Photo shoot anxiety is real. Having your photo taken can be a very stressful thing and if you have clinically diagnosed anxiety, like I do, it can feel overwhelming. I understand and I can help.
Let's define photo shoot anxiety. Simply put, it is the fear of having your photo taken at all or anxiety triggered during the process either by believing the photo is not good, or seeing the photo and feeling anxious about how it actually presents you. If the thought of having your picture taken causes you what feels like an overwhelming amount of stress and anxiety then you understand what photo shoot anxiety is. If you would love to have great professional photos taken but are so scared of the process that you've avoided it then you understand what it is. If seeing a photo of yourself triggers your anxiety then you're dealing with photo shoot anxiety.
Panic vs. Mild Dislike
Let's talk about panic vs. mild dislike. Most people have a mild dislike when it comes to having their photos taken. It never rises to the degree that they're searching the web looking for ways to manage the stress around it. Their stressed when they're looking at a picture they don't love or feeling awkward while having it done. They don't know what to do with their hands or don't know how their smile looks. That's normal, nearly everyone feels that way and afterwards they might even love results if they photographer did their job properly.
Panic on the other hand is different. Hunched shoulders, clenched jaws, the look of abject fear or the refusal to trust anyone to take your photo - that is real. If you find the thought of having your photo taken to be that stressful, maybe even too stressful to book a photographer then keep reading because I've got a number of things that will help you.
Prescheduling Anxiety Attacks
Prescheduling anxiety attacks start before you call to book a shoot. If you're being asked with finding a photographer and you have a panic or anxiety disorder this can be a nearly impossible task. It's easy to obsess over the unknowns and there can be a lot of unknowns.
What do I even ask about?
What will it cost?
What if I don't like the photos?
How will I look, what if I'm not happy, can I say anything?
How will I be judged?
Reduce Prescheduling Stress
Here are my recommendations to reduce prescheduling stress. It helps to understand the process from start to finish. If you're getting married and need a wedding photographer knowing that they tend to book a year in advance and need to know your date before they will book you will not only lower your stress levels but also save you time. If you have your date, your venue, and a general idea of what style of photography you're looking for then you're ready to begin calling and should feel less stress around the process. Now you can focus on finding a photographer who fits your needs and who will treat you with respect.
If you're looking for a portrait photographer you don't want to waste your time calling pet, product, or food photographers. So understanding what you're using the photos for can help you narrow your search. Let's say you're a real estate agent or a lawyer who needs a portrait for advertising. You'll want to search for headshot photographers or professional portrait photographers not just portrait photographers. You want someone who can not only take the photo you need but who understands how to bill you for it because they're used to dealing with people looking for the same service. Here are some more tips of finding and narrowing your choices.
Armed with knowledge of what you need your photos for you can begin your search. Google the types of photos you need plus your local area. For example if you need family portraits in Pittsburgh search for "Pittsburgh family portraits". That might seem simple, and it is, but the search itself is an important first step.
Next you really need to look at the photographers who have come up in your search results. Don't just pick the first photographer with nice photos. Find a photographer with photos that you can yourself in. Choose a few photographers who take photos of people like you, people of your background, people of your body-type, photos that match what you're looking for.
Watch out for photographers who have nothing but the most amazingly beautiful models in their portfolio. They've probably hired actual models. While there isn't anything wrong with photographing models for a portfolio it doesn't tell you anything about the photographer's ability to work with people who are not models. Models know how to pose, models understand lights, cameras, etc.
You want to find a photographer who photographs everyday people like yourself and makes them look as fabulous as you want to look in your photos. Everyday people usually don't know how to pose or where to look, what to do with their hands, etc. A photographer who can only direct models won't be able to help you get fabulous photos unless you yourself are a model.
Find Your Style
Find your style of photographer. Someone whose style you like and can picture yourself in. I promise you that you can find a photographer who you'll click with but it might take some searching. Don't settle for someone whose work you don't like or who you can't see yourself vibbing with.
Read their reviews if they have any, read their about page, and/or blog. See what you can learn about their personalities and try to find someone who you can relate to and vibe with.
When you begin to talk to photographers make sure you're talking directly to them and not an assistant. A photographer that doesn't have the time to speak with you isn't going to make the time to help you feel calm on the day of your photos. If you have an anxiety or panic disorder share that with your photographer. If they don't take it seriously and talk to you about ways they can help you with anxiety around being photographed then find another photographer. Your anxiety is real, don't let a photographer gaslight you or ignore your needs. You deserve to be treated with respect.
I always schedule time to talk with clients and am always the one that answers every question you have. At minimum I provide my clients with an overview of the whole process but if asked am happy to work with clients to create a detailed plan so everything is covered and understood. Most clients tell me they don't like having their photo taken. When they do I make a point of asking if they have an anxiety or panic disorder they would like to disclose to me so I can work with them on not triggering an attack. I wouldn't feed peanuts to someone with an allergy, I don't want to trigger anxiety or panic in anyone either - it's about respect and decency.
Day Of Stress
Day of stress for your photo shoot can feel overwhelming no matter the type of photography you're having done. To reduce that stress be upfront with your photographer about your levels of anxiety. If you're not comfortable disclosing a diagnosis that's find but tell them about your stress levels and your fears and make sure they're taking you seriously and making adjustments to help you minimize your anxiety.
A professional photographer will want to understand how you're feeling and to help you feel calm and relaxed because feelings show up in photos. Don't try to minimize or dismiss your feelings for the sake of others. Accept that your feelings are valid and expect that others accept that too. It's okay to ask for help managing those feelings especially when you've hired a professional to manage the situation you're in.
If you've been formally diagnosed and had any therapy then you probably already know a few techniques that can help you. A good photographer will understand and be used to working with people who have anxiety disorders. They'll allow you the space and time you need. If you're self diagnosed or have not had training from a qualified therapist or anyone else to help you manage your anxiety then use some of the following techniques.
Reduce Day Of Stress
To reduce Day Of Stress make sure to allow yourself the time and space you need. If you're doing photos outside or in public ask the photographer to help you find less public places where you won't feel like you're being watched. If you're in the studio make sure they have a space that doesn't feel too small, that will allow you to walk away from the lights and not feel cramped. If you're getting married make sure to plan enough time into the day to take a break before your photos and after them.
Remember to breath. Take breaks, take deep breaths, and practice mindfulness. If I have a client who had disclosed an anxiety or panic disorder to me I always plan extra time to give them the space and time they need to feel calm and comfortable.
If you're worried about the way you'll look in the photos ask the photographer to share them with you as they're taking them. Point out areas that you're unhappy with and ask for the photographer to make adjustments. Professional photographers are problem solvers who know their equipment and know how to adjust their gear, your posing, the light, etc. In fact a good photographer will not only be happy to make those adjustments in order to produce photos you love they'll be excited to do it so never feel like your ask is too much, trust me, it's not. If you see any hesitation it's likely the photographer thinking about how to get it done rather than them not wanting to do it.
What if you're dealing with OPP? What's OPP? Other people's photographers. That is photographers you didn't hire yourself. As someone with anxiety I can understand feeling extra stressed. Anxiety disorder is often accompanied by shame because our families or society at large tells us to not make waves or "be difficult" in social situations. Sadly this is one of the most common triggers for panic or anxiety attacks that I've been witness to.
When I'm the photographer and I see it I try to stop it. I tell everyone that we can make accommodations and that it's no problem because 99% of the time it really isn't.
If you're dealing with OPP and need to be photographed talk to the photographer. They should be willing to accomidate your needs. They should be willing to show you any photos you're in and be happy to help you feel your best.
Anxiety disorders and panic disorders are real. They're no less real than allergies or physical disabilities. I would never ask someone who uses a wheelchair because they can't stand to stand up and no photographer should ask you to do something that you can't do. If you encounter a photographer who is unwilling to make accommodations then you don't need to have your photo taking by them. Or if you must, if it's for work or school or otherwise unavoidable then understand that you don't have to like the photo. If you're not being respected then you don't have have to give respect back and you can leave a negative review on places such as Yelp or Google no matter what the photographer was hired for or who hired them.
If this post helped you please let me know via my contact page. If you have other suggestions for helping reduce anxiety or panic around photography please let me know those as well and feel free to share this post in both photography and mental health advocacy groups.