Photographers are often introverts, including myself, and tend to shy away from people during social situations, preferring to observe what is happening around them. In fact, I think that this is one of my character traits that drew me to photography in the first place – I loved that it was an activity I could do by myself, interacting only with the environment, instead of people.
All of this changed when I knew I wanted to turn my hobby into a living. Sure, there are types of photography that would have allowed me to keep to myself such as landscape, real estate, food or product photography, but I realised that it was inevitable that I would have to start interacting with people, whether it was paying clients or the subjects themselves. However, it takes time to learn not to let your nerves get the better of you.
Try these tips to help you overcome your shyness when photographing people in a variety of different shooting situations:
Over the years, I’ve read countless books and websites about how to be able to interact with people better. What I’ve come to realise is that it all boils down to the energy you project. If you’re nervous when you walk into a professional shoot, this will make the clients uneasy. If you're working with both clients and subjects for fashion or editorial shoots, the models could feel nervous too. Confidence is something people react positively too.
This might sound cheesy, but right before a big shoot, I always play out the entire shoot in my head exactly like I want it to happen, right down to the points of conversation I can have with my subjects, and it helps to put my mind at ease.
Portraiture is a collaborative process and there's no doubt that subjects that are happy to be photographed will take better photos than those who don't want their photos taken, which is why you need to be able to connect with the people you are shooting, whether it's individuals, kids or couples.
Most of the fear that people have when being photographed stems from the fact that they don’t know what’s going to happen. They're often just as nervous as you are. Make sure to communicate exactly what’s going to happen in the shoot, and what kinds of shots you’re planning to take. The explanation doesn’t have to be technical, what’s important is to make your subject feel comfortable and that they are a part of the process.
While shooting portraits, make sure you give out proper directions and after a couple of shots, show them the photos that you’ve taken so far, point out things that work and things that don’t.
Something I used to fear even more than taking portraits of strangers, was taking event photos. This includes everything from celebrations such as weddings and parties, to festivals and business launches. There was something about being in a room full of strangers who already knew each other that filled me with dread.
What I quickly found out was that the camera gave me a reason to be there and I could use it as a tool to help me talk to people. People who go to events expect to have their photos taken and unless they actually ask you not to shoot them, will usually be willing subjects.
The problem of nerves often arises while travelling and taking photos of people in the street. It’s already daunting to be in a different cultural setting, with people who speak another language, before trying to figure out a way to ask if it’s okay for them to be photographed.
One the best things you can do to prepare for these moments is to do most of the research before leaving for your trip. Read up on the culture, their religious beliefs and the political climate of the place you will be visiting. Talk to people who have been there before and look through the geotags in different social media sites to see the sites where photography is allowed and where it's not.
When you’re in the place itself, remember to be polite and respectful. Tell them who you are, where you’re from, why you want to take their portrait and what you will be using it for. Most of the time, they will feel flattered that you asked to take a photograph of them and will most likely say yes, but on the rare times that they say no, don’t take offense and move along.