As with any new endeavor, when we get into real estate photography, the first challenge is that we don’t know what we don’t know--and our early efforts tend to show it! It’s understandable that poor results are likely to happen in the beginning and we take solace in our commitment to do better at the next shoot. This is a very healthy and constructive way to respond to the disappointment of a shoot where we didn't produce the types of images we’d hoped for. Indeed, we all know that the lessons learned from disappointment and failure are among the most powerful and enduring. In this regard, one could say that there is value in failure.
For many people though, rather than seeing a disappointment as an opportunity for improvement, it serves to create negativity and doubt. This starts a vicious cycle in which one gets increasingly fearful about what might go wrong, rather than visualizing things going well. While this can happen to shooters of all experience levels, it tends to happen most often (and most intensely) for newer shooters. When we produce less-than-stellar results, our challenge is to find a way to interrupt these thoughts of self-doubt and fear.
I’d like to offer the following suggestions as to how to do so:
- Recognize the “triggers”. In a previous career as a psychologist, one of the core concepts that I tried to convey to patients was the notion that thoughts lead to feelings, which then activate behaviors. The key to overcoming self-doubt and fear is to try and recognize the thoughts that trigger those feelings. More often than not, such a trigger comes from ourselves! We all have an "inner critic" that can be pretty harsh at times and tends to say things like: “Are you kidding me? There’s no way you’re going to pull that off!” And regardless of whether this is said in your head or out loud under your breath, after encountering a challenging situation at a shoot, this "inner voice" only serves to intensify the fears that were simmering below the surface, anyway, for a new shooter. To overcome such fears, in real-time, we need to counter them with a more positive mindset; and the starting point to do this is…
- Use the K.I.S.S. Approach (“Keep It Simple, Stupid!”) We’ve heard this acronym since we were kids, right? Well, in those instances when we feel stumped and we don't know what to do next, rather than beat ourselves up with thoughts of "I can't" or starting to get panicky, take a moment to realize that, quite often, a simple solution is right under our nose. After all, the interplay between shutter speed, aperture and ISO doesn’t change just because we're feeling stressed and fearful! Simply taking a couple of deep breaths to calm our minds, will go a long way to quieting our “inner critic”, which can allow us to begin to think things through. Even if our nerves get the better of us in the field, we can use this same calming approach when we get home. In fact, even if it's not ideal, there are often "fixes" that we can discover in the editing approach that can get us close to the shot we want. However, finding these fixes is easier if we can simply try to stop/mitigate the negative self-talk! Taking such a dispassionate approach will allow us to see the errors we made on-site, so that we can be more mindful of not making the same errors at the next shoot.
- 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 that setback as a failure or as an opportunity to improve and get a better result next time. Indeed, there’s a great deal of research that shows that successful people don’t see failure as a negative; they see it only as an information source they can use to get better in future attempts.
- Learn, learn, learn. If you are finding that you’re intimidated at the thought of doing your first twilight exterior shot or using multiple off-camera flashes, for instance, you have a choice. You can continue ruminating on why you won’t be able to pull it off (which, in turn causes more fear), or you can use that same mental energy to research and learn the appropriate techniques! There are lots of wonderful learning materials out there including books, video tutorials, YouTube clips, discussion groups, etc. One of the best ways to learn is to go through the juror comments made to the many entries in PFRE’s Monthly Photography Contests. Better yet, submit a photo yourself and see what kind of comments you get! Another great way to get better and address certain fears regarding your photography, is to hire a coach. PFRE also has a list of coaches that can support your growth.
- Practice, practice, practice. It's been my experience (and I know a great many others will concur) that the best way to reduce fear and build confidence, is to practice. Yes, as stated above, we must always strive to increase our knowledge of course, but it’s even more important to put theory into practice as that’s when experience and wisdom start to take root.
In closing, I can tell you that after spending many years as a psychologist conducting countless hours of counseling, I’ve personally witnessed the benefits of what can happen when people work through their personal fears and doubts. Increased self-awareness and a plan to improve can allow you to confront these feelings head-on, rather than letting them fester. This, in turn, can give you a sense of power and resiliency that can be called upon to generate the confidence needed to tackle future obstacles in your photography!
To the more seasoned shooters in our community, I hope you'll take a moment to share your experience (and practical examples) on how you've been able to address the fears and concerns that came up for you early in your career, that eventually led to increased confidence in your abilities.
Tony Colangelo is a residential and commercial photographer, as well as a photography coach, based in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is a long-time contributor to PFRE and is the creator of The Art & Science of Great Composition tutorial series.