Being scared/embarrassed to take photos in public (or just generally of people) is something every photographer will have faced up to at some point in their career, and I feel once I finally manage to overcome it then nothing else will seem as difficult.
It all comes from the confidence you exude as a photographer. Act confident and you will feel confident. It’s very easy to imagine when it’s written like that, but I’ve discovered a few little tricks I like to play on my mind which will hopefully give you the edge on conquering the fear and appearing more confident than you perhaps are on the inside.
Take lots of photos – Take them wherever you are, in your home, on your own, with company. Learn your camera inside out. I know this is probably what every single photography website tells you to do, and it is most definitely the first step to becoming more confident in public places with your camera. I find that when I don’t think I know my camera’s settings well enough to quickly get the shot I’m seeing in my head, the less likely I would be to get my camera out and give it a try. By practising in as many conditions as possible (you can do the majority of tests at home) you’re widening your knowledge and becoming more familiar with how to make a great shot in any condition. Here Jasmine Star details her light bulb moment about conquering her camera :
When I first started, I was on the beach shooting and I was challenged to shoot manually. Having no idea where to begin, I asked for help. The setting I was given for shooting midday in full sun with my 70-200IS 2.8 lens was the following: f/2.8, 2500, 100 iso. All of a sudden, I felt like someone had given me a lump of gold. I finally found a place to start! I used that setting as the benchmark for all my shooting. I’d always start there and then change my settings accordingly when I was trying to learn how to shoot. For instance, if there was less light in a different situation, I’d first find the right iso, then change the shutter speed to find the right exposure. I know this must sound stupid to many people, but this was my setting…this was an eye-opening key to truly understanding my camera and challenging myself to become a professional photographer.
Shooting in manual mode cannot be stressed enough, I’ll admit myself that I don’t do it enough. But I can guarantee that by switching to manual and becoming extremely frustrated with it is a great way to learn. It’s very easy to fall back on Aperture Priority mode and I think once you’ve got your head around your camera and what the settings your changing affect, then feel free to go back to Aperture mode when the shot requires it. But by using manual mode it will give you a great base of knowledge to better understand which Priority mode to use when. Also another reason for using Manual mode was something I came across on the DPChallenge forums that I can’t believe I didn’t think about until now. If you’re shooting in nice consistent light, shooting in manual mode will ensure that the photos all look the same. The ever changing color of suits, dresses, locales etc. often trick your camera’s meter, so running in manual will prevent one photo from looking great, the next one being a tad dark, and the next one being over exposed. So first port of call is become confident that regardless of the light/locale/white balance of the scene you’re shooting you know exactly where to start in getting a final exposure.
Once you’re completely familiar with your camera, what to press to change what setting, and indeed what you should be changing to get the effect you’re hoping for you’ll feel much more empowered when out in public. It’ll no longer be a case of taking a million photos of one church in the evening light hoping that one will be useable when you get back to your computer. You’ll now see something you want to take a photo of, and know exactly what to setup in order to get the photo how you want it (or at least close to your imagination) I found before I did this, I avoided shots because I would find myself stood in front of my subject endlessly snapping shots and looking at the LCD unhappy with what I was seeing. Meanwhile people are walking past who I think are judging me for my lack of speed, in hindsight most probably didn’t even look twice. But by eliminating that thought and appearing to know what you’re doing (because you actually do now) is a great step to becoming more confident in public with your camera. There is a great article over at lighting essentials about learning your camera and features and a few questions that you should be able to answer once you’ve mastered your camera. Don Giannati implys that your camera should be an extention of yourself, that the functions should be natural and you should only be thinking about what settings to apply and not how to actually apply them.
I’d definitely recommend settling on a starting point and figuring out where to move your settings to get your exposure right, a good experiment to learn the multiple exposure and focusing modes is to find a high contrast scene, I found some type of black fabric with a texture against a differently textured white fabric was extremely useful in learning about how the camera meters in spot or matrix metering, and how to use exposure compensation correctly. Once you know your camera you need to start taking shots in places you previously wouldn’t have felt comfortably shooting, and this is where I’ll share a few little tricks that you can play to make yourself more confident when out and about. Most are silly little things, but I find they have all contributed to making me more confident.
Pretend that you have been commissioned to get the shot – That is of course if you haven’t actually been commissioned! If you have then you of course don’t need to pretend. This is something that only occurred to me towards the end of my day’s shooting around Leeds (I’d actually gone to get a chip in my car windscreen fixed) and by that time it was too late to implement, but I gave it a go when I got back to Harrogate. It certainly works if you’re just out shooting things for the enjoyment, but it gives you the confidence you’ll need to take shots you wouldn’t normally.
Imagine that every shot you’re lining up is the exact shot an editor of a magazine wants from you. They’ve emailed you a request “Go out and take a photo of a street in your hometown highlighting the pretty lights” or “Go and take a photo of the busiest street in town to demonstrate the increase in shopping running up to Christmas.” Imagine anything that you want to take a photo of and always have that in the back of your head. Pad out the story a little, imagine how it’s your final warning, if you don’t get the shot your editor will probably have to fire you. Seen as though it is your last chance, you really have a make it a brilliant shot in order to earn favor with him. You’ll find that your fears and worries will slowly dissolve as you become concentrated on getting the best shot that you can.
Embellish your story however you please, but make that background fear of failure a reason to push on. I’m all for pushing boundaries as a photographer, and I know I’ve got a hell of a lot of boundaries still to break down. I find the best way to make the initial steps is through a little fear of failure. By being pushed into something for the first time, you’ll then more often than not realise it wasn’t as bad as you initially thought it might be. Of course eventually you shouldn’t be using the fear of failure as a driving force behind anything as that’ll only lead to unnecessary pressure on yourself, but as a way of breaking down walls you originally thought were impenetrable it’s a brilliant driver. Imagine you will get a dressing down if you don’t get the shot (Only kidding, I don’t think anyone deserves that!)
Make your camera look bigger – This is one for the gearheads out there, but it can be done fairly cheaply with even just a lens hood. I think separating yourself (if only in your head, but perhaps to people passing by too) from a tourist taking snapshots will automatically give you further confidence. It is a difficult one this and it depends how you feel about standing out. I found it quite liberating attaching a battery pack and a big lens hood to my camera when around town, however on the other hand when I was at a family event I found I was a little shy about getting a camera out with loads of attachments, and ended up removing it all to remain inconspicuous.
However, this is in conjunction with point one about learning your camera inside out. I’m still not fully confident when using the million functions on my camera, but I’m getting there and I can promise you that the lightbulb moment will happen for you once you know you’re camera really well. You’ll know exactly what you need to do to take the shot you have in your head you won’t ever be embarrassed about getting a big camera out. Once you know that you’ll be able to produce beautiful photos and won’t be worried about setting all the gear up only to produce naff images. I think that is my current barrier that I’ll use suggestion two to overcome. If I imagine I’m being paid to shoot a family event, I know I’ll need my speedlight and my tripod ready to get the best images I can and I won’t be worried about looking foolish.
Out and about in town though I well and truly convinced myself I was a paid commercial photographer that needed to get whichever shot I wanted. On the times I have actually been paid to take photos, it has helped to already be in that mindset and understand the pressures that go along with that. So making your camera look big and imposing only enhances the idea that you’re doing this to get paid. It’s a great step in the right direction if you’re looking to do this full-time, and (I found) a really useful learning curve.
When out shooting, only take your camera – Again something that has only dawned on me recently. I’ve actually got a very nice Crumpler Bag for my camera, that comes with me everywhere, with my camera inside and in public places that’s normally where it stays even if I see a shot I really think would be nice. This again goes back to learning your camera well enough to be able to confidently take your camera out of your bag and get the settings required roughly right without lots of frustration.
However having just your camera with you on an excursion automatically overcomes the first hurdle and that is getting your camera out of your bag. With it consistently either out or around your neck, you’re ready to shoot anything you see. It won’t involve the drawn out process of unbuckling your bag, getting your camera on, setting it up (looking touristy) you’ll already look the pro part. And with it around your neck as you hone your settings in the available light each photo will slowly drag you towards your ideal settings. You can leave the camera on and you’re ready to go.
These are just a few tips for you to think about, they may not help everyone but they’ve certainly helped me take that first step. Becoming confident in your ability is key to becoming confident with your camera, and these tips will help you achieve that. If you’ve got any tips that have helped you feel free to share them below.
Thanks for reading.