Guest post by Tony Colangelo, Victoria, BC: 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 endeavour, 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:
- 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 behaviours. 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 ...
- Embrace your errors! John F. Kennedy used to say that “a mistake is an error uncorrected.” When a set-back 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.
- Learn, learn, learn. If you are finding that colour casts are allows 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 colour theory or why coloured 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 that 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Have a back-up 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.
- 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 nose. 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 OK -- 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 counselling, 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!