Let Fear Become Your Friend

“I’m sitting here a week before my first big gig, a magazine shoot. I’ve only been shooting 2 years, about 6 months at the sort of level I’d class as “semi pro”. And I’ve been given a chance that not many others would, yet im sitting here doubting my ability! Thinking what am I doing im out of my own depths? Maybe I should quit! How did you take it before your first major shoot? Did you have the same nerves and emotions?”

This question came in recently via email. Seemed like a good one to share.

How did I handle it? Did I have the same nerves and emotions?

Hell yes, I was scared shitless.

But weren’t we all scared the first time we did anything of substance? You can even take ‘substance’ out of the equation entirely….[click the ‘continue reading’ link below]

…I was scared the first time I rode a bike, drove a car, sang karaoke, and kissed a girl at the Skate King roller rink.

Fear–most certainly in art–can be an amazing motivator if you can harness the nasty side of it. The key is repetition. The more you shoot, the more art you make, the more things you send out into the world, the more gigs you get under your belt, the more mistakes you make, the more you fail, the harder you fail, the more you learn, the more comfortable you become.

And when you start feeling too comfortable? That’s when you do something for the first time all over again. Let fear become your friend.

And so it goes.

Which reminds me, here’s an interesting book: Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

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93 Responses to Let Fear Become Your Friend

  1. Aaron February 11, 2010 at 10:32 am #

    I can really relate to this. I have shoot for a few smaller publications over the past few years, but I had my first real magazine shoot. I was very lucky because it was with some people I was very comfortable with and it turned out wonderful.

    I was thinking this the other day, how do most people feel before a big shoot? Especially before their first? I have been nervous before each one and each one I perform even better. I think it'll never go away, but it will be easier to deal with over time.

    Just a thought!

  2. OG February 11, 2010 at 10:35 am #

    It's true. If you want a positive outcome, you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

  3. Tyler Oxendine February 11, 2010 at 10:35 am #

    Great Post!

  4. Venura February 11, 2010 at 10:36 am #

    I had the same exact thought Y'day. Nothing seems to be working right. :(
    Pics lack contrast and vibrance. Socialphobia.. Cant stop negative thoughts.

  5. Ghislain February 11, 2010 at 10:38 am #

    Chase, did you ever shoot something that your customer said: This is good stuff but not what I asked for… please do it again and this time like this…

  6. AustinPixels February 11, 2010 at 10:39 am #

    Great post Chase, I'm sure you'll blow it out of the water!

  7. jimmydouglas February 11, 2010 at 10:40 am #

    I love the post, it a great reminder to move forward even when you doubt yourself. I've struggled somewhat with fear, I believe I have what it takes to be a good photographer but when things slow down I begin to doubt myself and it can really weigh me down. Thanks for posting this, I think everyone has issues at one time or another, some are just able to push on faster.

  8. Derek Shanks February 11, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    Fear is a good thing to have when shooting. The easiest way I keep fear in my work ethic, is to follow photographers that I admire and place above my own capabilities, place myself in unfamiliar locations, push the boundaries by constantly experimening with new ideas.

    I always ensure that I never get ahead of my own abilities nor rest with it. Relaxation and complacency ultimately slows a photographers ability to keep growing as there is so much to learn and grow with as time moves on. Mistakes are valuable lessons that keep you more focused in the future.

  9. jerseystylephotography February 11, 2010 at 10:42 am #

    Great question, great answer. Thanks for sharing both halves.

  10. Nicholas Critelli February 11, 2010 at 10:49 am #

    Having recently relocated to Baltimore/DC after 10 years of establishing myself in Pittsburgh, I can completely identify with those feelings of fear.

    The only answer, besides giving up, is to jump in with both feet. Like you said, fear can be a great motivator and it often will get you out of your head enough to produce work different from your norm.

  11. kramon February 11, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    haha! been there!
    often still there…

    this is so recognisable: I am still waiting for that guy that's gonna step up to me and ask me for my frontstage-pass… whereupon I am forced out of the gig by some security-bear…

    yep; that's how it feels
    love it!

  12. Nelly February 11, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    Thanks for sharing, always nice to hear other photographers have the same fears.

  13. Mohammed February 11, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    This is so timely Chase… Thanks for the post and sharing it.

    I find that trying to meet expectations AND not meeting it at all can be one source of FEAR. I guess if one can't have FEAR work against you, than might as well let it work for you. It does keep you on your toes…

  14. vlatko February 11, 2010 at 11:18 am #

    The worst thing, beside being crippled by fear, you can do is become obsessed with the importance of the task.

    Yes, been there, done that, got the mug…

  15. Fábián Gábor February 11, 2010 at 11:19 am #

    I had my first serious shooting a few weeks ago, and from starting the negotiation until making the last photo I was scared.

    First I did't know how much could I ask for the shooting. Before the shooting day I was very scared: what if I can't set up the light as it should be, what if my equipment fails, what if I just can't get good results.

    In the end they where very satisfied, so I'm happy.

  16. Anonymous February 11, 2010 at 11:29 am #

    GONZO: I hate to say this, but this place is getting to me. I think I'm getting The Fear.

    DUKE: Nonsense. We came here to find the American Dream, and now we're right in the vortex you want to quit. You must realize that we've found the Main Nerve.

    GONZO: That's what gives me The Fear.

    Hunter S. Thompson

  17. Kevin February 11, 2010 at 11:29 am #

    Another good book on this subject is this one… http://tinyurl.com/ykw5hyd

  18. mjk_photo February 11, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    Great Post! I think this is something us new photographers need to hear. Great motivator!

  19. Will Foster February 11, 2010 at 11:39 am #

    GONZO: I hate to say this, but this place is getting to me. I think I'm getting The Fear.

    DUKE: Nonsense. We came here to find the American Dream, and now we're right in the vortex you want to quit. You must realize that we've found the Main Nerve.

    GONZO: That's what gives me The Fear.

    Hunter S. Thompson

  20. prio February 11, 2010 at 12:02 pm #

    Very cool brother!!! I just wrote a note about the 7D in the Miami Music Video Scene on my blog. Check it out!

  21. TJ February 11, 2010 at 12:08 pm #

    Good advice for all artists! Have read both "Art & Fear" and "The War of Art" and recommend both. Trust in your skills and get caught up in the work. When you work through it creatively, it seems to release the fear.

    Don't be afraid to ask for help or advice when you need it.

  22. Francesco B. February 11, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    Totally agree with the post, Chase, and I think the "key is repetition" bit is very, very important..it's often underestimated by many…

  23. prio February 11, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

    I pawned the ranch to hire real actors & crew to execute spec jobs!!! Thats how I learned and gain the confidence in my abilities. Confidence is the fear killa!!! I can't tell you how much I have invested in practice & spec!!! If you are serious and are going to have half a chance with paying clients you have to shoot something everyday and invest in yourself. Today, I am off and shooting lady bugs in my backyard with a new Cooke lens. Workin it out and learning it's characteristics.

  24. Justin Quinton Photography February 11, 2010 at 1:13 pm #

    I have always measured my progress with how uncomfortable I was doing it. The tighter the knot in your stomach the bigger the lesson learned! Good or bad.

  25. matthew morgan February 11, 2010 at 1:15 pm #

    agreed. thx for the post. fear, mingled with preparation, seem to yield progress. For me, butterflies/pre-'game' jitters have been a great catalyst for great results. As N. Onken would describe, we need to pay attention to our default, expanding it with every shoot, becoming more confident in what we know so when the nerves are on high, we can bank on our default http://nickonken.com/blog/2008/10/expanding-your-default.html).

    How was that booked you recommended?

  26. Chase Jarvis February 11, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    @ ghislain: actually that has never happened. but what has happened a lot was. "I asked for x, you gave me x AND y, and come to think of it, i like y a whole lot more. "

  27. John February 11, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    The things I am most proud of in life are those that I had a reasonable expectation I would fail at but went ahead and did anyway. Had I let fear overcome me, my life would be much less rich.

  28. Phong February 11, 2010 at 2:12 pm #

    I believe when there is Fear, there is chance to grow. Great post Chase.

  29. Karen Johnson February 11, 2010 at 3:08 pm #

    Yay, I'm normal!

  30. Photobby February 11, 2010 at 4:07 pm #

    ROCK ON SKATE KING! ;-) nice to know I wasn't the only one. Although second to kissing the girl would be the fear of going down mid-whiz in the slick tile mens room.

    Fear is wonderful. "the thick coppery taste of it" to quote an add from my climbing days. Pushing through it and onto the other side is like nothing else.

  31. romin lee johnson February 11, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    i hope i always feel that fear before a gig — if you get too comfortable in your craft, you stop trying to be extraordinary.

  32. Jimmy hickey February 11, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    haha thanks for laying it out like that, it makes sense!

  33. Todd February 11, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

    LMAO on the Skate King comment! I used to hang at Bellevue and later DJ'd at Kirkland, but well before your time.

    Fear is good and is something I'm experiencing yet again in my life as I depart on my photography expedition. But I love the feeling of self-doubt. Wondering if you're up to the challenge. There's only one way you're going to find out…

  34. Mathieu Martel February 11, 2010 at 5:55 pm #

    That book is incredible. I've read I three times and keep a copy with me always. Thanks for the post Chase. And really, if you're not always slightly scared of your work at some level, then I think you're losin that sense of the moment, of the urgency and passion to do great work. As soon as you're not scared of failure, youre not living your passion.

  35. Stacy February 11, 2010 at 7:05 pm #

    HA! Everyone is wonderful here! :) Fear is a great thing to have, it just means your in a new place! And new places mean new adventures and new rewards for those adventures! When I get scared before a shoot I just remind myself, "Hey, these kids hired me because they like MY work, MY creativity, and MY skill set. So as long as I live up to my own potential they will be more then satisfied." When fulfilling a job I try to concentrate more on pleasing myself then my client (but still keeping them in mind of course!), You are your own worst critique. :)

    Take a deep breathe, have confidence in yourself, and take off running 100mph! Every moment is your moment to shine, so what are you waiting for?

  36. Kevin February 11, 2010 at 7:06 pm #

    I used to think that having that fear was bad, because the body generally reacts negatively or in a defensive way when we experience fear. But it was when I stopped feeling that little bit of fear before a shoot that I realized that I was getting bored and needed to move on…..probably to something which I was afraid of!

    Life is strange.

  37. Scott McQ February 11, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    I'm afraid every time.

  38. Kurtis February 11, 2010 at 9:44 pm #

    Great question, and great answer. I think the reason we get scared and nervous is because we care – if you use those nerves like Chase said and prepare as best you can, you'll almost always do just fine.

  39. Joshua February 12, 2010 at 12:33 am #

    I spent two hours today doing something I had been unacquainted with for years. It felt amazingly rejuvenating.
    If you're ever afraid to take the first step, know that the steps that come afterward will be more valuable than most anything else.

  40. Daf February 12, 2010 at 1:43 am #

    A friend used to have the saying:

    "If you're not living on the edge – you're taking up too much space"

    Although she was a bit nuts and live this to the extreme – I think it's good to at least visit the edge occasionally and see what it's like.

    Last year I realised that I'd not had any excitement in my life for a fair while. After a couple of weeks in Spain + some more trips in the UK – I'm now a qualified skydiver :)
    As well as grasping fear – if something's worth doing – it's worth doing right.

  41. Sparrowhawk February 12, 2010 at 5:24 am #

    Fear is a illusion that blocks your dreams. It tricks you, taunts you, and wants to keep your precious little ego safe.

    Fuck Fear.

  42. mooreclick February 12, 2010 at 5:57 am #

    My dad built our living room, an addition onto our house. I said, "Dad, have you ever actually built a room before?" He said, "No, but dumber people than me have managed."

    It's the only level room in our house.

  43. Matthew Blassey February 12, 2010 at 6:17 am #

    I totally agree. Once you are able to get past that fear and doubt through repetition, that original fear begins to fade and the process becomes easier. Accomplishing your fear really becomes a huge self confidence booster and motivational factor. That once big fear will sort of become a rush.


  44. Igor Petrović February 12, 2010 at 6:23 am #

    “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
    Of course that's what Yoda thinks. :)

    Fear can be good motivator and strong blocker. It depends how you use it. :)

  45. Darren February 12, 2010 at 7:19 am #

    Hi Chase,

    there must of been a shoot as some point that went wrong?

    A shoot where nothing worked out and none of the shots were suitable etc….isn't this also how we learn?


  46. Tony Johnson February 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm #

    Pre shoot fear it's a sign of caring about the shoot. When I arrived at my first ever wedding shoot I felt like I was goining to puke. The groom was kicking back, waved me over to the bar and offered me a beer! Here the photographer was shaking like a leaf and the groom was relaxed as can be. I declined the beer but his relaxed demeanor sure helped me chill out.

  47. Daven February 12, 2010 at 11:37 pm #

    I'm scared just thinking about the possibility of ever having a shoot where I'm being paid more than pennies. Thanks for this post, Chase. For whatever reason, it certainly helps to know that even seasoned pros were once scared newbies.

    @Tony Johnson. I absolutely love it when I am offered a drink during a wedding shoot. I always decline, but it makes me feel so much more relaxed. :)

  48. Aimee Greeblemonkey February 13, 2010 at 10:11 am #

    GREAT post.

    Recently, I have had a project at work where we have shot over 100 people in 2 months in some of the worst lighting conditions I have ever dealt with and I was so fucking scared at the start. Like 15,000 images!

    My assistant and I have been calling it guerrilla photo shoots. But we have learned so much, met some AWESOME people. Some have been great shots, some mediocre (another lesson: you can't control everything, shit happens), but we did our best and feel much more comfortable in our own skins now.

    In fact, my right hand guy took over a shoot for me last week when I was ill, something he NEVER would have done 3 months ago. Rock!

  49. Shawn Chamberlin February 13, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    thanks for the post chase. as others have said, i can relate with this topic. not just with art, this applies to many things in life. i've recently encountered obstacles, they got me down, but working your way through them makes you better and stronger. hearing it come from you is just reassuring. thanks chase.

  50. Nely February 13, 2010 at 11:48 am #

    Too true. Fear acn be a good catalyst to exceed past work.

  51. Dan Speicher February 13, 2010 at 3:11 pm #

    I love how long the conversation continues to go on for, and how the discussion continues to live and breathe and change.

    Quick Question Chase:

    You meet with a client to discuss details, and they seem really excited, then come back and say they went a different route: How do you move it forward and into a job, or do you just write it off?


  52. Karl February 14, 2010 at 9:11 am #

    The only fear I have is the fear of showing myself, for fear the vision isn't consigning with that of the client and then losing future work. This very thought defeats my ability to work, so with that it goes to show why you cannot be afraid.

  53. karmajohan February 14, 2010 at 9:34 am #

    Shooting as therapy!!? For us YES!

    Thought I was alone with all this fear stuff! Good to hear I am not alone in this.

    Anyway I would like to thank Chase J for his "Create, Share and Sustain" concept. This is actually what made me take the steps necessary for our site http://www.doepicstuff.com (influenced by T Selby) to get created and then launched this week.

    Even though I have been struggling with the fear stuff each session so far – it is getting easier. Same goes for my friend Johan S. We do it as therapy. The site makes us take small steps toward something we like to do, but do not dare.

    We call this style creative documentary..

    Good luck to you all!!

  54. Tony from Philly February 14, 2010 at 10:37 pm #

    Embrace your fear!
    Everyone gets nervous before a big event. That's only natural.
    Embrace the shoot!
    Focus on what you have to do and when the time comes, just do—, go with the flow.

    You can only do what you feel is your best.

  55. Le Pistoir February 15, 2010 at 10:32 am #

    Can also highly recommend The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

  56. Kathryn Wagner February 17, 2010 at 9:53 am #

    LOVE the Hunter S. Thompson quote!

    I am in agreement that fear is something everyone struggles with at various points in their career. Recognizing, and wrangling, that fear can be considered a job skill just as marketing is considered a skill necessary to the professional photographer. Wonderful article that I will be returning to as a resource – Thanks Chase!

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  58. foz February 21, 2010 at 2:46 am #

    wow :) never thought it would be online but this is my question :) it went amazingly well!

    it ran press, got on front cover

    this is a out take from the shoot



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    thank you for this post. i totally can relate to this. thank you for the motivation! :)

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