Question from an aspiring photographer about to ship off to the Air Force:
I’d like to send you some photos. you’re a pro though, so i’ll try not to be self-conscious. since you are a pro, i have a novice question: how do you ask people to take their picture? does it get less awkward? do you use an opening line?
and I replied:
One of the things I’ve learned as I’ve become a teacher is to be inspired by beginners. it’s certainly a different kind of inspiration that I get from seeing the art of a master vs the art of a beginner. think about how much good feeling you get by watching a 25 year old walk. now think about what you feel watching a 1 year old walk. even though the 1 year old sucks at it compared to the 25 year old. anybody trying and doing something that’s at the limit of their ability is inspiring. since beginners have such a smaller ability, it’s so much easier and more frequent for a beginner to play at the edge of their ability than a master.
the answer is more simple than it may seem: you just ask.
If they say yes, awesome! If they say no, move on. It wasn’t about you.
people are often afraid of asking other people to make their photo. or afraid of saying hi to the pretty girl. or even afraid of asking the waiter for extra cheese.
when you’re in that situation… being afraid of interacting with someone, stop and think about what you’re actually afraid of. the fear is real. you feel it. but try to imagine what outcome you’re actually afraid of happening. what is it that you want to avoid? being rejected? being laughed at? being told no? disturbing or imposing on another person? It’s similar for everybody, but personal.
most of the time, when people are stopped by fear, it’s a fear of something that they can’t actually describe. or that when they do describe it, it doesn’t make logical sense to them. I call it Nebulous Fear and it’s 99.9% of all fear. of course the waitress isn’t going to say no to extra cheese. but maybe the stranger IS going to say no to a photo. ok. so then what? you feel awkward. and then you move on and forget about it in a minute. just keep breathing slowly. and keep paying attention to what bad outcome you’re actually afraid of happening. and keep asking people and see if the outcome is EVER as bad as you feared. if there was a magic line to use that made it easy to say hi to the girl, easy to ask someone if you can make a photo of them, or easy to have any interaction with anybody, it would be widely publicized and used. you’de already know it. there’s no secret method. the only secret is that nothing really bad ever really happens. so what you can do is just try it. and flub it sometimes. and appreciate how bad it’s NOT when you do flub it. so you feel awkward inside. not to diminish that — I get that that sucks. but as far as things that affect your life go, that awkwardness isn’t going to matter in 10 minutes.
if the outcome isn’t so bad and the only thing that’s really bad is your internal emotional reaction, all you’ve got to do is change your emotions to match reality. and the best way I know to do that is repetition. just keep trying. keep observing your emotional reaction and keep observing the actual effects. keep telling the story about how you were nervous, and then you did the thing and you felt awkward and then nothing actually bad happened. telling the story about feeling bad and nothing actually bad happening is important. you can tell it to anyone — a friend, a stranger, your diary, your blog.
set aside an hour of awkwardness. go somewhere public with your camera and lots of pedestrians. tell yourself that in that hour, you’re going to ask one person per minute if you can make their photo. accept beforehand that that hour is going to suck. and accept beforehand that you’ll get ridiculed and rejected and you’ll feel terrible and it’s all going to suck.
I promise it’ll be good for you like eating your vegetables. I bet that after that one hour, you’ll feel a noticeable difference in how comfortable you are asking people to make their photo. and when you look back at your photographic career years from now, this one hour will be one of the pivotal moments. I bet you learn more about being a good photographer in that hour than in just about any other hour you spend learning photography.
Mr Miyagi from the karate kid says: Is ok lose to opponent. MUST not lose to fear!
Frank Herbert says:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
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