You've seen it. You've done it. The pictures of blurry heads quickly turned away. The flash-bleached palm shot of a hand roughly shoved towards the camera.
As a photographer, I've worked in the presence of "photophobia" many times. To make great pictures, you have to understand what is hindering your subjects from being equal participants in the process. Here is a list of a few reasons I've observed that result in photo avoidance:
We are afraid of seeing ourselves in less than perfect form.
We may love a good picture here and there (profile pic!) but even the most photogenic people get caught in a bad frame sometimes: an unflattering angle, bad lighting or a sleepless night of cleaning up cat barf can make us second guess the image we have of ourselves in our mind's eye - or confirm our deep fears that - gasp! - we may not be that good looking.
We are afraid that someone else will own a part of us.
There is a vulnerability that comes with being captured on film or in pixels that feels incorrigible. It is a fixed second of our lives and it will not change. The permanence can be terrifying. We may not trust the person or the intentions of the photographer who will now have our image forever.
We are embarrassed to be seen with/doing something that we think will reflect badly on us.
What if my boss sees this? My family? My friends? My local political chapter? While doing something illegal is certainly reason enough to avoid the photographer's gaze, many times this kind of paranoia overshadows otherwise beautiful photographic opportunities, and creates the bad habit of thinking too hard and potentially missing a golden moment.
We just feel shy, want privacy, or feel like someone else would be a more interesting/worthy subject of the photo.
Women especially are drilled to be beautiful yet modest and having our image presented in a photograph can feel self-aggrandizing, which could lead to further scrutiny. Easier to just avoid the whole thing.
But when we withhold our light, we give up on our right to assert that yes, we are here, living this moment that is unique and never to repeat.
Tips for feeling comfortable in front of the camera
Get out of your head.
Part of the mindset necessary for being a great photo subject is actually turning off our thoughts and getting into our bodies. Don't think about what is happening. You don't have to change or be anything other than the person you are in that moment. Let the photographer guide you but otherwise, the harder you try to make that perfect smile, the more you are going to be stressed about it. It's no wonder that candid photos are often better than posed ones because there is no time for the subjects to psych themselves out.
Think of photography like a game.
The camera is a friend and you're just hanging out. The more you neutralize the power of the little device in front of you, the more you can enjoy the moment and just be creative.
You can always decide later which photographs to show.
Most cameras are digital these days so no need to worry: photos can be deleted instantly. But if you don't take a few bad shots, you aren't even going to give yourself the chance to have some good ones. You won't have anything to choose from at all.
You might be pleasantly surprised to see a side of yourself that others get to see but that you weren't familiar with. Have you ever caught yourself standing in front of the mirror and quickly correcting the face you were making to something you think looks a little better? Every person can make so many different expressions. Be curious and let your face tell all of its stories. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Remember that this is for you, not for anyone else.
You might be pleasantly surprised to see a side of yourself that others get to see but that you weren't familiar with. Have you ever caught yourself standing in front of the mirror and quickly correcting the face you were making to something you think looks a little better? Every person can make so many different expressions. Be curious and let your face tell all of its stories. You might enjoy seeing another side of yourself.