Join Now Sign In
Get full access to articles, free contest entries and more!

This is the 1st of your 3 free articles

Become a member for unlimited website access and more.

FREE TRIAL Available!

Learn More

Already a member? Sign in to continue reading

How to Build Confidence as a Photographer

Simple techniques to help photographers overcome shyness and feel more confident photographing strangers

Many experienced photographers are great with people. They come off as comfortable and confident and immensely capable of putting their subjects at ease. It’s practically in the job description, though in my experience it isn’t taught in photo school. Considering the importance of interacting with people—especially strangers— some photographers may feel like their own shyness or lack of self confidence will hamper their photography. This is exacerbated if the photographer is especially interested in street photography, travel photography, portraiture, or any other discipline in which interacting with strangers is essential. 

But most photographers who are good with people weren’t born that way. It’s a skill like any other, and it can be built with practice and experience. So how can you work on overcoming shyness and getting better at interacting with strangers? There’s one specific activity that will provide ideal practice building that interpersonal skill. 

Take your camera into the street and task yourself with approaching a stranger and asking if you can take their picture. That’s it. That’s the whole thing.

After successfully approaching one stranger, try upping it to a second stranger. Then the next time you go out with a camera, task yourself with approaching four strangers, then eight strangers, then 16 strangers. Before you know it you will have learned a few things about yourself—one of which is that the worst thing that can happen is these strangers simply say no. And frankly, most of them will be polite about it. When they say no, you respond with something along the lines of, “No problem. Sorry to bother you.” Then move along to find someone else to photograph somewhere else. 

Sure, you’ll have to steel yourself for a bit of mild rejection, especially the first few times you try it. But with practice you’ll build a thicker skin and the rejection won’t bother you much. There are a million fish in the sea, and some of them are happy to be photographed. 


Saying “go approach some strangers” is easier said than done, of course. To put it into practice, though, there are a few specific techniques that will help. 

First, make sure your camera is prominent and ready. Hang it around your neck, for instance. Not only does this clue in the other person as to why you might be approaching, it also provides a bit of a mental shield. I know photographers who report that their camera is like a superhero’s cape. It’s not only a barrier between you and the world before your eyes, it can act as an all-access pass. With a camera around your neck, everyone knows what you’re up to. 

Next, try approaching people with a compliment. “I love that hat,” for instance, or “you look great.” Simple, straightforward compliments not only demonstrate to the subject that you’re approaching in good faith, they clue them in on why you might have selected them for a picture. So it also helps, of course, if you approach someone who has something special about them. Whether that’s a brightly patterned shirt or a big, beautiful hat. Those items that catch your eye are likely things they’re proud to show off too. 

It also helps, of course, if you choose your place of approach wisely. Don’t stalk strangers down dark alleyways—for your own safety too! Instead, choose public parks and other pedestrian filled areas where it won’t seem odd to interact momentarily with a stranger.


Better still, see if you can find someone who is doing an interesting activity and ask if you can photograph them. Whether that’s people skateboarding, juggling, or a handball player in the park. People practicing interesting activities understand that photographers may find their activities worthy of a photograph, and increase the opportunity for a yes. 

When you ask someone if you can take their picture, make it easy to say yes by allowing them to say no. “Do you mind if I take your picture?” It sounds like it’s not much of an ask, and it allows them to easily acquiesce. If they ask why you want to take their picture, simply reply that you like to photograph interesting people “and you look interesting.” It’s hard to argue with that logic, and it makes it clear that you’re not up to no good. 

In the end, that camera around your neck really is like a superhero’s cape, or like an actor getting in character. You’ll soon associate your camera with the power it conveys and after a bit of practice you’ll find yourself more comfortable and confident when working with strangers. In fact, after even your first practice session, approaching just one single person, you’ll be a little better prepared and a little more confident immediately.


Leave a Reply

Save Your Favorites

Save This Article