the positive and steer away from being critical of myself and of the model. It is important for me to keep the atmosphere warm, welcoming, and judgment free; therefore, I don’t point out anything negative about the model, but simply move on. If I’m not keen on their pose or the angle I am using, I simply move on by adjusting my way of shooting or suggesting a new idea for their posing. This way, I don’t bring attention to things that aren’t important in the long run but can greatly affect the other person’s mood and confidence, which in return, helps me focus on enjoying myself and being excited about the result and also cultivates a positive environment for artistic experimentation.

This doesn't mean, however, that I would ignore situations where a model is behaving rudely or obnoxiously, and if things weren’t working out for one reason or another, I’d simply say I think I’ve got enough images today. 

A young woman holding pages of a fashion magazine.

Cooldown

The same way I warm up for the shoot, I also do a brief cooldown. Instead of waving my goodbyes to the model as soon as I put down my camera, I like to return back to normal by having a chat about the shoot, the work we created, and other generic topics. I find this to be a pleasant way of finishing a session, because creativity can be emotionally and physically exhausting, so it’s a way of ensuring we both go back to the regular world feeling refreshed and excited about the results and any potential future collaborations. 

Do you have any tips for combating anxiety when working closely with people? Share with us!

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27 Comments

Eric Raeber's picture

I think a little anxiety is good. It shows that you are out of your comfort zone, expanding your horizons, and with the desire to produce the best possible work. When anxiety makes place to routine, time might have come to explore a new field.

Jarrett Rathert's picture

Anxiety is not nervousness. Having anxiety is not something that magically disappears if one was to switch jobs.

telling someone that because they have anxiety they should switch jobs is absolutely silly. They probably absolutely love their job, but that doesn't mean it's not going to give them anxiety.

user-156929's picture

There's quite a difference between occasional, situational anxiety and anxiety disorder.

Jarrett Rathert's picture

anxiety orders are not curable. they can be controlled, in some cases with medication. but not all. To dispell anxiety disorders as normal is so far from the truth. Clearly you dont know anyone who suffers from an anxiety disorder.

Jarrett Rathert's picture

I was talking to you, John, and your comment saying Anxiety is treatable.

Jarrett Rathert's picture

just stop talking. clearly you have no grasp on what an anxiety disorder is. You're just making yourself look stupid.

Jarrett Rathert's picture

And now you're going around and harassing me by sending me emails from my website? Really shows the type of person you are....

Jarrett Rathert's picture

Next time you send someone a cryptic email message when using a fake email address, dont use the same name you use on here.... tip for your next creepy stalker-ish encounter. Again, proving how stupid you are.

Jarrett Rathert's picture

It was clearly you, as I removed my website from my profile BEFORE you decided to go "take a look"

Stop playing stupid. You have been reported for harassment.

Jarrett Rathert's picture

You think you're so hilarious. Good job getting half the information about me you think you have, incorrect.

Also, I thank you for continuing to send me emails, as I now have more information on you as well. Using website contact forms isn't very secure if you wish to remain as anonymous as you appear to want to.

As per your email, I am not calling you stupid for your "opinion" I am calling you stupid for ignoring legitimate medical conditions as such.

Jarrett Rathert's picture

I am not the one sending emails, digging through personal information, etc. That is you. You need to learn age doesn't give you a free pass to act like an asshole on the Internet, old man.

Jarrett Rathert's picture

What would you call someone who goes online, digs for personal information about someone, sends them harassing emails, tries to deny it, then does it again? I call them an asshole. Maybe you have your own word for it?

Normal people don't do that.

and don't call me son, if I was your son and knew you acted this way I would cut off contact with you immediately. Does your child know you are online stalking people?

Crystal Johnson's picture

Oh please, plenty of people in major careers are anxious. It's a biological response to certain situations. If you think a career choice has anything to do with it you're sadly mistaken. This is why those in athletic fields do pre-game rituals and warmups, they hype themselves up. Same goes for public speakers, Surgeons or anyone that has to deal with an uncertain situation. You can love what you do, but it does not negate a biological response.

user-156929's picture

You're probably not pushing yourself. I'm not saying that's good or bad but, there it is.

Crystal Johnson's picture

Just because you don't it does not mean other people share your same feelings. To say one should stop doing their job because they feel anxious is absurd.

Crystal Johnson's picture

What follow? lol...

Regardless of her possible medical issues, I don't see why you feel the need to rain on her parade by acting toxic. It's great YOU do not have anxiety issues, some people are not so lucky. This article may very well help someone.

Anete Lusina's picture

I like your perspective on it Crystal!

Anete Lusina's picture

I thank you for your attempt to diagnose me John, but I'm sure many people will agree that fear or anxiousness isn't a sign we should be put inside a box never to try doing something we love. Let me put it this way, I had enormous fear every time I had a driving lesson but I pushed through and I bloody enjoy the drive now.

Anete Lusina's picture

There's nothing like the invaluable advice nobody asked for from a stranger online, haha!

user-146450's picture

I like the article. Even if the photographer is not nervous many models even if professional have off days and u know also have issues over their bodies. In order to get the best for u both i think it is best to find some familiar ground to connect on. It is quite amazing how the level of connectedness or not shows through the image.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

"If your work makes you that nervous, you are in the wrong field."
If your work doesn't make you even a little teeny bit nervous (anxious) you've been doing the same thing for too long, not taking any chances or "stretching" or it is so simple you don't need to think about it.

I have a DVD about Avedon putting up a show in Paris, after finally finished hanging the photos, they went to dinner and when they came back at midnight he said it all sucked and they should redo the exhibit with half the photos. He was nervous about his work (Avedon!) and the reaction it would get.

I recently did a shoot where the 1/2 day location rental alone was $4700. Damn right I was anxious spending a lot of the client's money on something I set up.... And I have been shooting for 30 years about 20 in this specialty.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

LoL I am really not sure how you got that out of my statement.

It's great that you have had thousands of exhibitions around the world, are you showing anything in LA?

Chris Cameron's picture

Search You Tube for Nerves vs Excitement by Simon Sinek. Nice idea to change your mindset.

Photography is not an anxious or stressful job, it’s fun, it’s a pleasure and it’s much simpler and easier that what most people on this planet have to do to earn a crust.

I just stood for an hour on Sunday morning respectfully remembering young, barely trained war veterans that went out and died for their country 100yrs ago, no choice, no opt out. They were told ‘you will probably die or spend several years in a muddy trench, defending your country..’ that’s anxiety....

Millennials again... had it all to soft and easy, never hurt, never cried, never bled, never worked any tough hard manual labour.... never found yourselves...

Stop playing at life through social media and get out there and meet and engage with real people, get out of your comfort zone and discover who you are and realise we’ve never had it so easy...

I agree, photography is not an anxious or stressful job. But photographing people successfully is less about photography and much more about making a connection with your subject. You can be the most proficient photographer in the world, but your portraits will look lifeless and uninteresting if you are unable to make a connection with your subject.

There is so much more at work than the mere mechanical act of turning a few dials and pressing a few buttons - or at least there should be. And it's that non-photography part that is the biggest challenge and the cause of of much of the stress.

The secret, I believe, is to channel that stress into building empathy and understanding for and with your subject. This is something that some can do better than others. Many photographers hide behind their cameras, working like automatons - and it shows in their work. The very best have an innate ability to connect with their subjects at a deep level - and again, it shows in their work.

Anete Lusina's picture

Couldn't agree more with you there!