I talk about introversion in relation to business in general quite a bit (check out this post on feeling quiet in a loud market), but I regularly get quite specific questions from photographers about how to overcome being an introvert in their chosen field of people-photography. I guess it does make sense. For other creatives, it’s usually a given that you mostly work alone and thus, being an introvert can feel quite natural. If you’re an illustrator or a painter, your introversion might give you headaches only when you are faced with business-related activities such as marketing or networking.
But the nature of being a photographer is based on dealing with people (if you’re a landscape or wildlife photographer, feel free to ignore!) and as such photographers are often seen as quite extroverted. I mean, they’d have to be in order to regularly work with people and to direct their subjects confidently. Right?
It does not surprise me that so many introverted photographers come to me for mentoring, but I thought it was time to write an article that would address some of the ways you think your introversion might hold you back, and how to overcome those worries in order to have a successful photography career.
We live in an extrovert world, where those who can light up a room and draw energy from engaging with others are seen as successful, especially when it comes to careers involving people. Introverted photographers can easily feel like they should just meekly move on to other subject matters, such as food or interiors, and not even attempt to be photographers of people. I certainly remember how intimidated I used to feel about meeting with clients or directing them during my first shoots, and there are definitely some sides to the industry that do not mix with my personality. But having said that, in all the years I've been at it I have found my own strengths and my own way of working, and these days I absolutely love interacting with my clients.
I disagree with the notion that only extroverts can be ‘good with people’. Sure, they are energised by the interaction and they can keep clients entertained, but the more quiet among us have other strengths that help us be a force to be reckoned with.
I would say that there’s only one prerequisite to being a photographer of people.
You have to be interested in who your subjects are, and how you want to tell their stories.
That’s it. You don’t need to be loud or gregarious or the life of the party. You just have to be genuinely interested in the people in front of your camera. For everything else, there’s a solution.
Find the right clients for you
Sure, there are clients out there who feel more comfortable with a photographer who tells one joke after another or directs them into a gazillion different poses. But there are also the right clients for you, the ones who are intimidated by an action-packed photo shoot and who feel much more comfortable with your soft tone and gentle direction. When you put together your Target Client Persona, remember how important it is to include this aspect to your ideal client. You, more than anyone else, understand how another introvert feels, so use that knowledge to your advantage in the way you brand and market your services.
Practice makes perfect
Make sure you know your equipment inside out. When social situations make you nervous, the last thing you want is to be fumbling with your camera settings in the middle of your session. Yes, there are many people who ‘fly by the seat of their pants’ and learn on the job, but most of those people are extroverts who shine brightest when under pressure and in the spotlight. For you, that is not the case. You want to spend time practicing all aspects of your photography and your equipment until it becomes second nature to you to have a camera in your hand. Shoot family members, shoot friends, shoot anyone who is willing. Push yourself by asking a stranger if you can take their portrait. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Prepare for a shoot
When it comes to an actual paying job, prepare well. Plan the time of day for the best light and the location for the best angles. Make sure you have downtime before your shoot so that you won’t turn up already over-stimulated. Have systems and workflows in place that assure that your equipment is always in order and that you have everything you need. Make back-up plans for changes in weather. The better you have planned all the aspects of your shoot, the easier it will be for you to relax into just taking care of your clients.
Make sure your clients have received enough information about the way you work, and what to expect, so you won’t end up in a situation where expectations are mismatched. This is one of those rules that is written in blood when it comes to any business practices, but it's even more important when you have anxiety about social situations. If your clients know exactly what to expect from working with you, you don't have to pile unnecessary pressure on yourself to do something other than work in the way you know makes you the best you can be.
PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS
Many introverts become wedding photographers or photojournalists because they naturally fall into a role of an observer. It can be a revelation to find out it's actually an advantage to be invisible and disappear into the shadows during a party! But you can take this strength further and approach portrait shoots from a similar perspective as well. Learn ways to capture natural interactions and authentic emotions beautifully, and you'll never have to worry about formal posing or ordering people around again. Look into techniques, such as Moment Design, that will help you direct your subjects in a more authentic way. You don’t have to be a ‘Director’ of a shoot, you just have to provide a safe place for your clients to be able to let their guard down.
You have taken your clients’ money, you are a professional working photographer. Own that fact and make sure you look like you belong. The introverted tendency is to pull back into the background, but if you are feeling unsure of yourself that can come across as shady, especially when you have a camera in your hand. Since it’s hard to ‘pretend’ to feel comfortable, you’ll have to reverse engineer it, and start from thought-level. When you actively think of yourself as a professional photographer, you will begin to feel it, and once you feel it, you will start showing it on the outside. You can absolutely still use being invisible as a superpower, especially if you’re photographing an event with the intention of catching real moments. It’s just that if you don’t have that confident aura of belonging, your invisibility cloak is less likely to work as well as it can. So, own being a professional photographer and be the ninja you were born to be!