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Overcoming Fear and Confusion for the New Real Estate Photographer

Published: 31/12/2018
By: larry

FearGuest post by Tony Colangelo, Victoria, BC originally published in March 2014: 

As I approach the end of my second full year as a real estate photographer, I can recall many times when I was confronted with a particularly daunting challenge at a photoshoot. I can also easily remember the confusion and feelings of being overwhelmed and yes, even a bit fearful in those moments. It’s my guess though, that all new real estate photographers have felt those very same feelings from time to time. So using my background as a psychologist, I thought it might be interesting to take those experiences to write an article that examines the “psychology” of these strong feelings--both in terms of why they happen and how to overcome them.

For many people, confusion and fear of the unknown is very powerful and certainly an impediment to achieving desired results. As in any new endeavor, when we get into professional photography, we don’t know what we don’t know and our work tends to show it. It’s understandable that poor results are likely to happen in the beginning and we take solace in our commitment to getting better at the next shoot. This is a very healthy and constructive way to respond to the disappointment of not producing Scott Hargis-like images right out of the camera. We all know that the lessons learned from failure are among the most powerful and enduring. In this regard, one could say that there is value in failure.

For many people, however, these healthy beliefs about failure get distorted. These individuals become extraordinarily hard on themselves to the point where negativity and doubt take root. This starts a vicious cycle whereby they get increasingly fearful about what might go wrong rather than visualizing things going well. I’m sure that we’ve all experienced moments of self-doubt and negative beliefs about our work. So how do we interrupt these thoughts when they come up? How do we re-align our interpretation of that less-than-stellar work so as to not be so hard on ourselves?

I’d like to offer the following suggestions:

  1. Recognize the “triggers.” Generally speaking, the work that I did as a psychologist revolved around a few simple principles--one of which was that thoughts lead to feelings, which then produce behaviors. The key to overcoming a fear of failure is to try and recognize the thought(s) that triggers that feeling. Usually, the thought is related to an “inner critic”--a voice that says, “Are you kidding me? There’s no way you’re going to pull that off!” Having an inner voice that cautions us can often be helpful, as it protects us in difficult circumstances such as when dealing with untrustworthy people. However, when that voice starts getting in the way of doing things that can advance us, like taking risks to improve our photography, then it’s not helpful at all. To overcome our fear of failure, we need to first identify this inner critic and what causes this voice to get louder (for me, it’s doing twilight exteriors and it comes out as procrastinating a practice session!). Once we’ve identified it, we need to use our own voice to put forth some rational rebuttals and affirmations that speak to a plan for achieving our goal! And the starting point to do this is...
  2. Embrace your errors! John F. Kennedy used to say that “a mistake is an error uncorrected.” When a setback happens, we all have the choice to see it as failure or as an opportunity to address it and get better as a result. Indeed, there’s a great deal of research that shows that successful people don’t see failure as a negative, they see it simply as information they can use in order to get better in future attempts.
  3. Learn, learn, learn! If you are finding that color casts are affecting the quality of your images, rather than beating yourself up over it, use that same mental energy to learn what caused those casts in the first place! Take the time to read up on color theory or why colored gels over your flash-heads are used in certain circumstances. There are many ways to increase and expand our knowledge of photography. For instance:
    • Read voraciously! There are many good sources of information on the internet and, in my humble opinion, none better than Scott Hargis’s book, The Essential Guide to Lighting Interiors.
    • Read through the comments made in the PFRE Discussion Group.
    • Examine the comments made on photos submitted to the PFRE Flickr group... or better yet, post your own images there and see what people think.
    • Look at architecture and design magazines not only for inspiration but to gain tactical knowledge as well (e.g., with each image, try to figure out how the photographer lit the shot.)
    • Find a mentor and meet with him/her regularly.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. The best way to reduce fear (and build confidence) is practice. Yes, as stated above, we must always strive to increase our knowledge in a given area. However, it’s even more important to put the theory into practice, as that’s when experience and wisdom start to take root.
  5. Stay busy. This one is closely related to practice; it speaks to the need to maintain practice! If you know that your schedule will allow you an hour over the weekend in-between personal/family obligations, then use it to practice. Fear and self-doubt thrive in periods of inactivity when they have time to fester.
  6. Have a backup plan. Like many new pro photographers, I struggled at first with off-camera flash and rather than deal with my anxiety about it, I chose exposure fusion (EF) to produce my final images, as I thought it was an easier route to take. While my clients seemed to be pleased with the results, it quickly became clear to me that spending untold hours in post-processing wasn’t feasible (nor profitable) in the long-term. Yet, even though I’ve moved to utilizing off-camera flash for each image that I take at a photoshoot, I continue to shoot a quick 5-shot bracket (+2 to -2) in very tricky lighting situations that cause me some discomfort. This way, I have options in post should my flash-only exposures not turn out exactly as I’d hoped. So, beyond the potential for producing EF/flash hybrid images, it also gives me the option to blend one or more of the bracketed images or use one or more of those images as raw material for masking-in certain elements of the shot to my base image. In my mind, giving myself these options constitutes proper risk-management toward producing images that will please my clients.
  7. K.I.S.S. “Keep It Simple, Stupid!” We’ve heard this acronym since we were kids, right? Well, in those instances when everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, the truth is that more often than not, a simple solution is right under our noses. After all, the interplay between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO don’t change just because things are not going as planned at a shoot! We just have to take a couple of deep breaths and quiet down our “inner critic” so that we can begin to think things through. Sometimes our nerves get the better of us in the field and we don’t discover that “simple solution” until we get home and start the editing process. That’s okay--we can use that solution at the next shoot!

In closing, I can tell you after spending many years as a psychologist, working with thousands of clients and conducting countless hours of counseling, I’ve seen the benefits of what can happen when people work through their personal fears and doubts. Success and confidence gives people a sense of power and resiliency that can be called upon in many different types of situations in life--including our photography!

I hope some of the suggestions that I’ve touched upon in this article will help you at some point in your journey. In any case, I wish you fearless shooting!

8 comments on “Overcoming Fear and Confusion for the New Real Estate Photographer”

  1. Pertinent information whether one is new to something or not. That inner critic is a jerk and will pop out anytime.
    Thanks Tony for some solid advice and a reminder that we are capable of what we are doing.

  2. Sort of like stage fright that actors so often suffer from their entire career. As long as it is not crippling, it can function to keep you on your toes and take nothing for granted and make you double check that all your equipment is packed and all batteries charged and memory cards in place.

    Once you are shooting (or on stage) it usually it goes away. I still find some on shoots even, after more than 40 years of shooting, before I leave home, but those are usually restricted to shooting involving drone or video (which is still new to me) so always a worry about whether I will be able to capture what I will be needing to capture and solve the problems I know I will encounter. But as I said, once emerged in the nitty gritty, I don't have time to worry about it and the jitters go away.

  3. The only fear I came across was when I faced an extremely dark room with a lot of natural wood furniture ceilings and walls or into a room with a tremendous view seen through a wall of floor to ceiling windows with the sun streaming straight into the room. I conquered those fears and will never have them again by taking 5 raw brackets and sending them to for processing. I have been doing this for approximately 18 months. It has built up my confidence. I know there are no situations I will face that I cannot take a superior image of for my clients. It has taken away all the hours I had to spend editing and disappointing my family by being tied to a computer. It was life changing to come home send out the images and be free for the rest of the day to do gardening be with family or finishing my Honey Do List. I have no more stress in my life thanks to BeePec.

  4. Thank you Tony - great ideas even for photographers like myself who have been pro for 35 years. I was a photojournalist for
    large daily newspapers for most of my life and am fairly new to real estate and architectural photography - I occasionally shot
    architecture for the Homes sections of the papers, but that involved at least half a day, lugging the studio lighting equipment
    and taking 4-6 shots max.

    I agree with Tony that the Scott Hargis style 'in the Camera' is the best way to go with Real Estate as it also teaches you how to light and sets you up for
    shooting higher end photography for developers, architectects, hotels etc. As far as I know no one shooting for Architectural Digest is using
    HDR or Enfuse or other program blending software.

    There is always something new to learn, there is always room for improvement. Read, practice....try new things.

    Wishing all of us a joyful 2018 full of adventure

  5. Confidence more than fear. When I started, I didn't have the confidence to know I had a good composition and would stress and shoot too much. Now that I've been doing it for years, I still may not get the perfect composition, but I'm confident I will choose a good one and deliver quality images. The technical side of the profession gets talked about the most, but a really good composition is far more noticeable than a technically perfect image of a boring POV. The best place to start might be to learn and practice composition and worry about perfect exposure and color along the way. Get the really cute moment that the baby is smiling and lots of imperfections get ignored.

  6. Wow, I had no idea that Larry was going to re-post this article that I wrote almost FIVE years ago! Where has the time gone?! In March of 2014, when I wrote this piece, I was a few months away from my wife giving birth to our second daughter -- with me being 52 when my little one arrived! I was also transitioning from RE photography into the world of shooting for interiors designers, architects and builders; and, in fact, had just booked my first shoot for the top designer in my marketplace. I have to tell you that “fear and confusion” -- the topic of the article -- were ever present in my life, at that time! LOL

    After re-reading the post, I will share that the tactics that I described then, to combat fear, are just as relevant now. In fact, for virtually all my coaching clients, at some point in the process, fear and confusion come up as the greatest roadblock to getting to the next level. I’ve found that staying on top of negative emotions before, during and after the shoot is a key contributor to our success as photographers. In going through the list of tactics that I described in the article, I have to tell you that my personal favourite is #2 -- embracing your errors. In fact, when I get home after a shoot and upload the pics from a shoot to my computer, if there are shots that I’m not crazy about, then I allow myself a short window of a minute or two to be upset (this often includes cursing in Italian!!) and then, after taking a couple of deep breaths, I try to “deconstruct” the shot as positively as I can, trying to put to memory the things that I will do next time to avoid making the same error(s).

    Anyway, I hope this re-post is helpful to everyone; and with that, I genuinely hope that 2019 brings us all much success in our photography and, more importantly, much peace and contentment in our personal lives! Happy New Year, everyone!!

  7. There is an old saying: failure to prepare is preparing to fail. From the various online forums devoted to real estate photography, I have the impression that significant numbers of would-be professional photographers are entering the industry in this genre without adequate preparation in either the business or craft of photography. I am talking about total ignorance of many important areas of business practice, photographic technique and the established pictorial aesthetics for architectural subject matter, which should be addressed before hanging out a shingle as a professional. Adequate preparation helps to engender a feeling of confidence when confronting unexpected and challenging situations.

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