Why does photography make you anxious or excited? You've probably felt it before, and perhaps been confused by the way your body reacts when you're taking photos. Sometimes photography makes you feel very peaceful, yet other times feel stressful.
What's the difference and why does it happen?
Why Does Photography Cause Anxiety?
Photography is like any other activity when there's something at stake. You can actually feel physiological results from photography. Those changes in your physiology can make you feel nervous, restless, tense, and even fearful – to some degree or another.
I get that if you're a combat photographer, but why would you feel something like anxiety if you're doing a portrait session or photographing something for a publication or other client?
You get these feelings because there's something at stake.
If you're wandering out into the meadow surrounded by sunflowers and blue skies to shoot something for your Flickr page, I'm guessing you feel rather peaceful. Yet photographing that same scene because it may be included in the next release of Windows or MacOS puts some added tension into the process.
Raising the stake also raises the anxiety.
What Happens When Your Body Gets Stimulated?
I mentioned a physiological response to anxiety. Here's what that could mean for you.
- Your heart beats faster
- There's a surge of cortisol in your body
- You take shorter breaths
- Your body feels warm and flush
This is how your body prepares itself for some kind of action. It's a completely natural response to some kind of pressure.
Oddly enough, it's the same thing that happens when you get excited.
Remember when you were young and you were attracted to someone for the first time?
- Your heart beat faster
- There was a surge of cortisol in your body
- You took shorter breaths
- Your body felt warm and flush
Were you anxious or excited? Probably both, as they're congruent aroused emotions. So what does that mean?
You Are What You Choose to Be
Given the same physiological responses from your body, what makes the difference between being anxious or excited as a photographer?
That becomes an emotional response based upon your readiness and confidence to handle the situation. People react to pressure differently, but you can actually make some choices to switch from a negative feeling to a positive one.
Anxiety is your emotional response when you don't feel prepared or confident in your abilities to respond to an event. Here are a few scenarios to consider:
- You're with a subject photographing a portrait session
- You have an assignment to cover an event for publication
- Someone tells you about a photo competition where you can win a prize and gain notoriety
The reasons why these situations make you anxious could simply be due to a lack of knowledge or confidence. Fortunately, those are easy to remedy.
Does Photography Make You Anxious or Excited?
When you're in a portrait session, don't just show up and start snapping photos. Find out why your subject needs the photos, or understand why you need them if you're hiring a model. A sense of purpose allows you to make some decisions, or allows you to ask more questions to understand how you can serve the purpose.
Communication between you and your subject is essential. The person on the other side of your lens trusts you. If you're making a lot of mistakes, that erodes their trust and deepens your anxiety.
So find someone who will help you practice. Get comfortable with your skills and your gear when there isn't anything at stake. If you have a subject who knows that you're practicing, they'll be much more forgiving and helpful than a person who depends upon you for the results.
One of the biggest causes of anxiety for new photographers is a lack of knowledge to control their gear. Whether it's a new DSLR or studio lights, photography can be very daunting for the beginner.
After a while, you make your mistakes and find techniques that work for you. Instead of feeling anxious, now you're feeling confident with your abilities. You can start to take on more photography sessions and feel excited about the possibilities instead of anxious.
There's more to photography than technical abilities, though.
You may find yourself feeling excited when you do a session and find out that the person who needs the photos is disappointed in the results.
That goes back to purpose.
If they need a magazine cover and you shot everything in landscape orientation, you just made someone's job harder. If they need to produce a web site header in 16:9 dimensions and you shot everything with a tight crop, it's probably not going to work.
The Secret to Confidence
Does photography make you anxious or excited?
If you want to make sure you feel excited instead of anxious when something is at stake in your photography, you need to have a sense of self confidence.
How do you do that? It's very simple.
Confidence comes when you eliminate the unknown and any assumptions.
Know your gear. Understand the purpose of your photos. Eliminate as many unknown or uncontrollable variables as you can. Never assume.
If you can do that, you can turn anxiety into excitement and enjoy your photography.
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