For the Self-Confident Photographer, All the World’s a Stage

In a previous Black Star Rising post, I discussed overcoming self-doubt in client negotiations by tapping into a reservoir of confidence — the one you have earned by developing your talents as a photographer.

But an awareness of your technical abilities can only carry you so far. As photographers, we also face other challenges where our doubts and anxieties can undermine our success.

For me, one of these has been directing people on a set or in portrait situations.

I’m an introvert by nature. I abhor crowds. If I need to confront someone, I prefer e-mail if I can get away with it.

So to effectively handle the “people” part of my job, I have to remind myself of some advice I was given many years ago — back when I was an apprentice magician.

The Magician’s Apprentice

As a high school student, I studied magic. I liked manipulating cards and coins — and making things disappear, of course.

After practicing my tricks long and hard, I decided to join a magicians’ trade group. Part of the initiation was presenting a 15 minute show to the group’s members.

So, on a Saturday evening, I walked on stage and did my act.

I stunk.

Oh, the magic worked well enough — but my stage presence was awful. Almost in tears, I retired to the back of the room, while the membership continued with the initiations.

As I sat on a bar stool feeling sorry for myself, a diminutive gentleman named Joseph White climbed onto the stool next to me and started a conversation. He told me very candidly the areas of my act that needed work. He gave me advice on how to improve my body language and interaction with the audience.

Then he said something that has stayed with me.

He recommended that before my next performance, I should mentally throw a switch to the “on” position, gather myself and take possession of the stage.

“When you are on stage,” Mr. White said, “you should own it.”

Owning The Stage

To this day, when I’m working as a photographer, I’m “on.” I own the stage.

I focus on being assertive, on being efficient, and on acquiring the deliverables. I know I must speak up and, if necessary, project my voice and attitude to those around me.

Whether on a set, at a portrait sitting or at a wedding, you can only succeed if you are able to take control and master the situation. During a wedding, for instance, when shooting the family images, it’s your responsibility to “call the shots,” literally. With shot list in hand, you must move people around to make the most pleasing pictures.

If you don’t project a commanding presence (without being rude or arrogant), that part of the event will take longer and you will dampen the overall mood — particularly as it relates to you. Things will only get worse when you move on to the reception, where if you don’t assert yourself, the attendees simply won’t pay attention to you.

If you, like me, are an introvert, this may be all a performance — turning on an “on” switch. But it’s a critical part of your job.

4 Responses to “For the Self-Confident Photographer, All the World’s a Stage”

  1. Excellent post and I agree 100%. For me the difficulty comes in not coming off as arrogant even when inside I'm very much not confident. Perhaps it's an issue of "overcompensation" as I can sometimes talk too much. *lol*

  2. Dennis, how right you are. I'm the same as you and I struggle every shoot on controlling the shoot, sometimes its a losing battle with myself which ends differently depending on who it is that's disturbing the shoot. If its the model I've gotten a bit better at trusting my eye instead of the model's so I don't budge, with MUAs is a bit different because supposedly you're working with a professional but sometimes they don't have experience in photography make up, and its a bit hard to trust my gut here since I don't know allot about makeup, with a client I haven't been able to do what they want and then do what I want.
    Your article reminded me of this again. Thank you

  3. Reading this made me think of an image I often use to help newer musicians. Ian Tilton's photo of Kurt Cobain Cobain crying behind the stage in Seattle in 1990. You can collapse into a sobbing mass of insecurity after the show, but while you're out there, be the person they're all looking for you to be.

  4. Thank you for sharing this story Dennis. I am not a "people" person either. It's nice to know I am not alone and that there is something you can do about it.

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