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-concious to the point that we don’t concentrate, rush our shots or leave our location all together. So how should we regain our confidence and deal with onlookers?

Whose Fault is it?

Well firstly, provided they are just ‘onlookers’ and not being anti-social, then it really can’t be the stranger’s 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.

Dealing with Onlookers iPhotography Article man with camera

What’s at the Root?

Basically it’s all innate. All this nervousness about people looking at you whilst you’re taking a picture is manifesting in your head and 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.

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. Choice of Camera Settings

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

Dealing with Onlookers iPhotography Article lady holding camera downwards
Dealing with Onlookers iPhotography Article man with camera

How to Build Confidence

It all comes down to converting the feeling. The feeling, when dealing with onlookers, of thinking that they 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 a positive interest in your work. Maybe they want to be a photographer and they’re curious?

Dealing with Onlookers iPhotography Article man with camera showing lady pictures

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.


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. Don’t assume something negative immediately.

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

3. A better camera won’t stop these worries.  In fact, it can place more pressure on you. Imagine having a top-end camera and not knowing how to use it in public. 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.

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

For Some of Us Though…

Despite all of this some of us are just not socially comfortable enough to be dealing with onlookers and 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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