You know, a lot of us were raised in what were still the relatively early days of consumer photography. A time when fancy cameras were accessible enough to have a large base of hobbyists. Point and click cameras were easy enough to use that everyone wanted to, but a big enough pain in the ass to make us all hate it when they did. An awful lot of people grew up with shutterbug parents constantly sticking cameras in our faces telling us to pose. You might have really hated that—especially if the photos just so happened to always be awful.
So now, maybe you’re an adult who just hates being in front of the camera. Whatever the reason it makes you uncomfortable though, it’s still a good idea to do it sometimes. People will want to remember you—you will probably want to remember you one day. So, while “getting over” your discomfort might not be at the top of your list of ways you’d like to improve yourself, here are some ways to make the context and the experience an otherwise comfortable one.
Dress so you won’t think about it
You often read advice, “dress comfortably”, but that’s too vague. If you’re usually uncomfortable in front of a camera, it’s only going to get more uncomfortable if you’re not completely confident in what you’re wearing. You might have that feeling like you should wear all of your best stuff. But, wearing all of your best stuff might come with its own kind of discomforts, and self-conscious thoughts, because you don’t wear that stuff all the time.
It’s often best to wear something tried and true. Basically, something you know looks pretty good, but more importantly, something that you won’t think much about once you’re wearing it. Of course, you don’t want to disregard this altogether—like, no gym shorts—you just don’t want to get all up in your head about it. So, if you’re nervous, dress for a family reunion, not a wedding.
Pick a photographer who’s not judging you
Ultimately, for a photographer to deliberately capture your best side, they have to identify the other side too. So, photographers have to be ‘judgemental’ to some extent. But, some photographers are judging, as in, holding value based opinions about what you look like in their photographs, or how you need to be photographed, or what it’s like to direct you during a shoot. You can hear the exacerbation in their voice. You know you’re annoying them. Well, that’s toxic and it makes for a terrible portrait session experience, especially if you’re already not so comfortable with the whole thing.
Stay away from these photographers. It’s a good idea to look over their social media accounts and see what kinds of things they say to each other and to clients. See if you can find some behind the scenes videos. Pay attention to their tone of voice as they answer your questions about the shoot. The lions share of what photographers do with their subjects is relational, so that’s what you want to try and gauge.
If you can stomach it, I’d suggest clearly telling them what makes you nervous about being in front of the camera, and see what they have to say. Their response probably ought to be reassuring, both personally and practically.
Shoot someplace where you feel “at home”
This is a little like the clothing suggestion. It’s mostly just about making sure you’re not preoccupied with your physical surroundings, or thinking too much about the gaze of strangers. You don’t want to be trying to get into a session with your photographer in a place that’s making you nervous, uncomfortable or self-conscious. It might be hard to guess what those places are, but think of it this way: You probably feel quite comfortable in a grocery store, but you’d probably suddenly feel quite uncomfortable if you were trying to pose for pictures there.
So, you want to shoot some place where you don’t feel like you’re everyone’s center of attention, or like you don’t belong there. Someplace that evokes a similar level of comfort as your front yard. You could paint a picture there, or pop a chair and talk with friends, all without feeling out of place. Parks you go to regularly are a good choice, and your front yard is always an option.
Ask to just hang out for a little while before you start shooting
It’s definitely easier to be photographed by someone you have a connection with, than a total stranger. That’s, in part, because you know the person you have a connection with is looking out for your interests. In this case, a photographer you have a connection with is looking out for how you’re being portrayed in the images, and not just their artistic vision.
Spending a few minutes before you start shooting just hanging around and chatting can make a big difference. It can also make the experience feel less rushed and less impersonal.
Keep something in your hands
A lot of people feel uncomfortable in front of the camera because they don’t know what to do with their hands. The thing is, when you become overly aware of what you’re doing with your hands (such as when a photographer tells you where to put them, or how to hold them), it’s starts to feel unnatural. I’ve often asked subjects to tell me whether what I’ve told them to do with their hands feels natural—they almost never know. Because in real life, people aren’t thinking much about their hands. It’s automatic. So when a photographer says, “put your hands here” or “hold your hands like this…”, you’re suddenly thinking more about your hands than you ever normally would.
You can short-circuit the whole thing by keeping something in your hands. Maybe a cup of coffee, a hat, a pair of sunglasses, smartphone, an electronic cigarette. It almost doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s something that humans might carry around normally.
Plan for a longer, meandering shoot
A bit like taking some time before the shoot to just hang out, you can extend that idea and do an entirely different kind of shoot. It’s one thing to be uncomfortable in front of the camera, it’s another to be uncomfortable and also on a picture taking marathon where you go from one picture to the next in rapid succession. Instead, you could meander and shoot casually as you go.
If you could do some photos, then just explore and have fun for 10 minutes, and then do a few more photos, and walk around some more…. so on and so on… you’d probably feel a lot more comfortable. Most photographers are open to shooting this way, so just ask.
Be honest with yourself (and your photographer)
The most important thing you can do to feel more comfortable is be honest with yourself about how you feel. You should not pretend to be super confident and comfortable if you’re not. A photographer is almost definitely going to pick up on that, will likely misinterpret the behavior, and potentially portray you in a inauthentic or even unflattering way. Pushing down feelings of discomfort, rather than noticing them, accepting them, and letting them pass as you have a new and positive experience, is going to maximize discomfort.
What’s more, if your photographer doesn’t know how you feel, they can’t help you feel better in their choice of locations, interactive style, and creative ideas. So, be honest with yourself and with them.
Want to get over your discomfort in front of the camera?
We can help. We love helping people have positive experiences in front of the camera and even working with them to get over their discomfort. If you’d like more details about what we do for our clients and how we make them feel, check out our portrait sessions, weddings, and headshot services.