How I Overcame Photo Anxiety in 3 Easy Steps
on Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Let me start by saying that photo anxiety is real and it has very little to do with vanity.
Sure, there are some who use the experience to fish for compliments or treat it as a look-at-me moment, but for many people, just the thought of having their picture taken or seeing a photograph of themselves can be stressful to the point of depression, debilitating anxiety, and even panic attacks.
And yes, I do know this from firsthand experience.
People think I'm being disingenuous when I tell them I really, really don't like having my picture taken, and I get it.
I'm a very confident person. I have no problem walking into a room full of strangers and starting a conversation. And I frequently draw attention to myself with my offbeat sense of humor.
You'd think I would be the first person in line for a photo op, but you'd be wrong. I have extreme photo anxiety. My camera issues sometimes lead to panic attacks and have resulted in me passing on business opportunities because I couldn't handle the idea shooting videos and having my picture taken.
Which brings us to today's topic.
I'm not going to talk about my reasons for avoiding the camera, but I am going to share the three steps I took to overcome those fears.
- Find Your Why
- Find the Right Photographer
- Embrace the Real You
We live in a world that demands a visual presence. It doesn't matter if you're self-employed, work for a big company or a small business, we all need to be seen to be relevant and selfies, headshots, and video clips are the reality of how we do business in the digital age.
My aha moment was after declining a video interview. I made a list of all the projects I had either passed on or put on hold because they required me to be in front of a camera. I was horrified by how many there were and I cried. And when I was done crying I made a conscious decision to find a solution.
Hopefully, you're not at the extreme end with me, but if you are, these are the three things I did to get myself in front of a camera.
1. Find Your Why
The first step to overcoming your fear is to figure out what you're really afraid of and why.
Psychologist Anna Rowley and photographer Peter Hurley did an excellent TED Talk  about why people are afraid to be in front of a camera. In their presentation, Hurley points out that everyone has a distinct and unique relationship with their appearance and you are the only one capable of deciding how you feel about it.
There are a lot of reasons people have photophobia. For some, it's fear of rejection, loss of control, or being judged. For others, it's simply the realization that we look much different in photos than we do in the mirror. (Yes, there is a scientific reason for that last one. If you want to know why check out this article from Gizmodo called Why You Look Different in Photos Than You Do in the Mirror )
Rowley says we are "both attracted and repelled by our appearance and the choice we embrace depends on our level of self-acceptance." It's what she calls the gap between who we feel we are and who we really are.
She suggests the easiest way to bridge that gap is to take control of our perception by finishing the sentence "I am a person who..."
Rowley's examples were "I am a person who is resilient or I am a person who has courage", but the right answer is whatever resonates with you.
It sounds cheesy, but if you do it enough times with conviction you will start to believe it.
2. Find the Right Photographer
The second step is to find the right photographer.
I chose photojournalist Allegra Boverman because I liked her portfolio and work style.
I know a lot of professional photographers and they all have fabulous skills, but Boverman was the one who made me feel good about the experience.
She says she likes to start by talking to people find out where they're comfortable. And that's what we did.
We talked about things like how she works and my expectations. We collaborated on locations and the type of pictures I wanted. It made me feel like I had some control over the process. Instead of dreading the experience, it became an adventure.
Boverman says she tries to make it very relaxing because she knows it's weird to stand there in front of the camera.
"I joke with people and talk constantly to help people show their personality, smile and relax"
-- Allegra Boverman, Photographer
The camera does not lie and if you're uncomfortable it's going to show. Don't be afraid to interview two, five, or however many photographers it takes to find the one who can make you feel good about the experience.
3. Embrace the Real You
The last step is the hardest. You have to be willing and able to embrace the real you.
Hurley says the way we cope with the camera is pretty much the same way many of us try to cope with life.
Be honest with yourself and accept the way you look today isn't the way you looked yesterday and it's not the way you're going to look tomorrow.
Remember that you can't please everyone and it's up to you to define who you are and how you want to be perceived.
You also have to accept there will always be people who will criticize no matter how you look.
Once you can do all that, it won't matter if you have a funny nose or crooked smile because the unique beauty that is you will be what shines through.
On a personal note, it took me about six months to get to the point where I was able to approach a photographer about getting headshots, but it was worth it. I won't say I'm cured, but after spending an hour on the streets of Manchester with Allegra Boverman, I've gotten comfortable enough to share this post and start talking about setting up a time to do regular business headshots.
1. Bridging the self-acceptance Gap with "psyphotology" -- TED Talk with Peter Hurley and Anna Rowley
2. Why You Look Different in Photos Than You Do in the Mirror, Gizmodo
3. For more information about Allegra Boverman and her work please visit her website allegrabovermanphotography.zenfolio.com or find her on Facebook.