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Dealing with Onlookers: Wellbeing in Photography

Whilst practising photography it’s natural to draw attention from strangers. This makes some of us uncomfortable and self-conscious to the point that we don’t concentrate, rush our shots or leave our location altogether.

So how can photographers regain confidence and deal with onlookers when shooting out in public? 

Dealing with Onlookers iPhotography Article man with camera

What is Photo Anxiety?

Firstly, provided they are just ‘onlookers’ and not being anti-social, then it really can’t be the strangers fault. The situation is otherwise all in your head, so let’s deal with the psychology of what is making you feel awkward doing what you love.

Now let’s not get this muddled up, whether you’ve been practising photography for years or days, then onlookers can still cause anxiety for some. This is why certain photographers only shoot certain styles of work where they know they won’t be interrupted or in public view.

Don’t feel that you are on your own in this situation, it is an unspoken suffering many photographers live with and don’t find ways to overcome it.

Why Do Photographers Get Nervous?

Basically, it’s down to you. All this nervousness about people looking at you whilst you’re taking a picture is manifesting in your head. Instead, it needs to be discussed to help you rationalise those fears in order to overcome them.

Rationalising a situation like this will help some photographers understand and control those niggling thoughts. Through this, you can convert the worry into a positive experience.

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4 Reasons Photographers Feel Inadequate

The initial worry most commonly comes from an embedded feeling of inadequacy. This can be related to your;

1. photography knowledge
2. photographic experience
3. choice of camera
4. actual camera settings

If you don’t feel, deep down, that you know enough about photography or your kit then onlookers can only make you more self conscious.

Dealing with Onlookers iPhotography Article lady holding camera

How Do Photographers Get More Confident?

It all comes down to converting the feeling. The feeling of thinking that onlookers know more than you or think you’re being subversive with your camera can be read in different ways.

Remember onlookers don’t know how much you know or don’t know about photography. Whilst they may watch you for 5 seconds, they’ll never give you a second thought. Instead interpret their choices as positive interest in your work. Maybe they want to be a photographer and they’re jealous?

After all, why would you watch a pop star if you didn’t secretly want to be one?

If you get onlookers coming over to you asking what you’re doing then embrace the conversation, maybe show them a few shots. Tell them it’s for a workplace project for example, that separation from it being personal can stop any discomfort in talking about it and strangers may feel rude about stopping a professional project.

Dealing with Onlookers iPhotography Article man holding camera

Enjoy Your Photography

Despite all of this some of us are just not socially comfortable enough to be practising photography in public areas which we have to accept, providing we’ve tried the earlier ‘medicine’.

Embrace photography as a fun pursuit and don’t let strangers stop you from doing what you love. Life is so very short to spend assuming, sometimes you just need to say, ‘to heck with you, I’m doing this for me!’ .

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5 Tips for Photography Confidence

Ultimately there is no perfect plan as dealing with onlookers is a variable based on who the onlooker is and what their motives are. Just remember;

1. But don’t assume something negative immediately.

2. Onlookers could be looking for tips, insight, motivation or they could simply be envying you.

3. Don’t believe that having a better camera will abate these worries either, in fact it can place more pressure on you. Imagine having a top end camera and not knowing how to use it in public.

4. Those fumbling fingers and miscalculated settings can cause average pictures which you could have captured on a smartphone. A camera will not save you, but knowledge can help.

5. Knowing more about photography and your camera will eliminate some issues of inadequacy, so read, learn and join iPhotography!


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