Shooting Nervous

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Sweaty palms. Nausea. Chest tightness. Racing thoughts. “What if I can’t get a great shot? What if I forget something? What if I totally fail?”

This is how I feel before a session sometimes. Particularly if it’s something different than the norm, or I haven’t shot in a while. Even after 10 years of shooting, I still get incredibly nervous before a shoot.

I think it’s good and bad. A little tension can help me to focus on the task – I’m certainly not worried about what I’ll have for dinner at moments like these. Every little speck of attention I have is going towards figuring out how to do my best in this session.

But here’s what I’ve found goes poorly when I’m nervous.

I get tunnel vision.

My thoughts becoming fixated on certain things. I become completely focused on just one goal, to the point of neglecting to really see what’s around me.

For example, in a family portrait session where I’m particularly nervous, I’ll often spend WAY too much time trying to get a simple shot of everyone looking nicely at the camera. I know it’s an important photo – even the clients who say they don’t care about them (myself included) will want at least one good one. So I try, over and over, in different spots, to get that one shot. Even after I’ve already gotten a good one, I’ll keep trying to take a better one, for fear of failing to get the “must-have shot”. I often wind up with hundreds of crappy photos, nervously shooting the crap out of it, hoping to get something good. Yuck.

Look, there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to get a great shot, especially with a client. The problem lies when you’re so nervous you can’t recognize when you’ve achieved that goal, and can confidently move on. This is an enormous problem of mine.

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So what happens in these sessions of mine? By the end I’ve got a lot of nice shots of everyone looking at the camera, but I’ve failed to break outside that box. I’ve failed to really look, to open my eyes to all the other amazing potential in front of me. I’ll fail to get anything really creative. To capture small details, candid moments, to try something new. Even worse, I end up making so much extra work for myself, sorting through all those hundreds of bad photos to find the keepers.

I wind up with a result that’s good, but not great.

So how do I get to great? Well, I’m not sure. When Rob and I shot as a team, it was easier. I was in charge of getting those “must-have” shots, and he was free to just shoot all that creative stuff, without any pressure. Free to take chances, make mistakes, and get messy, as Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus would say. And he’d do just that. His keeper rate would be way lower than mine, but he’d come up with some truly original, beautiful stuff. I’d have lots of “nice” photos, but not much that would really stand out in a crowd. It was a good system, and we delivered a great set of images at the end of the day.

But now I’m starting to contemplate shooting on my own. No Rob as backup. That creative stuff will need to come from me. I need to learn how to tame those nerves, and find the confidence to play and experiment with my photography.

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A few things I’m going to be trying:

– Prepare.

This is always my go-to to calm my nerves. I sit down with a piece of paper, or grab my Photography Logbooks, and write out my goals. Figure out the “must-have” shots, and then what other creative goals I want to achieve. I write it down, and bring it along. But I usually forget to stop and review this sheet during the session. I know if I start taking that time, it will help.

– Slow down.

I usually write this in all caps and underline it when I’m prepping. When I’m nervous, I speed up. My mind goes a million miles an hour, and I forget things. Photography is about slowing down, so you can see what’s right in front of you. When I’m in panic mode I miss those beautiful little things that make for breath-taking shots.

– Must-have shots first. Then move on.

I need to break free from my fear of missing “the shot”. I need to be confident when I’ve gotten a good standard shot, and then move on. I’m not sure how to do this, other than a lot of practice.

– Shoot a lot.

When we first started shooting all those years ago, I was a wreck before each and every session. I found it SO HARD to remember every single thing I was supposed to do during the shoot. But over time, as I shot more and more, that anxiety faded. Many things became second-nature. Automatic. And started to trust myself, because I saw day after day where my skills were. I haven’t shot regularly in a few years though, with the boys being born, and us focusing on this site. And so my nervous ways have returned. But I know that with regular shooting, that relaxed approach will come again. Some things just take time.

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So that’s where I’m at, and what I’ve been thinking about this. It’s been really interesting to see that, despite having shot for so long, getting out of practice with client sessions can bring me back to where I started in terms of my confidence. But I know so much more about photography now than I did then. So I hope my trust in myself will return faster. Until then, I’ll just keep carefully preparing, shooting, and making sure I’m having fun with my work. That too is a key to losing the nerves, methinks.

How about you? Do you feel nervous before a session? What do you do to calm down and focus while shooting?

Lauren Lim

Hey friend, I’m Lauren! I’m a photographer and head ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I’m downright obsessed with photography, and love sharing it with super cool folks like yourself. When I’m not shooting, or writing, you can find me cooking (and eating!), traveling, and hanging out with wonderful people.

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Comments

14 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. Yes… I am still to nervous when doing a session, I sweat so much that I have to always keep paper towels in my pockets. I know that it kind of makes my clients nervous to but… Now, reading your article makes me feel more confident and it makes me also realize that I never really spend time to think and make list of to do before going to shoot… Thank you for this blog with all the GREAT informations you provide us with. Thank you for being yourself and God bless you and your family!!!

    • Lauren Lim says:

      You are very welcome, Daniel! You are definitely not alone. And making lists has helped me so much dealing with my nerves, I hope it helps you too! Confidence in yourself really helps your subjects to relax, so it’s something to keep striving for! You’ll get there!!

  2. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I’ve shot the same thing at the same location, I get serious performance anxiety before a shoot. I shoot non-traditional sports so I do feel a bit justified feeling that way. So many things can go wrong! And they do. Sometimes all at once! But if I’ve planned well enough, written down what I’ll do it x, y or z happens and arrive early to settle myself, it just seems to work out. For me, it’s all about planning, planning, planning and a good bit of luck that helps me survive the pre-shoot jitters. However, if I shot portraits or weddings, I probably would have slashed my wrists by now! That scares me way more than laying under a skateboard ramp shooting the launch moment!

    • Lauren Lim says:

      Thanks for the comment Donna! It’s funny – shooting sports would make me more nervous than portraits, ha! Less control ;) Great point about showing up early, that helps me so much too! Time to settle in before shooting. Nothing stresses me out more than running late! So glad you’ve found your way to push back the nerves and shoot!

  3. I haven’t been shooting all the long but have always had a passion for photography. I get the most nervous about my photos and what if they’re not good enough to make it further than I would like to. My goal is to be shooting regularly, not just by myself but actually getting more clients. I get super nervous with a photo shoot because of my lack of experience. Any tips on how to get over that?

    • Lauren Lim says:

      Hi Jessica! I think most people would be nervous if they weren’t experienced at something! That only solution? Shoot more. Grab friends, family, put out a call for models, whatever it takes to get more practice! The confidence will come in time. You may never be 100% confident (I’ve done hundreds of shoots, but am never 100% confident) but you’ll feel more secure about your abilities! Wishing you tons of success!

  4. I turn into a nervous wreck. And I can’t drink anything until the shoot is finished – it just goes straight through me.
    The first couple of times I took photos like I was on speed. Then one day I went to the shoot location a half hour before meeting the client. There was a ten minute walk from my car, which helped centre me. Since I had half an hour to kill I looked around and decided on the different spots I would photograph the client. By the time the client arrived I was less tense, and I remembered to check my settings before taking photos in a new spot. All these little things made a huge difference. I still get nervous today, but I believe those nerves mean that you care about your work.

  5. Lauren,
    I am pretty confident when I do family sessions, and pets. But I feel the same as you in terms of getting the “money” shot. And yes, I get tunnel vision as well. I am going to try some of your suggestions. Thanks!

    One thing I notice when I am shooting, is I stop breathing! I actually catch myself holding my breath. Then of course, I am useless at hand holding…oiy! I find if I am using a tripod, I feel more at ease and confident there will be lots of crisp clear shots. I wonder if a FB group on nervous shooters would be a useful thing. You could handle one more project couldn’t you? (she said with a tone of sarcasm, and a giggle)

  6. Great article. Feel the same way as well. One of my problems is when I have an up-coming shoot, I’ll look at photos on Pinterest and other sites to get some ideas for poses and composition, but when the shoot starts, I forget all those things I saw. Talk about frustration. Afterwards, however, I find everything worked out and I really did get some nice shots. Funny how that happens…

  7. Thank you for this article and for stepping into your vulnerability with us. I definitely struggle with this being a newbie photographer! I have business head shots in a couple weeks, and I start sweating just thinking about it. Totally not my wheel house, but I’m going for it. Mama needs a new lens!

  8. Thanks for the article, Jessica :)

    Although I’ve been taking photos for about 30 years for fun (and more recently selling a few as ‘fine art’), I’m just starting out as a hired photographer for on-location shoots of people – kids parties/as-unposed-as-possible family shoots, that kind of thing. I’m building my client base and trying hard to deal with the sometimes overwhelming sense of panic before a shoot. It’s great to know I’m not alone, and that much more experienced pro photographers also feel like this! The first paid family photoshoot I did, I arrived early, parked up, and very, very nearly ran away! (I’m so glad I didn’t – the nerves soon dissipated and I had a wonderful time taking creative photos, and the clients were really happy with the results).

    Like you, I’m finding preparing in advance is really helpful, as well as reading lots of hints and tips online, and looking at other photographer’s work to get inspiration. Arriving early (and not running away) is also totally necessary! I’m quite confident with my equipment, but I bought a new lens a couple of months ago – a fixed aperture one – and although I absolutely LOVE the results, I still feel quite unsure of myself with it. It’s a whole new way of using my camera! I’m doing my first paid shoot with it this weekend, and am very nervous about it :-o

    • Arg! I meant fixed focal length, not fixed aperture!! (That’s what speedy typing while stressed does!!) :-/

  9. Gina Dinverno says:

    I have found what works for me, in any situation, is to have a shot list divided by three sections: 1. Must haves, 2. Details, 3. Optional. I get the must have shots (family photos) first and out of the way. Then I concentrate on the details (décor, or the special events like opening gifts). Lastly, I get the optional shots (creative photos). I found following this format there is plenty of time for all. I also found that I was missing one or two setting checks, like ISO, because I was concentrating on another setting that I missed from a previous shoot. Luckily, I’ve been able to fix most in post-processing but how great is it when you get it right straight from the camera with minimal editing. Basic I know, but that’s where my problem was in the single-mindedness of focusing on what I did wrong on the last shoot and not concentrating on the basics. So I keep a little notebook with me that contains my settings checklist and my shot list which I review before I begin and check it periodically throughout the shoot. Hopefully this will subside once it becomes second nature.

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