So what in the world does trying new foods have to do with overcoming fear in photography? Bear with me and you’ll find out.
I stood at my kitchen counter last night, eagerly slicing up mangos for my family’s dinner. Just the smell of them had my mouth watering. These mangos were perfectly ripe, full of sweet, tender fruit. In what had become second nature to me, I slid my paring knife between the fruit and the skin, running it around the half of the mango to free the chunks from the inedible peel.
“Mom, have you always loved mangos?” my seven year-old asked me.
“No. I don’t think I ever ate them until you were born.”
In truth, mangos kind of intimidated me. They looked weird. The sounded weird. How in the world did you even prepare them? It wasn’t until I joined a food coop in my 30s and was given mangos part of our offering that I had to summon up my courage and conquer the mangos.
“Good thing you tried them. They are delicious! I’d hate not to know about mangos,” she said as she popped a chunk of golden goodness in her mouth and wandered into the dining room.
She’s absolutely right. I’d hate to miss out on mangos, papaya, maki and naan simply because I was afraid. But we do in photography all too often…We miss out on so many amazing, fun, and exciting experiences simply because we are afraid to try them.
As I carried the mangos to the table last night, I realized that the same rules our family applies to eating new foods were also a pretty good philosophy for overcoming fear in photography. You have to at least try new foods. You have to try new foods a few times and in a few different ways. And not knowing what something is or how to prepare it isn’t an excuse.
Those same philosophies would serve us well in overcoming our fears about photography, too. We have to step out of our comfort zone to expand our abilities. Learn new techniques. We have to try new ideas in new ways or we risk getting stuck in a rut and getting left behind by the competition.
Overcoming fear in photography by expanding your horizons.
Growing up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, we were a less-than-adventurous family when it came to eating. The most exotic thing we ate was Rocky Mountain Oysters (you so don’t wanna know.) When I moved to Indianapolis after college twenty years ago and took a job in the city, my new friends tried to get me to eat things like sushi and Thai food. I refused. Iced coffee? That was just weird. This Wyoming girl just wanted a steak and some potatoes and to be left alone.
But as experienced more of life outside the four walls of my childhood, my tastes expanded. I was introduced to different types and styles of food, some of which I’d never heard of growing up in Wyoming. I came to love sushi, iced coffees, chutney, and pad Thai noodles.
Because I was living someplace new and spending time with new people, I learned so much…about food, and myself.
Photography can be the same way. If we hole up in our office and never venture outside our immediate area, we can never know what we don’t know, let alone conquer our fears.
So join different groups. Connect with other photographers online. Find a camera club in another town and meet up with them periodically. Sign up for workshops taught by experts in other fields. Anything to expand your photography world view and expose you to new ideas, techniques, and lines of thought.
Overcoming fear in photography by simply trying.
Seven years ago, we joined a food coop in western Wyoming. For a small fee, we’d get a basket of new produce every two weeks. It was a great deal, but you never knew what would get from week to week.
When I started, I had one rule for myself. I had to try every single thing we got in the basket. Maybe not eat it all, but I had to try it.
The first time we got colored carrots in our coop basket, I was a little grossed out. Weren’t carrots supposed to be orange? The tri-colored carrots just looked suspicious to me, but I dutifully prepared them and served them to my family.
They were delicious.
How many times in our photography business do we let fear stand in the way of our own growth? We are presented with a new idea, a new way of doing business and we stare at it, suspicious.
We convince ourselves that we are too busy, the idea won’t work for our market or that it’s simply a bad idea.
But that’s the fear talking. Stepping outside of our comfort zone and trying new things is always scary. Whether we are sampling a new food or trying in-person sales for the first time, change is difficult. But overcoming fear in photography is critical to the long-term success of your business. Pushing ourselves to try new things ensures that we are growing and improving. It keeps photography challenging and fun.
Think back in your life and list some things you were afraid to try initially. That might be new foods, new styles of clothes, new hairstyles, new techniques.
What amazing things would you have missed out on if you let fear dictate your life? Driving a car? Riding a roller coaster? Getting married? Having kids?
So many things in life are scary. But we do them anyway because we convince ourselves the benefits outweigh the potential consequences. Learning to drive is scary. Indpendence is awesome. Becoming a parent? Positively petrifying. Being a parent? Awesome.
Remember failure isn’t fatal.
“But did you die?”
I steal Mr. Chow’s line from The Hangover periodically for my own use. I’ll say it to the students I coach, I say it to myself and I say it to my daughter.
Overcoming fear in photography is really all about being afraid to fail. We worry what others will think of us, of our work. That we will fail. We are afraid the client won’t like our work, our marketing promo will be a flop, that someone won’t like our blog post.
But did you die?
When you’re paralyzed by the fear of failure, try the worst-case scenario game. So you try a new editing style and no one likes it. What’s the worst that can happen, honestly? List those things out. You might write things like:
- My client won’t like it and I’ll have to reedit
- I’ll lose clients who don’t like my new style
- Somebody might judge my new style (other photographer, family member, mentor, etc.)
Then assess those worst-case scenarios and see if they really are that bad. Maybe you will have to re-edit the session to your old style or your mentor doesn’t like your style. Your pride might take a hit but your world isn’t going to implode.
Sometimes simply labeling and acknowledging fear is enough to keep us from staying static and not growing.
Now think about the outcome after you screwed up your courage and tried. Was it really as scary as you’d built it up to be in your mind? Or did you finish the task and think “Oh, that wasn’t so bad.”
It helps to remind ourselves times we were afraid but conquered our fear. It helps boost our confidence. And it helps change our present narrative because we can prove to our inner critic we have what it takes to make missteps and keep going.
Ignorance is an excuse, not a reason. Educate yourself.
“What in the hell am I going to do with a dozen green chilis?” I asked my husband when the pack of peppers arrived in my basket. “I don’t know how to cook them.”
“Ask Google. There’s like 1.7 billion websites out there. Chances are good one of them has instructions on how to cook green chilis, ” he replied.
I really hate it when he’s right.
We often hide fear behind other excuses like “I don’t know how.”
I hear that a lot with things like off-camera flash and learning Photoshop. But let’s call that ignorance for what it is…fear. We are afraid of feeling foolish so we just hide behind excuses.
There has never been a time where it is easier or cheaper to learn photography or educate yourself on concepts. We have Facebook forums, YouTube videos, community education classes, audiobooks, digital books and old fashioned books you can get for free from libraries. There are free webinars, tutorials like here on Cole’s Classroom and online educational programs.
If it helps, set small goals for yourself. Don’t try to master all of Photoshop in a single week. Start with small goals, like learning how to complete a head swap. Once you are comfortable with that, choose a new skill to teach yourself. The more you work in a program, a genre, the easier it becomes. Mastering one technique builds your confidence and leads to proficiency in another.
We really can’t learn any sooner than right now. Stop letting fear convince you that you are stupid or computer illiterate.
Try it three different times in three different ways.
I heard on a podcast one time that we need to be exposed to a food a few different times and in a few different ways before our taste buds become accustomed to it. That was the key, the host said, to getting your kids to try new foods. Serve fruits and vegetables several times, prepared in several different ways, before you give up on it.
Case in point…I hate boiled Brussel sprouts. Early on in our marriage, my husband made some and I literally gagged eating them. When he wasn’t looking, I fed them to my dog under the table. It was a great plan, too, except that the damn dog puked them all back up in the kitchen moments later where my husband found them.
But chopped Brussel sprouts sautéed in a little olive oil and salt and pepper? Absolute deliciousness.
So try new skills or marketing approaches a few times before you discount them as icky. Try them different times and prepared in slightly different ways.
Not sure about back button focus? Try it on three separate shoots with three different subjects. What initially might seem unfamiliar to your photography taste buds might actually taste great once you get used to it.
Hate the look of flash? Try using a different modifier on your speedlight or strobe and find one that suits your style of photography.
Overcoming fear in photography is often simply a matter of allowing ourselves the time and space to become comfortable with new things.
No one gets it right the first time or every time.
I’ve become a pretty proficient cook over the ten years we’ve been married. But we ate a LOT of hamburger helper that first year. Even now, I have an occasional meal that my husband and daughter put on the “never again list.” Just ask my daughter about my homemade tomato soup. She gags just thinking about it.
But I became a better cook because I kept at it. Kept cooking. Kept trying new recipes. I had to…we had to eat after all. And because we lived 45 minutes from town, take out wasn’t an option.
Similarly, none of us were born professional photographers. None of us. What you see online in someone’s gallery is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication to honing their craft. You’re also only seeing the very best stuff. For each stunning website gallery image, there are probably dozens of misfires, stupid smiles, awkward poses and crappy lighting.
And even the pros still make mistakes, not just in photography, but in every walk of life. Lebron James misses free throws. Drew Brees throws interceptions. Top companies create products that bomb (Crystal Pepsi anyone?). Million-dollar movies are a flop at the box office.
The professionals at the top of their game aren’t there because they never fail. They are there because they are willing to fail and fail and fail until they get it right.
Let yourself be willing to fail. It’s the only way you’ll grow.
So ask yourself this. What one thing is on your plate right now that scares you? Is it shooting in full manual mode? Using off-camera flash? Birth photography? Whatever it is, it won’t get less scary or easier to achieve if you don’t actually try it. So grab a fork and take a bite. You might discover it’s delicious.