Have you ever been offered a photo job and turned it down because you weren’t confident that you’d be good enough? Has your fear of embarrassment kept you from challenging yourself and earning a much-needed paycheck? Have you hesitated to increase your prices year over year?
We get it, as a photographer, you’re putting yourself out there in a very public way. Photography is an industry that requires a high level of vulnerability. It’s hard to be vulnerable if you don’t believe in yourself. That is what confidence is, the ability to trust in yourself in unfamiliar situations. Where does confidence come from? Why do some people seem to just be born with more confidence than others? And how can you increase your own confidence?
Why do we feel a lack of confidence?
Did you know that humans are evolutionarily designed to be afraid of trying new things? It comes from our deeply rooted survival instinct. We subconsciously recognize our behavior patterns and attribute those behaviors to our survival. For example, if we do ‘xy and z’ every week, we will survive. We know this because we did those things last week and we survived. We will continue to repeat that same pattern because, as silly as it sounds, we believe that those patterns guarentee survival. When we try anything new, it triggers a fear response, also referred to as our fight or flight response.
That little voice in your head, the one that you hear when you’re faced with a new situation, doesn’t know the difference between a lion chasing you and raising your prices. It just knows something is wrong. Your nerves fire, your blood pumps, and your brain comes up with any excuse it can to keep you in your comfort zone. Responding to these nerves by reverting to your survival pattern is where the root of low confidence lives.
The thing about confidence is that it is dependent on you pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. If you’ve ever thought that confidence comes as a result of success, from years of experience or from reaching a goal, you’re believing a falsehood. In fact, the opposite is true. True confidence comes from how you respond to failure. When you’re pursuing excellence, you will fail, and your confidence will be tested. If you’re staying inside your comfort zone, you may be comfortable, but you’ll never be confident; the longer you repeat the same survival pattern, the more dependent you’ll become on it, and the more fragile you will feel.
Professional coach and mental training expert, Lindsey Wilson, says, “When we don’t take action, confidence doesn’t have the chance to develop [… ]If you aren’t failing at all, you can’t possibly be pushing yourself. You cannot get to true confidence unscathed and without some battle wounds.”
So how can you push through the fear to build confidence by trying new things?
3 Ways to Build Confidence
Self-doubt is the enemy of success. If you believe you can’t do it, you probably can’t. When you let self-doubt guide your actions, you’ll never prove to yourself that you can. Former First Lady, Martha Washington, said, “The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances”. Positivity is a powerful tool, and one that can shape and direct our lives.
Positivity means talking to yourself how you would talk to a friend. How often do say things to yourself that your best friend would never say, or much less think? Be kind to yourself and your outlook will follow. Next time you hear that voice of self-doubt, think about what your best friend would say to you and say that to yourself instead. Be realistic, and be kind to yourself by praising your bravery, thinking about a time you pushed yourself and it paid off, meditating on how far you’ve come, and recognizing that you are not a victim of your circumstances, but a master of your fate.
Focus On What You Can Control
Expect the best and prepare for the worst. While this may sound contradictory to the last point, they actually go hand in hand. When you push yourself out of your comfort, think about what you can control and what you can prepare for. For example, you may feel confident just showing up to a last-minute newborn session because that’s what you have experience shooting, but if you’re shooting your first wedding, do your research. Talk to the wedding coordinator ahead of time so you are confident and mentally prepared for the wedding timeline and conditions. Create a Pinterest board of creative wedding shots, visit the venue ahead of time, ask experienced wedding photographers for their advice, research what gear will you need, and do as much as you can ahead of time. The more you prepare ahead of time, the more focused you will be on the day-of variables, able focus entirely on what’s happening right in front of you.
Sometimes it helps to think about the worst-case scenario. For example, you want to try shooting film. The worst-case scenario is that none of the images turn out. For this scenario, think about what’s in your control. If none of the images turn out, the way you handle the scenario is entirely within your control. In this particular case, you could choose to prepare yourself for the worst-case scenario by shooting a digital back-up. Your commitment to delivering quality images will leave a lasting impression and say a lot about your integrity as a photographer. You’ll build your portfolio, make a good impression on the client, and learn from your mistakes for next time. When you think about what’s actually in your control, you’ll realize that usually there’s much less real risk involved than you originally thought.
If you want to be a confident person, live like a confident person lives. Scientific research on neuroscience says, “Our ability to construct a personal narrative and to establish a sense of identity depends on our recollection of past events, the most significant of which are inevitably associated with emotions.” You won’t feel confident until you practice confidence and form those memories. So take action.
Here are some additional immediate actions you can take to help build your confidence:
- Start small. Ask a friend to model for you to work on different skills such as shooting Kelvin, using an off-camera flash, or working in high sunlight.
- Build your support system. You don’t have to feel alone, join our community of photographers to plug into a positive, supportive network.
- Find a mentor. Create a formal relationship with someone you know and trust as an expert photographer so that you have someone to turn to when you need help. Read our blog on mentorship.
- Share your work. Ask for honest critique from our online community, or from a close friend. Sometimes you’re too close to your photography to see it in an honest light.
Practice pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and remember that failure is inevitable. How you pick yourself up from failure says more about you than anything else. Remember what is in your control, and have confidence that you’re capable of much more than you think. When you push yourself to try new things, learn from failure, and think positively, you will (in time) become the very confident photographer that you admire.
Have you struggled with confidence? How has your confidence level framed your experience as a photographer? Do you have a tried-and-true technique for increasing your confidence? Share it in the comment section below.