Letter to a Shy Photographer

If you are photographer who could be described as “shy, quiet, reserved, introverted,” these are some points that you need to hear, if you haven’t already.

You do not have to transform yourself into an extrovert.  You don’t.  There is nothing wrong with you — and in fact, there is a great deal right with you.

You are a skilled observer.  Because you aren’t at the center of the room, drawing the attention and energy your way, you understand how to watch.  By observing, you learn how to anticipate.  By anticipating, you develop a sense of timing that enables you to quietly record moments that others miss.  The “decisive moment” is yours for the taking.

shy girl

Shy girl

You have the ability to blend into your surroundings.  That means you can choose whether to guide your subjects, or whether to let your presence quietly disappear into the shadows while you document.  Whereas extreme extroverts like me can tend toward being the portrait equivalent of a bull in a china shop, you are naturally gentle and unobtrusive, and therefore, your images can be, as well.  Or, if you so desire, they can be brutally honest and candid.  Blending is a skill, and it makes you particularly good at genres like street photography and weddings, where you can absorb emotion rather than being required to create it.

You are capable of getting just as much from your sessions as the extroverts are; you’ll just go about it differently.  Where I’ll start loudly and quickly, you’ll take your time to warm up and allow your subjects to do the same.  I’ll guide the session to gradually become more focused and quiet to get those serious, connected images; you’re more likely to do the reverse.  As you get more comfortable with your subjects, each session will gradually loosen and become more relaxed and fun.  Those serious, big-eyed, soulful expressions that you capture so easily require a concerted effort for me to elicit.  Neither is better than the other.  They are just different.

Shy photographers can be just as confident as extroverted photographers.  Being shy does not mean you don’t know your stuff, and it doesn’t mean you don’t have a beautiful style all your own.  And if you’re still working to develop confidence, consider that, in my experience, extroverted photographers who lack confidence are frequently more easily flustered than their shy counterparts.  No matter what your personality, learning to take a breath, collect yourself, and start fresh is invaluable.  It helps you maintain your composure when a session isn’t going as expected, and allows to you a few moments of mental space to assess whether you need to do something differently.  It keeps the session from running wild and dragging you behind it.  And, shy photographers, you are just as capable of directing a session when necessary as are the extroverts.  A quiet, firm suggestion is just as effective as a loud, demonstrative one.  Remember that, in the end, clients need to trust that you are capable of making them look good.  Quiet confidence and a strong portfolio go a long way toward that.

The truth is, no matter what your personality is, embracing it and working with it is the key to your success and happiness.  If you know it will take you some time to warm up at the start of the session, simply convey that to the client before the session.  (“We’ll take a few moments to chat before the start of the session to allow everyone to feel comfortable and at ease.”)  People, particularly children, can tell when you aren’t being “real.”

So whatever you are, be it, without apology.  Embrace it and use it to your advantage.  It is so much more rewarding than spending your time trying to be something you’re not.

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