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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!