What Are You So Afraid Of?

Upload from April 26, 2012

To be a great photographer, hobbyist or pro, takes courage. You have to constantly be pushing yourself to go outside of your comfort zone, and do new things.

Try a different style of shooting. Set up a type of session you’ve never done before. Start a new business. Introduce yourself to complete strangers. Learn a brand new skill. Basically, you have to take on a non-stop series of challenges. Forever.

Now, we all probably know that to improve our photography we have to do these things. But more often than not, we don’t. Why is that?

I’d venture that most of the time what holds us back is fear. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now, I’m sure you can point to half-a-dozen circumstances that are preventing you from taking that next big step out of your comfort zone. A full-time job. A mortgage. Inexperience. Not having any connections. Not having enough money. Not having enough time.

But I’m going to be that really annoying person here, and say that 99% of the time those circumstances that you think are holding you back, aren’t actually holding you back. Nope. It’s fear.

I mean, you can always work on your photography in the evenings and on weekends. You can start with basic gear, or rent before you invest the big bucks. Seriously, if blind people can take photos, surely other circumstances like time and money can be overcome. It’s not the situation that holds us back. It’s the fear.

The problem is that these fears are not productive, helpful ones, like the fear of poisonous snakes. No, these are learned fears that prevent us from doing seriously awesome things, for no good reason. Honest. Let’s take a look at some of the big fears photographers face, and why they are downright silly.

(As an added bonus, I’ll be giving you a Real Life example of ours for each of these, just so you know that we’ve actually lived through all these fears. Which, coincidentally, is the best way to overcome a fear!)

Fear of Failure

That’s a good one, hey? Who here hasn’t been afraid that they would fail, big time. This is especially potent if you decide to start a business. It can be so completely paralyzing that you never actually try. You come up with excuses. You figure it never would have worked anyway.

But the problem is that there is actually nothing wrong with failing. In fact, if you’re really pushing yourself to do fantastic new things, there’s a really good chance you’ll fail. No. Big. Deal. It happens to everyone. As long as you pick yourself up, learn from the failure, and keep going, you may as well look at that failure as a positive! You now know what doesn’t work, and are closer to figuring out what does.

Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure. – Napoleon Hill

Real Life Fail: We once started a photography/graphic design business with the idea that we would do headshots and business card designs for real estate agents. We had a name, a logo, a website, lots of shiny brochures, and thought we were onto a big idea. Well, we didn’t have things quite right, because it failed, big time. We booked maybe two jobs. Ever. Looking back, I’m really proud that we tried. Plus we learned a lot. Double plus, it’s totally a great dinner party story. ;)

Fear Of Embarassment

Then there’s the fear of embarassment and looking dumb. Man, that’s a powerful one. I don’t know about you, but this is a biggie for me. I am always worried what people will think. And this one can hold you back from trying new things, and really getting outside the box. Basically, it can prevent you from becoming the best photographer you can be!

Here’s a big secret. It’s probably not at all what you expected to hear. But this is it: no one really cares. Honestly. People are concerned about their own stuff. Does it matter to them at all what you do? Hardly. Sure they might leave a negative comment, or talk about you for a bit. So what? The people who really matter in your life will still love you. You’ll still be alive. Looking silly does not matter. The sooner you can get over that fear, the more fun you’ll have. Promise.

Real Life Embarassment: As you may know, I published some of my crappiest photos on this site, for the whole world to see. I’m a professional photographer, and there’s a good chance my clients will see those (or already did). Yep, that makes me look pretty dumb. But you know what, I survived. Yes, I was scared, but I did it anyway. And I’m so glad I did, because that one small act made a whole ton of photographers feel a lot better about themselves. Totally worth looking silly!

Fear Of Rejection

A big one for photographers has to be the fear of rejection. Maybe you’re looking to network with other shooters, or asking someone to let you photograph them. Perhaps you’re showing off your portfolio to potential clients, or looking for businesses to help promote your work. If any of those situations strike fear into your heart (as they do mine), then the fear of rejection is what’s holding you back.

Now, stop and think for a second. What’s the worst thing that could happen? They could say no. Seriously, that’s it. That’s the worst. Why does that scare us so much? I think this is related to the fear of embarassment. We’re afraid that they’ll judge us when they reject us. And again, it doesn’t matter. The sooner you learn to get over the fear of rejection, the more you’ll be able to pursue opportunities, and open amazing doors for yourself.

Real Life Rejection: We once went around the city trying to connect with baby stores to promote our portrait business. We were offering them a few gift certificates they could give out to their best customers. Confession: this totally terrified us. We couldn’t just hide behind our computers, but had to get out there and actually meet people face-to-face. Double scary. And we did get rejected. A couple stores were totally not into it, and seemed pretty annoyed with us. Yes, that wasn’t awesome. Yes, the whole idea still makes us scared. But we did manage to connect with some really fantastic people, and met amazing clients as a result of it. Those clients have even opened up new opportunities for us that we would have never dreamed of. Take that, rejection!

Fear Of Change

The last type of fear that can be the cause of inaction is the fear of change. We all like comfort, don’t we? It’s hard to argue that constantly worrying if you’ll ever make enough money is better than a paycheck delivered to your desk every month. Or that leaving something you know well, to do something you know nothing about, is a smart move.

But here’s the thing. The only constant in life is change. Whether you like it or not, you have to get used to it. Wouldn’t you rather be the one deciding what changes will happen to you? Sure, some changes will occur that you didn’t choose, but getting used to change when it’s in your own control helps you learn to go with the flow of life!

Real Life Change: We began our careers as wedding photographers, and in a short amount of time managed to create a successful and profitable business, build a good name for ourselves in our market, and make tons of great connections. We were set. Then we decided we didn’t want to shoot weddings anymore. We wanted to explore what else photography had to offer. We pretty much stopped just as we were getting successful and comfortable, to pursue things we knew almost nothing about. Yes, it was scary. Very scary. But the change has been fantastic, we’re happier than ever, and we will probably change what we do about 100 times more in our life. Embrace the change. It’s a whole lot more fun when you do.

Overcoming Fear

So these fears are big ones, and I know how much they can hold you back. They hold me back all the time. But we have to realize that they aren’t doing us any good at all. They’re preventing us from having a whole lot more fun with life! So here are a few steps to overcoming fear, and doing awesome stuff.

Step 1: Identify

First, identify the fear. Realize what is really stopping you from acting. This will help you understand what you have to overcome to move foreward.

Step 2: Figure Out Worst-Case Scenarios and Contingencies

As counter-intuitive as it may sound, figuring out the worst-case scenario can help dimish your fears. This is especially true for fear of embarassment and rejection. Remember, it doesn’t really matter if they say no. Seriously. So stop and think, what’s the worst that can happen?

Now, if the worst is a scary situation for you, then come up with some contingency plans. These always help to feel like you can handle the failure if it comes your way. If you’re worried that your business won’t be successful, for example, your contingency could be to find another job after you’ve tried for X number of months. Sure, that’s not ideal, but in the big scheme of things, is finding a new job that really that scary? I mean, there aren’t even any poisonous snakes involved.

Step 3: Act

This is the most important step of all. Acting is the surest way to overcome fear.

Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain. – Mark Twain


Now think about where you’d like to go with your photography. Your big, huge, amazing dreams. What’s holding you back from working towards that right now? What are you so afraid of?

Feel free to share in the comments what you’re afraid of when it comes to your photography. And bonus points if you can explain why it might not actually be so scary after all!

Lauren Lim

Hey friend, I’m Lauren! I’m a photography 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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31 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. I think you guys are mind readers… it's so spooky how dead on this post is for me. I'm doing a wedding in two weeks, and it may be a combination of silly excuses, but I'm second guessing myself… It's not even funny how the fear pit in my stomach grows exponentially every single day.
    I have a question… how do you guys not let over anxious/bearing clients get the better of you? Brides are anxious anyway, but how do you not get her anxious energy to rub off the wrong way? I have a sudden fear that I don't know how to work my camera, much less take one decent picture? OY VEY!

  2. What a superb post. At a point in my life when friends and family are urging me to push myself and take something I see as a hobby. I think you listed every single one of my fears (excuses). They can be very paralysing and this certainly helps put some perspective on things. Thank you.

  3. Oops. *to take something I see as a hobby FURTHER, and see if I can make a career out of it.

  4. *@Aggie:* That's awesome that we had such good timing :) Weddings are seriously anxious affairs, I was always a bit nervous, no matter how many we had done. We worked hard to reassure clients that things would go just fine, and then stayed focused on what we had to do.

    Once you get into shooting, we always found that the anxiety went away and we could just put all our energy into the photos. Up until then, deep breaths, walks, and a nice cup of tea help :)

    *@Stu:* So glad you enjoyed it! These fears are majorly paralyzing, I know they've all held me back at some point. But being able to recognize them is the first step to moving past them, and doing great things!

  5. Thank you!!!! This post was just what I needed. I always turn to your material for help and guidance with the technical photo stuff, but I'm so grateful you post these wonderful and optimistic "guides" as well. Thank you thank you!!!

  6. Thanks, sister — this is precisely what I needed to hear right now too, both from the photography perspective and with regards to jumping into life in Rome (Mom's advice: Don't be persnickety!). I'll be revisiting this one often!

  7. Rock on! My move from weddings to commercial work is terrifying, so I appreciate this post more than you know. We all feel that fear, and its important to know others have been there and didn't die ;).

  8. Wow, I so needed that today!
    Thank you.

  9. I think you've pretty much covered it all. Thank you so much for this post, reminding fellow photographers that we're not alone in our doubts. I especially am a victim of the fear of failure and worry too much about what others think. You're so right, though. Neither's gonna kill me! I'm blessed to have a great support system to fall back on, and who cares what others think? All that matters is that I follow my heart and do what I need to do.

  10. I'm with @Steph, I so needed to read this article today. I know that wanting to make a full time career of photography is going to be daunting and I'm up for the challenge, but having the support of fellow photographers like Lauren + Rob will make this road a little easier. So happy I found this blog site!

    @Aggie, I know your going to be awesome! I believe in you.


  11. Another article which just demonstrates why I love you guys.. Thank you – like some of the other comments above – I think you have listed every one of my "excuses" which I know very well is good old fashioned FEAR!!
    Thank you for the encouragement :o)

  12. Excellent article you guys! One of my favourites so far!

  13. Thank you so much for all the kinds words you guys! I'm so glad this article came at a good time, and gave you all some encouragement. :D

  14. Oh the fear of failure! Wrote the three steps down in my calendar. Not going to let fear get in the way anymore!!

  15. Great article. It's what every person needs to hear, but everyone else is too scared to say out loud. Thanks for writing, will probably read again!

  16. Fear of embarassment and fear of not realizing my potential as a photographer.

    Excellent article. It's great to know that what I've experienced is common across so many other photographers.

  17. Wow this could not have come at a better time for me. I've been consumed by photography for the last five years. For the last 15 months I've been baby stepping towards starting a business. At the first of the year I started getting serious about it but kept chickening out and making excuses, telling myself I'm not ready or not good enough yet. Well yesterday I lost my job. I think I cried most of the day. But today I woke with a new perspective. I feel that I'm being pushed to make things happen. I'm excited but terrified. I can't help but think stumbling across this article is further evidence that this is meant to happen for me. I WILL make it happen. I will read this many times, commit it to memory if I have to. This article may in fact change my life. From the bottom of my heart… Thank you!

    The bottom of my heart

  18. Thanks so much for the comments you guys! I'm so glad this one was helpful for so many! It always feels better to know that you're not alone in your struggles, doesn't it? :)

    *@Dawn:* I'm so sorry to hear about your job, but I'm so glad that you are seeing it as an opportunity. That's exactly what it is! Sometimes you need a good push to head down a new path. And yep, it's terrifying, but in a very good way. You definitely will make it happen. Rock on, my friend!! :)

  19. I am so thrilled to have stumbled upon your website. So many of your posts inspire me. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  20. You guys are truly amazing. I really think it’s great that you guys are so open with your knowledge, I’ve never seen anything like it. Everyone wants to keep their secrets and info and then nothing is passed along and no one is helped. Information that is hoarded is as good as no information. But I really appreciate photography concentrate. I just started a photography business and I truly am afraid. I only started it because a friend pushed me but I keep making excuses of why I’m not taking it further. I say it’s because I’m working full time already but the truth is I’m just afraid. This post reminded me that and put me in my place. Thank you for writing this. I feel motivated and empowered and it feels good. I can only pray for good things for you two, you guys deserve it for all your kindness.

    • Thank you so much for such a wonderful comment, Amanda! And it’s a very brave thing to openly admit your fear! You’re on your way! Wishing you well on your business!!

  21. I needed this. Thank you SO MUCH for writing this! Starting out as a donation-based photographer, I have been struggling trying to step out of my comfort zone to shoot… but I know now that in order to be good, or at least to be ME, I have to break out of the norm.

    Thanks again. I loved it so much I shared this on my Facebook and will be writing about it in my blog.


    • Wow, thanks so much for sharing this with others, Nana, we appreciate that so much! I’m so glad this was helpful for you!

  22. Jennifer Marie says:

    I couldn’t have stumbled upon this post on any better day then today. I’ve been doubting myself, getting in my own way for too long now!
    I did make the jump and photographed a wedding … which was SO nerve racking (especially since it was a *very* unorganized wedding). But I did it. Am I thrilled with the results .. well … no. Even though I wasn’t working in the best of conditions it did teach me that I do not want to do a wedding again lol, it’s not my cup of tea.

    My end all goal is to be a Pet Photographer. I do not know what’s stopping me specifically so I believe I need to jot down why I’m not there already and see where my ‘excuses’ lead me.

    I know I can combine my two loves, photography & animals, into something great … I just need the courage to take the plunge!

    Thank you for everything you wrote here … I’ll be sure to re-read this, really think about each step and break free from self sabotaging.

    • I’m so glad this had such good timing for you, Jennifer! Being a pet photographer would be so awesome, to combine two things you’re passionate about. Don’t hold yourself back!

  23. Thanks sooooo much for this! It’s like you got in my mind and wrote it out…I LOVE PHOTOGRAPHY & have had a camera in my hand since I was 8 . I’ve finally got the courage to put my name out there but I have a HUGE road block…ME! Your article has helped to chip away at this block…THANKYOU SOOOOO MUCH!