Whether you are new to photography or a seasoned professional, sometimes pre-shoot nerves can feel overwhelming. This article explores why even pro photographers still experience pre-shoot nerves and how to use that feeling in the pit of your stomach to your advantage.
As far as emotions go, nervousness is usually looked upon negatively. Brought on by your body’s natural response to stress, a series of hormonal and physiological changes occur to sharpen your focus in preparation to tackle a perceived threat. In this case, your body has identified an upcoming photoshoot as a threat. Here we will unpick the feeling of pre-shoot nerves and what you can do about them.
For some photographers, racing thoughts, an increased heart rate, insomnia, and restlessness are just a few of the unpleasant symptoms that come along with the usual preparation for a photoshoot. Perhaps you are shooting a wedding; a one-off event with moments of crucial timing and no second chances. Maybe it’s a big client and you want to impress. Perhaps you have worried so much that you have convinced yourself that someone else would be better positioned to shoot the images. If any of this sounds familiar, keep reading.
Of course, this article doesn’t mean to make it sound like anxiety disorder is easily overcome with a few steps, that is a different kettle of fish altogether. Nervousness is a common human response to high-stakes situations and can affect photographers at any stage of their career, regardless of their level of experience. Whether you only have a few shoots under your belt or are a seasoned professional with a decade of experience, the pressure to deliver can trigger pre-shoot nerves.
Although not widely spoken about, you are not alone in this feeling, many just don’t say it out loud. I have spoken with many photographers both new and established who feel this way. Even seasoned photographers can find themselves grappling with self-doubt, worrying about capturing the perfect shot or meeting clients’ expectations.
I myself have spent countless hours thinking over and over about an upcoming shoot; that feeling of dread in my chest, negative self-talk, and an inability to concentrate or engage with other tasks. I have spent many hours awake in the middle of the night, making lists or writing research notes on my phone so that I will remember in the morning. I now recognize the response that my body has is more accurately described as performance anxiety, or stage fright. Even Luciano Pavarotti — one of the best tenors of all time — was said to have suffered from stage fright. Knowledge of this fact, seemingly unrelated to my world, allowed me to begin to unpick my pre-shoot predicament in a way that would work to my advantage and use this as an opportunity to be prepared. It’s in that preparedness that my nerves are settled and I can begin to speak positive thoughts to myself.
Using nervous energy as fuel for your fire can be learned over time. Rather than trying to suppress the feeling, channel that nervousness into your preparations. When a case of the jitters begins, there are a few steps you can follow to manage this manifestation of your inner fears, making it work to your advantage.
Mind Over Matter
First and foremost, it is best to acknowledge your feelings. Don’t try to ignore or delay them as that can worsen the situation. Recognizing that nervousness is a natural response and a sign that you care about what you are doing can help to propel you towards delivering your best. Confronting your feelings is powerful, and feels like a victory within itself.
One effective way to combat nervousness is through preparation. Create a checklist of equipment, a task list, or an order of events as appropriate. Research the specifics of your shoot to know what is expected of you. Getting to know your subject or client can help ease the tension beforehand, making you both at ease with one another. It would be a good idea to visit the shoot location on a recce to gain an understanding of the travel time, site logistics, and lighting situation. Do consider a test shoot prior to the session if there is a subject or technique that you have never tried before. Nervousness cannot thrive in a prepared mind, and the more prepared you are, the more confident you will feel.
Deep Breathing and Relaxation Techniques
Of course, while nervousness can lead to beneficial outcomes in your work, it’s crucial to manage this in a healthy way. If your nerves start to overwhelm you, take a moment to focus on your breathing. Inhale slowly through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. This technique helps calm your nervous system, reduce tension, and bring you back to the task at hand.
Counter negative thoughts with positive affirmations. This might sound too cheesy for you, but everyone can find ways to make this work for them. Remind yourself of past successes and the skillful work you have completed so far. Visualize yourself confidently navigating the session and connecting with your subjects. By focusing on positive self-talk and visualizing success, you can actively rewire your mindset. Come up with your own mantra for the morning of a shoot; I have the knowledge, I am prepared, I have all the necessary equipment and I am ready.
Call on Your Previous Experiences
Look back to another occasion when you were nervous before a shoot, and the results turned out well. That right there is evidence that you can do this! You have worked on projects before of various types, and so have already shown that you have the skills to pull this off too. Just remember that you have been booked for a reason. Have things gone wrong before? Yes, and you are still here because you know how to respond to change, so quieten those what-ifs with the knowledge that you can handle plan A, B, or C if it comes to it.
Nervousness experienced in the anticipation of your shoot can feel overwhelming, but usually, as soon as you begin to perform the task, the worry tends to fade away. This is because it is actually quite hard to work and worry at the same time. I like to compare performance anxiety to the experience of riding a rollercoaster; fear builds as the car climbs the lift-hill, in anticipation of the drop. Once over that initial hill, the fear dissipates, and excitement takes its place. Just like the roller coaster experience, the key lies in pushing through the initial anxiety and embracing the thrill of the ride.
Nervousness Cannot Thrive in a Prepared Mind
In my experience, nervousness doesn’t ever go away completely, and it shouldn’t either. Take nervousness as a great sign that you care about what you are doing. Let the adrenaline fuel you and serve as a catalyst for growth and improvement. Before you know it, you’ll be wondering if what you are feeling is nerves or excitement. That switch in your feelings is such a rewarding feeling.
Do you struggle with pre-shoot nerves, or have you found your own way to overcome this?