Photographers must feel comfortable when having their portrait taken.
“I never see portraits of you,” said the friend. “That’s because I’m the portrait photographer, not the subject,” replied the photographer. It’s a conversation I’ve had, and I know many of my industry peers have too. Photographers believing their place is behind the camera and seldom in front of it. But it’s a belief system I’m trying to break down, and I think it’s important you do too.
Portraits of Photographers
I’ll be the first to admit that I struggled with my body image in my teens and twenties. So much to so that I hated looking at photos of myself. We don’t need to dissect why that was – my therapist did that. But it was true while I was making photos of others, I hated others making photos of me.
I can’t count how many portraits I’ve made of other people. Whether it’s a street portrait, planned shoot, or a photo of friends and family, I’ve met every kind of personality you can think of. I’ve photographed people who have plenty of confidence, and those who need some encouragement throughout the process.
I’ve also photographed people who hate being in front of the camera. They are focused only on their perceived floors and fail to see the beauty they have. It’s my job to help them connect to the positives. To help them feel beautiful and confident, and then create a portrait that helps evidence what I told them.
And, I honestly love doing that: Firstly, because I enjoy making people feel good about themselves. And secondly, because I don’t like the thought of people letting their insecurities dominate how they feel about themselves – because I know how that feels.
But I felt like a fraud.
Overcoming my Portrait Insecurities
The reason I felt like a fraud was I was lying to my subjects. How could I tell them they need to tap into their beauty and positive body confidence when I couldn’t even do it myself? What authority did I have to make people believe in themselves when I struggled to believe in myself?
Some may say it’s all part of being a portrait photographer, boosting peoples confidence. But I feel to truly get the most out of a subject, one has to practice what they preach. So I decided to make a change.
The first step was to start making self-portraits. Just spending time in front of the camera , and looking down the lens, enabled me to feel comfortable in a world I was not used to. Once I had made my images, I would sit down with a note pad and pen and makes notes of what I liked about myself. Surprisingly, I like a lot about my body. I was just unable to see it because I wasn’t looking long enough in the past.
But the change didn’t come overnight. Years of negative speak still had a stronghold in my mind. But by journaling the positives, something wonderful happened. Over time, the negative (or what I perceive to be negative) parts of my body started to disappear. Not physically, of course, but mentally. Instead of hating them, I began to accept them, and to a certain degree, I started to love them.
But it’s easy to make self-portraits. What about when someone else is making your photo?
Doing More Portraits
With anything in life, the more you do it, the more you become used to it. So, I started asking my photography friend to make photos of me. At first, I did revert back into a negative thought process. But in time, being in front of their camera became fun – like, lots of fun.
My friend has a good eye, and the more I posed for them, the more expressive and creative I became – not as a photographer, but as a subject!
This process has taken around three years. It has been three years of digging deep, building myself up, and overcoming my mental barriers. Now, honestly, I love being in front of the camera. Sure I see photos of myself where I think, “nobody ever needs to see that.” But for the most part, I love looking at portraits of myself.
And now, I no longer feel like a fraud when I make someones photo. I even share my own journey of overcoming insecurities to show them it is possible to love how you look. And on top of that, I now have a healthy amount of self-confidence. I’m not vain or self-absorbed, but I do enjoy looking at photos people have made of me.
So if you’re a photographer who says, “I belong behind the camera, not in front of it,” I challenge you to prove yourself wrong and learn to love your portrait. Because you’ll have a stronger connection with your subjects, and a stronger connection with yourself!
Lead photo by Jordan Antunes. Used with permission.