Stepping Outside of Your Comfort Zone as a Photographer

New York-based photojournalist Amy Toensing is known for her amazing aptitude to tell people’s intimate stories through images. As a regular contributor to National Geographic, Toensing travels the world to meet people and experience their culture. In this video, she explains that as a photographer, you have to be able to humble yourself and step outside your comfort zone to fully experience a new culture, people, or place:

Toensing explains that, as a photographer, you have to immerse yourself in the setting and learn from the people in order to get natural, true-to-life images. People, including photographers, like familiarity. We want to shoot in familiar environments, or with people with whom we are comfortable. Forcing yourself out of this comfort zone makes you pay more attention to your subject, setting, communication and capturing the image naturally.

low angle

Here, Toensing uses a low angle to capture the entire family, but draws the focus to the young girl on the left.

Tips to Help You Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

  • Try a new location. Some photographers (myself included) tend to visit the same parks, beaches, or nature trails because they know which settings create good backgrounds. By visiting a new place, you are forced to expand your creativity to find new photo spots, which can give your photos new life.
  • Let your subjects play. If you are a portrait or family photographer who opts for posing your subjects, try taking more natural photographs for a different style. Step back from the action and let them interact as if the camera isn’t there. Snap pictures as the opportunities present themselves and let the shoot develop organically.
  • Shoot with a specific lens or angle. Sometimes we get comfortable shooting from a tripod or at eye level. Challenge yourself by selecting either a high or low angle or by shooting with a single lens (wide angle, fixed length, fisheye). Taking a new perspective on a common subject can create incredible or unusual images.
  • Interact with your subjects. Many people are simply uncomfortable in front of the camera. By setting your camera on a tripod and talking to them candidly off camera, you can use a shutter remote to capture images without forcing your subject to look directly at the lens.

“I have to be ready to go into a place where I’m like, ‘OK, I’m stupid. I don’t know anything. Teach me. Show me.’ And that’s not an easy position to be in, but it’s an important one for everybody to know.”

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One response to “Stepping Outside of Your Comfort Zone as a Photographer”

  1. Hatem Kotb says:

    They’re living the dream :)

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