The Introvert Photographer: Can a Shy Photographer Be Successful?
We have to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations until they become comfortable, or at least bearable. But you also need to be realistic.
Any introvert will know the anguish of trying to overcome their natural inclination to be alone so they can do big things in their lives. This is true of any introvert, but this perhaps goes double for photographers.
Photographers are, almost by definition, observers; it’s what we do. Most photographers are at their happiest when recording an event, doing street photography, or heading out into the wilderness to capture nature at its best. We want to capture life in a still image: we see the moments to be captured, not necessarily the opportunities to get wrapped up in it ourselves.
This, of course, presents a problem. If you want to make a living from your photography, then you have three options:
1. Start interacting with people who will pay you to capture their moments
2. Become a uber-successful stock photographer
3. Hit it big as an artist, and avoid all social contact where possible.
Generally, most people have to do number one, at least in some capacity. Even if what you photograph can’t speak, you’ll have to talk to someone to get that gig in the first place.
So, can a shy photographer be successful?
Short answer – yes, but it may take some work.
As introverts, we would like nothing more than to put our art out into the world and get paid handsomely for it. And that’s possible in the long run – but if we want to be successful soon, and be the driving force behind our success, then we have to learn to put ourselves out there. We have to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations until they become comfortable, or at least bearable. But you also need to be realistic.
The problem with “shy”
“Shy” is often a word that adults use to describe children who are unsure. Later in life, people will often use it to describe the fact that you aren’t striving to be the center of attention. If you’re an introverted photographer, it’s likely that the term “shy” has plagued you throughout your life.
But consider whether you actually feel shy, or if you are simply a quiet person who has been called shy one too many times. Often, others call us “shy” and then we believe there is something wrong with us because we don’t naturally walk up to strangers and spark up a conversation. But that doesn’t mean we can’t.
Energy creates life in photography
Most of us master the technical aspects early on. We become comfortable with aperture, shutter speeds, ISO and the rest. We read, try out and experiment, to the point where handling the equipment and software becomes second nature. We often place the results in the technology, not the set up.
You’ve got to remember that the best images have energy – they have life to them. Even the best landscapes carry an energy and a feeling. If your job is to take pictures of people in an uninspiring environment, such as a studio, or in a situation where they’re nervous, then you have to be the one to “frame” the energy. Often, you have to put them at ease and work with them until you start to get the right feeling from the subject.
Think of it this way: you can ask someone who feels sad to smile, and you can take a picture. You can see they’re smiling – maybe even convincingly – but the energy is not one of joy. Everyone who looks at it will feel that something wasn’t right. If you can put that person at ease and help them smile genuinely, you’ll capture that joy in their eyes.
Put yourself in the right energy first
To get the right results you have to take control. You have to make an effort to be relaxed, engaging and in charge of the situation. For most people, this will mean you have to fake it until you make it!
Start creating rituals that will put you in the right mood for the shoot. Listen to upbeat music, meditate, prepare to the point that all you have to think about at the shoot is your subject and the photos you capture. Listen to other photographers and creatives talk on podcasts about what they’ve achieved on your way to the shoot, so you’ll feel motivated to give it all you’ve got.
Arrive early, know where you’re going to shoot, what the lighting is like at different times of day, have alternatives for if the weather isn’t quite right, make sure you’ve discussed all the shots the client wants ahead of time, so you simply have a list to work from. If you hate talking with people on the phone, discuss as much as possible over email so you’ve got it all on paper.
You don’t have to turn yourself into an extrovert to sell yourself, or to get the best results on shoot day, but you do have to learn how to flick a switch in your mind so that you can adopt your “on” persona, like a performer.
Always bear in mind that the people you photograph are human beings first and clients second. Get them on your side, and they’ll do most of the work for you. The worst feeling in the world is looking at your shots on the screen after the shoot is over and thinking, “if only.” You can be shy before and after the session, but pull out all the stops during the shoot. It’s not as difficult or as scary as it sounds, and the results will astound you. Once you see the results you can achieve just by helping your subjects get in the right energy, you’ll never want to go back to being the quiet one.
It’s all about having satisfied customers while hopefully satisfying yourself. Listen to them but be proactive. Make the whole shoot a creative and explorative process that you all enjoy. You will get contented clients and some spectacular photos that capture them or the occasion at its best.