A Journey To Camera Confidence

This blog is the first in a series entitled ‘A Journey to Camera Confidence’ It will explore why so many of us hate having our photo taken and struggle with our self-image. The series came to light as I was reflecting on my own struggles, I know as a photographer and a business owner how important having a good set of brand photos is for your business. But if you don’t feel comfortable with your image then you’re not going to feel comfortable sharing these photos. Which in turn will hold you and your business back. And I, like a lot of you, was holding myself back.

I wanted to understand why so many of us feel this way. What’s the reason behind it? How can we overcome it? How can we challenge these negative thoughts and be kinder to ourselves? How can we calm the nerves before a shoot? And how can find things we like in our photos and not what we don’t?

The series is a collaboration with other female business owners, who share their experiences and how they help their clients to feel more confident. Here are a few of the topics A Journey to Camera Confidence will cover:

  • How to calm the nerves before a photo shoot
  • Tips for body confidence
  • How to prepare for your shoot
  • Why the best personal brand photos are ones that show the real you and how to use them to connect with your ideal client
  • Personality not perfection: Why your social media doesn’t have to be perfect

To start the series I chatted with Dr Emma Medard, a clinical psychologist who focuses on helping women feel good enough, to explore why so many of us have uttered the words…..


Do you hide from the camera at every party like the plague? Do you miss out on family portraits because you can’t stand looking at yourself in a photo? Do you ask your partner to take a thousand photos only to delete all of them because you can’t find one you like? Do you hold back on sharing images of yourself on social media even though you know it would help your business?   

Most of us will have that one friend or family member who’s a natural, they know when the camera is pointed in their direction and they effortlessly smile and pose to get that perfect shot. But for the majority of us it doesn’t come naturally. We’re less supermodel and more deer in the headlights! If this sounds like you then don’t worry, you are not alone and there is a reason why you feel this way.

A common thing I hear from my clients is ‘I really need some new photos, I know it will be beneficial for my business but I hate how I look in every picture!’   It’s so common for us to look in the mirror or at a photo of ourselves and focus in on our flaws…

“urgh…my chin is soooooo big!”

“Look how many lines I have around my eyes when I smile…I look so old!”

“I hate my smile…why do I always show so much gum?!”

“Why does my fringe part in that weird way? Why is my face so long? If it wasn’t so long I wouldn’t need this stupid fringe to hide how long my face is!”

— All things said by me when looking at my own photos

Did you read the above thinking those are oddly specific examples Sarah?  Well that’s because these are things that I all too often see when I look at a photo of myself. And those don’t include the thoughts I have where I compare myself to photos of others. ‘Why can’t I look like that in a photo?’

But do other people see the things we see?  Take another look at my photo above. Do you see the things that I mentioned? When we look at a photo of someone else we don’t zoom in and pick out all their flaws. We look at the photo as a whole, we see a glimpse in to their life, perhaps they are laughing and enjoying time with family or having fun with friends. And if one of our friends said these things about themselves we would be the first to reassure them that they look great.  So why are we so hard on ourselves?

Why do so many of us struggle with our self-image?

There are many reasons why we might struggle with our image.  Perhaps something about our appearance was negatively highlighted to us as a child.  Perhaps we were aware of the beauty standard and saw that we were different.  I was a teenager in the 90’s and I was never going to look like Kate Moss or Jennifer Aniston (no matter now I had my hair cut!!) And now with social media and filters and influencers we are surrounded by perfect images.

This is what you should look like!

This is what the perfect life looks like!

Of course what we don’t see is all the work that goes in to creating these  ‘perfect images’. The angles, the lighting, the editing. And that perfect life is a carefully curated gallery designed to only show you the good stuff. (I will explore this in a future blog). However, if you struggle with your self-image it can be easy to compare yourself and feel like you come up short.

But the good news is that there is a reason we think this way and we can do something about it.

Our brains are actually hardwired to see the negative

I spoke to Dr Emma Medard, a clinical psychologist who focuses on helping women feel good enough. Emma has worked in adult mental health, eating disorders and medical psychology and she explained to me how our brains are actually hardwired to see the negative:

“Our tendency to focus on the negative things, look for our flaws or compare ourselves to others comes from our threat system which is located in one of the oldest parts of our brain and is responsible for our fight, flight freeze response. It is the home of feelings like anxiety, disgust and shame and whilst it may seem a nuisance, it is vitally important.

“Way back when humans first evolved, there was potential danger lurking around every corner and  one of the most important functions of the brain was to look out for these dangers and protect us from them. Because the stakes were so high (a major threat back then was being eaten or cast out of the tribe) our brain carried out this function with a policy of ‘better safe than sorry’ aka act first, check later! It is connected to your amygdala which is right in the centre of your brain and all information gets filtered through it – it will pick up on everything, override other systems and it is always switched on.  I often liken it to a very sensitive smoke alarm. It is going to go off every time it detects smoke whether your house is on fire, you’ve just burnt the toast or even if you’ve just had the tiniest worry that you’ve left your hair straighteners on! This system worked so well at keeping us alive we never lost it.

“So how does this apply to thinking negatively about having yourself or having your photo taken you might ask? In today’s world most of us don’t face the same daily threats to our physical safety but nonetheless that part of our brain still works in the same way. It continues to look out for danger everywhere, to find any possible threat and to warn us of anything that might cause us harm. In modern society these are mainly threats to our wellbeing (finances, health, relationships, and security) as well as our sense of self, our identity and our place in the world (success, appearance, popularity, integrity, social rank etc). Your brain is constantly switched on to look for any sign that we *might* not be ok or keeping up in any of these areas. It is your brain doing what it knows best, it is trying to protect you. However, whilst it is essential – it most definitely isn’t always helpful or correct (better safe than sorry remember). Knowing how it works and why it does what it does is key to help you turn down its constant alarm. So if you notice yourself being caught up in the negative – remind yourself, it’s not you, it’s evolution and although it may not feel like it, it’s trying to be helpful!”

How can we overcome this mindset?

Although our brain is wired to view the negative, the good news is that we can take steps to challenge this. Emma explained that if we approach something expecting a negative result then this is what we will see. Her advice for approaching this is:

1. Focus on why you are here (having your photo taken) and what you are doing it for:

Perhaps you have booked a brand shoot because you want to showcase your amazing business.  This will allow your audience to get to know you and help you connect with prospective clients and grow your business.  Or maybe you want to appear in more family photos so that you don’t miss out on memories with your kids.  Whatever the reason, focus on why you are doing it and the values that sit behind it for you.

2. Observe our thoughts and then let them pass:

We now know that our brain is wired to focus on these negatives.  It’s perfectly normal, so instead of getting caught up with them (which is so easy to do) try to step outside of it and observe what your brain is telling you. Be curious. Are these thoughts helping me? If I listen to them will it help me be who I want to be/do what I want to do or will it get in the way? Try to avoid arguing with it or trying to prove it wrong – it rarely works and just leaves us stuck in our head rather than in our lives. Then remind yourself why you are here, focus on your actions and then let these thoughts pass. Sometimes I like to literally thank my brain and tell it to “stand down – I’ve got this”.

3. Remember that people don’t see what we see:

Next time you look at a photo of yourself, zoom out a little, look at the image as a whole.  Were you enjoying a fun day with your family or a holiday with someone you love?  If you’re looking at your brand shoot photos remember that this is person that set up and runs their own business.  It’s a photo of someone who is passionate about what they do! If all that fails I always find it helpful to remember that everybody feels this way at times and nobody is as interested in how I look as I am (they’re probably too busy thinking about themselves!)

Give this a try next time you are in front of the camera and let me know in the comments if it helps.

To find our more about Dr Emma Medard visit her website.

3 Comments on “The science behind why we hate having our photo taken

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