3 mind tricks to get over the fear of taking your camera out in public
You arrive at a beautiful sunset destination. You have thought about which settings you might use. You have planned your composition. The conditions are perfect. Yet you stay in the car, don't get your camera out, and leave with just a phone shot taken through the car window.
There were a couple of other photographers already there before you, that's what happened. They had bigger tripods, bigger bags, bigger lenses and bigger egos. They scared you off without even knowing you were there.
Or maybe you did get out of the car but your tripod is a bit flimsy, so you didn't dare set it up next to the professionals.
Or maybe you did pluck up the courage to set your tripod up, but you were so worried about what everyone was thinking about you that you couldn't remember your settings, took a hurried photo and left.
Picture this instead:
You've done your research, you know what time to arrive. You've been to the spot earlier in the day and rehearsed a couple of possible compositions. You've tested your tripod out in private, so you know how to put it up and down, and how to attach your camera. You arrive. You pick up your kit confidently. You nod hello to the other photographers and set up out of their way. You spend the rest of the evening ignoring them, and you are free to concentrate on getting your own shot, at your own pace, in your own style, with your own kit.
Want to know how to make the transition from person 1 to person 2? Read on.
Mind trick 1: What people think of you is none of your business
Let them think whatever they want to think. It's their problem if they think you can't take a good photo without a massive lens. It's their problem if they think you should stay in your car unless you have a tripod that weighs 20kg. If they are thinking patronising thoughts, it won't help you to know about it. It won't affect the photo you take - unless you let it. If they are not, then you've wasted energy worrying about it.
They probably haven't even noticed you. And if they do, and they are patronising and condescending, then that's their problem. They won't all be. Some will be lovely, and encouraging, and enthusiastic. Some will look down on you (and they will look down on everyone who's not Ansel Adams, to be fair). Most will just want to get on and get their own shot in their own space - as long as you don't put on a red coat and sit in their foreground, they will be happy to ignore you.
If it helps, let me share some facts about myself (a professional photographer for 15 years, shortlisted for International Garden Photographer of the Year, finalist for Travel Photographer of the Year):
1. My shortlisted photo for IGPOTY was shot WITHOUT A TRIPOD
2. I have shot professionally using a pile of cake tins to stabilise the camera.
As long as your hands are off the camera at the point the shutter fires, that is the only thing that matters, and if anyone tells you any differently you can tell them about this shot:
3. I have fallen into the "What do they think about me?" trap - recently
When I turned up at Buttermere last October to take the famous lone tree shot, there was a photographer already there. He had a medium format camera, massive tripod, and one of those personas that seems to take up a lot of space. But that was all in my imagination - he hadn't spoken, he hadn't glared, he hadn't even noticed me.
I set up a long way away, used my longest lens, and tried to take up the least amount of space, metaphorically, possible.
I wasted a lot of mental energy being cross that he had had this effect on me. AND HE STILL DIDN'T EVEN KNOW I WAS THERE.
Being angry at a totally imagined patronising attitude meant that I wasted time and missed shots. He was not in fact being patronising, all he cared about was his shot. I have no happy ending to this bit of the story - all I did was lurk in the background until he left.
But I wasn't proud of myself. So when another guy turned up, I did make the effort to say hi. I also chose to assume he was not patronising, was friendly, and might not care what kind of a photographer I was. Turned out he was all of those things, and he introduced me to a photography collective he had jointly set up (The Lakelanders) which has been entirely inspirational and altogether a good thing. Follow them on Instagram here: @TheLakelanders.
Mind trick 2: Pretend you're a tourist
Even if no-one speaks to you, if you mentally tell everyone you're a tourist, then your attitude changes. Instead of making yourself small, you realise you have as much right as anyone else to be there.
Mind trick 3: Say you're a photography student
If the worst happens, and you get cornered by a patronising, condescending, all-about-the-gear photographer who wants to show off, don't try and compete with kit. If you have better kit they will hate you. If you don't, they will be smug.
Anyone who thinks it is all about the gear will not be interested in doing photography the way we do it at A Year With My Camera: from the inside out. I teach a slow paced, contemplative photography practice: one where your vision is realised with whatever camera you have in your hand, even if it's just a phone.
So, take a moment for a little smugness yourself. Remember that you are only in that place to work on visualising an image, and then capturing it to the best of your current ability. If you come back in a month, you will probably do it better, but right now, who you are is good enough. The kit you have is good enough.
You can disarm the most patronising of photographers by saying you are a student. They will no longer see you as a threat, and will probably offer you lots of unasked for advice. My tip for dealing with this? Wear headphones.
Do you want to learn beginner's photographer from the inside out? Join A Year With My Camera here, free: