How to Overcome Your Shyness with Photography

Tokyo, 2016
Tokyo, 2016

Dear friend,

The more I think about photography — the more I realize photography is less about making photos, more about making you a confident human being, finding more appreciation in life, and becoming the best version of yourself:

One of the biggest benefits that photography has given me is the power of confidence. Before I started to shoot photography, I was a lot more shy and timid, especially around strangers.

Especially through “street photography” — my personal confidence has 10x’d. I can now talk to strangers, make small-chat with anyone I meet, and have more personal confidence to try out risky things.

How can you harness photography to be less shy? Some ideas:

1. Don’t be afraid of looking stupid


One of my personal superpowers is that I have no shame. I used to have a lot more shame before I started photography.

Photography has helped me become a child again. If you ever see children or babies dance, they have no fear of looking stupid.

Similarly, when we are beginner photographers, we don’t worry about looking stupid, or dumb. We photograph anything we find interesting— whether it be details on a wall, things on the floor, or even of strangers.

So if you want to be less shy, don’t be afraid of looking dumb. Our biggest fears and anxieties come from the fact that we want to look cool, we want others to respect us, and we don’t want to become ostracized.

Assignment 1: Look like a tourist

One of the first ways to overcome your shyness is give yourself permission to look dumb — by looking like a tourist.

Perhaps that might mean wearing a bright-orange “fanny pack” (front-facing tourist pouch). Maybe that might mean wearing a silly hat when you’re taking photos. Or it might be wearing a “I love Paris” shirt when you’re shooting in France (even when you are French).

Don’t care about looking dumb. Photograph like an Asian tourist— legs spread apart, and don’t be afraid to crouch down.

The more touristy you look, the more people ignore you.

2. Ask permission to take a stranger’s portrait


It is hard to make small-talk with a stranger at a dinner-party. Even more awkward to ask a stranger to take their portrait.

If you have the personal confidence to take a portrait of a stranger, you will no longer have fear to just make small-chat with a stranger.

Assignment 2: 5 yes, 5 no

If you want to be less shy, try the “5 yes, 5 no” assignment. The idea is you approach a bunch of strangers on the street and ask permission to shoot their portrait. You need to keep asking until you get 5 people to say “yes”, and 5 people to say “no.”

3. Do a 360 degree panoramic of a room


Another tip to be less shy with photography— learn how to shoot panoramic photos.

Personally, I am inspired by great interior design, at hip cafes, restaurants, and studios.

Whenever I am inspired by a great interior— I love to look. I look at the people sitting down, I look at the wall decorations, and I look at the tables and furniture.

Of course whenever I do this, I get strange looks. It actually takes a lot of courage to be nosy and look around, especially when you’re indoors.

Assignment 3: Shoot a 360 degree panoramic

So as an assignment, try this out: whenever you go inside a cool hipster cafe (or wherever you find interesting), take our your camera, phone, whatever— and shoot a 360 degree panoramic of the room. This will push you outside of your comfort zone, but also make you more comfortable “looking like a tourist.”

4. Smile, and say “thank you”


I also feel a good way to overcome shyness is to shoot candid street photos (without permission). And when you’re shooting on the streets, if someone notices you take a photo of them, just simply smile back and say “Thank you.”

Assignment 4: Smile to everyone who makes eye contact with you

The big assignment is this: practice smiling more, especially to strangers you don’t know.

A smile is a universal sign of saying, “Hello there— don’t be afraid or suspicious of me. I am your friend.”

Smiling works in every city and country in the world— because smiling is human, and smiling is universal.

Smile more, and you will feel less shy, and more courageous.

5. Shoot self-portraits of yourself

Portrait of Eric Kim by Luis Donoso
Portrait of Eric Kim by Luis Donoso

The last assignment I will give you is this: learn how to become comfortable in your own skin, by shooting self-portraits of yourself.

A lot of us are insecure of ourselves. And our sense of insecurity manifests in the way we interact with others.

If you are confident in your own skin, you won’t feel shy around others.

Assignment 5: Honor thy selfie

If you don’t like being photographed, learn how to be comfortable in your own skin.

Put your camera on a tripod, and shoot selfies of yourself. Or photograph yourself in a mirror. Or photograph reflections of yourself through your shadows, your reflections, or through puddles on the ground.

What exactly about yourself, your face, or your appearance are you not comfortable with? Discover this by photographing yourself, and the more you become comfortable photographing yourself, the more comfortable you will be in photographing others.


Tokyo, 2011

Don’t just think that photography is a tool for making pretty photos. I think photography is a tool of self-exploration, and building your confidence.

How can you use photography to overcome any negative shyness you might have? Try these experiments, and push yourself outside of your comfort zone.

I have great belief in you.

Be strong,

Learn more: Conquer Your Fears >

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