Recently I did a survey on Instagram and asked what the biggest hurdle was for people to book a photoshoot. I fully expected it to be money. Instead, overwhelmingly, the answer was ‘CONFIDENCE’ - or lack of. At first, I was surprised, but then again, it’s not that surprising at all, considering how everyone I know talks about themselves, including me. We all struggle with our self image: some more than others, but none of us are totally happy and confident in our skin. Unfortunately, we live in a system that capitalises on us disliking ourselves. Especially if you are a woman, you will know what I am talking about. Not to say this doesn’t affect men though: we are all under the spell of constant self-improvement messaging, from the day we exit the womb. Clients will often ask me before a photo session if I can help them with posing, what they should wear or if I can photoshop something they’re insecure about. Some even go as far as watching posing tutorial on Youtube or practice their expression in front of the mirror.
None of these will make you more confident, instead it will stifle you during your session because you are going to try and remember the instructions from the tutorials or be concerned with what your face + body looks like at any given moment. This kind of preparation will prevent you from being present in the moment and relax into your body - instead it will keep you stuck in your head.
So how exactly do you gain the confidence to do a portrait session and how do you act confident during it?
Photoshoots to me, are a very intimate thing. It seems easy enough, someone presses a shutter and hands over the image after, right? Well, it depends who you are working with and why. It’s an odd concept, that (in most cases) a stranger holds up a camera in your face, wanting to ‘capture’ your ‘essence’ in what is essentially a very unnatural situation! How do you succeed at that? The strangeness of having your photo taken is why choosing the right photographer is so crucial for your experience.
You need the right photographer for your project and purpose of the photos. Communicate your fears, your insecurities and your ideas with your photographer. And then trust that photographer.
A photoshoot can be confronting too because unless you are taking a passport photo - it is hard to let someone else truly see you through the anonymous black hole of a lens, without the human eye contact nonetheless. Which is why I only shoot on live view, so people still see my face and we can look at each other. Afterwards, when you receive your images, you are then forced to look at yourself, to really see yourself. This can be uncomfortable, especially if we otherwise avoid looking at ourselves.
Of course, photo sessions are not a magic wand that will solve all of your self-esteem issues. I wish that were the case. But they achieve something incredibly special: We see ourselves literally through the eyes of someone else. If we allow ourselves that perspective, we will see what they see when they look at us: the fun, the beauty, the love, the power, the weakness, the fight, the soul. Whether it is a stranger or a loved one photographing us: we are suddenly looking at a visual representation of someone else’s feelings for us. Have you ever wondered what someone else really thinks of you? Of course you have, we all do. That is the closest I can compare photographs to. Seeing what someone else thinks of you. Essentially, we are being witnessed, not just in a metaphorical sense, but in a very graphic, tangible way: It’s like someone actually ‘captured’ a piece of us that is now eternally frozen. We all deeply desire to be witnessed, but when it happens, it’s terrifying and beautiful at once.
Ask anyone that’s had a photoshoot before, including me. I booked a photoshoot last year with my friend Claire and the day of the shoot I didn’t feel well. We ended up having a lot of fun during the session but when I saw the first previews I cried. Not from joy. I didn’t like any of them. I felt terrible. She was so lovely and just said she understands. I knew this reaction was normal and some of my clients must feel the same at first, but it took me off guard! When I received the whole gallery I found ten photos I loved, then thirty, then seventy - eventually, I fell in love with all of them. Now, a year later, I can look at them and just be so compassionate for this woman and in awe of her. We have a warped perception of ourselves, depending on what we’re going through! And I realised something very obvious: firstly, in the midst of 100 images you cannot love all of them. I also realised while the ones Claire chose to publish were not my personal favourites - she thought they were beautiful because she used them to promote her business! And she wouldn’t use anything she didn’t think was good enough right? I didn’t have to like them, I just had to accept and believe the fact that other people see me differently from how I see me.
One of my favourite images of me by Claire Vögeli
The same way I never understand why my clients struggle with something in their appearance that I genuinely find stunning: We are so used to our own features that we don’t know how beautiful we look to other people. Even if we don’t believe how other people see us - can we try to at least accept it? Because photographs are more than products - they are witnesses - it is incredibly important to choose your portrait photographer with care. Make sure you don’t simply like a trendy aesthetic - but are aligned with their values and their process. Because who they are will influence your shoot and how you feel about the images after. Of course, this is a responsibility on both sides: The photographers process as well as the clients own inner work. Neither one can do this alone. Confidence, like many other things, is a muscle. It won’t fall into your lap if you sit and wait for it. You have to exercise it like a muscle, you need to train confidence in order to become more confident, which means putting yourself in situations that make you feel insecure.
I can tell you a photoshoot gives you confidence, but you won’t believe it until you experience it.
If you are waiting to have your portrait taken until you ‘feel’ confident, you might wait forever. With confidence, It’s like you have to act before you believe it or feel it - and then the belief follows your action. With the right photographer for you, your photo session will make you feel incredible. You will walk away feeling elated, excited and hungry for more.
If you’d like to experience this and build your confidence, get in touch and let’s talk!