How to Manage Pre-Shoot Anxiety

You’re sitting in a parking lot, camera in hand, waiting for a family of five to arrive for their first photo session with you. Memory sticks are cleared, lenses cleaned, batteries charged… so why are there bird-sized butterflies knocking around in your insides???

Let’s face it: we’ve all been there. Having been a full-time photographer for seven years, it can be frustrating to feel that impending sense of anxiety creep up as the start of a shoot approaches.

Being one of the world’s leading examples of “Photographer Pre-Session Anxiety Disorder” (lol), I’ve discovered a few tricks that, without fail, bring my jitters down to a much more manageable level:

1. Repeat: This session is not about you. It’s about them. Reminding myself to stay open, curious, and interested in my clients really helps me take the pressure off of my own sense of performance. I want to know them as well as I can so I can capture their essence, both as individuals and as a family. Putting my thoughts onto my clients makes a world of difference in my perspective and emotional balance, which in-turn leads to deeper connection and, in the end, an amazing gallery of final images.

2. Get there early. Seriously, I know… you’re a creative. So am I. But if I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that you don’t want to arrive at a location after your client gets there. Arriving first gives you that “home court advantage”, even if it’s only in your own nervous head. When you put a shoot on your calendar, mark it for 15 minutes earlier than it begins, and make it a point to arrive early. Those 15 minutes are gold for helping you feel prepared and in-control, inevitably lessening your jitters.

3. Know each person’s name! There’s nothing worse than trying to give direction during a shoot, only to find that you’re resorting to calling the Dad “Daddy” or the kids “Cutie” or “Buddy”. About a week before every shoot, we have our clients fill out a pre-session survey that includes space for them to share their hopes and dreams for their upcoming session, phone numbers for reaching them the day of the shoot, a release form, and THEIR NAMES!!! We copy their completed survey straight into my online calendar, which syncs with my phone… that way, I have all names on-hand and can review them as I’m waiting for my clients to arrive. Brilliance!

4. They’re nervous too! Have you scheduled an official photo shoot for you own family? I’m not talking about a swap… I mean the real deal. If you haven’t… do it! The experience is unbelievably valuable in the perspective it gives you as a photographer. On the way to a photo session with you, Mom and Dad are giving their kids one final bribe-related lecture, Dad is trying not to fuss about being late, and Mom is checking her makeup one (or two or three) last times in the flip-down mirror. My point? They aren’t thinking about you at ALL! They are equally (possibly more) nervous about how the shoot will turn out. It will be your job to calm them down… instantly causing you to forget that you were ever anxious in the first place!

5. Embrace what’s left. After you’ve done everything you can to calm your anxiety, remember: nervousness is a sign that you care. I always tell myself that the day I stop feeling butterflies before a shoot is the day I should walk away and find a new vocation. I try to count my blessings: I’m in a profession that I care enough about that it causes my mind, soul, and body to come alive and respond. The twinge of anxiety we feel is a physical reminder that photography matters to you at a deep, intimate level. Acknowledge and embrace what your nerves say about your heart and move forward with your head held high, a deep breath, and a smile. You’ve got this, tiger. Go knock ‘em dead. 🙂




  1. Mary May 1, 2016 at 6:19 pm - Reply

    Even though I’ve been shooting for years, this is a great reminder

  2. JACIE STEWART May 10, 2016 at 12:20 pm - Reply


  3. Tom Bucher May 10, 2016 at 2:22 pm - Reply

    Drink a lot? Seriously, preparation makes a huge difference. Check out all camera gear (plenty of charged batteries, memory cards, etc.) and have backup if at all possible. Simplify as much as possible. ALWAYS scout out the location and have alternative spots/locations in case of inclement weather.. Preparation calms me because if it can go wrong, IT WILL Thourough preparation will mean less improvising in the spot and allow you to concentrate on being creative about the shoot rather than wasting energy on pulling your butt out of the fire. And just a little anxiety keeps you on your toes and vigilant. Fire away!

  4. Tom Bucher May 10, 2016 at 2:26 pm - Reply

    If you are shooting a wedding, learn not only peoples’ names but also relationships. Divorces can make awkward situations especially if the photographer is unaware of them!

    • Sweet Shots May 10, 2016 at 4:11 pm - Reply

      Tom, that is fabulous advice and very true! Thanks for the extra tip!

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