Fear of rejection in photography: It will happen and you’re not alone

The fear of rejection in portrait photography

The crippling fear of rejection in photography is a real thing for beginners and advanced creatives.

Calm down. Take a deep breath and realize we have all been thru it. A client or customer has just rejected you’re portrait photography and they are upset.

How you handle your next move will be the most important step in your photography career.

Fear of rejection in photography

The fear of rejection in portrait photography is a real feeling many beginner photographers will eventually have to face. The thought of people not liking your work and worse telling others about their experience with you based on the photos. I’m here to tell you that it will eventually happen to everyone no matter how hard you try 

Photographer rejection real

You can’t please everyone. Photography is a subjective and people will judge you based on their own emotions and perspectives. This is why it’s so important to understand this feeling of rejection before it happens.

Say for a moment you just finished a portrait session. Maybe it was just a friend needing some photos for social media.

Either way, it was a fun shoot, and you can’t wait to show them the photos. After reviewing the back of the camera, you speed home and transfer the photos to your computer and start the post-processing.

You slowly review the photos and select your favorite from the bunch. Excitement builds, and you can’t wait to show your friend or client the final outcome.

You finish exporting a small sample of finished photos and you email them right away. Your heart is pounding as you can’t wait to hear their reaction.

She emails you back right away and the first words you read when you open up the email on your phone are “Thanks, but I don’t like them”.

Your heart drops, and you feel crushed!

What you do next is critical

I have no doubt this scenario has happened to pretty much all creative artists, especially photographers.

You’ve been told many times your work is amazing, and wonderful by friends and family and then something like this happens.

It’s a punch to the gut. What is most important is how you handle this reaction and move forward from here.

It may happen more often, and you need to get used to handling situations like this.

Rejection of your photography – DON’T do this:

  • Throw your hands up and give up.
  • Delete your friend’s/clients email and phone number from your phone
  • block them on social media
  • Immediately think about selling all your camera gear
  • Start second guessing yourself and your skills

Chances are you’ve worked really hard to develop your photography skills.

Just remember it can happen to beginners and even advanced photographers. You have to realize you can’t please everyone.

Not everyone will like the photos or the outcome of your shoots and much of the time it has nothing to do with you.

Rejection of your portrait photography – You SHOULD do this:

  • Keep calm and breathe. No rash or harsh judgments
  • Review the images in question, and try to look at them from the clients point-of-view
  • Write down some questions you could ask to help you understand the issues they have
  • Keep shooting because you love photography
  • Don’t sell your gear or think you need to start over
  • Don’t go out and buy expensive presets because you think it will make your portrait better

Rejection may have nothing to do with you

Keep in mind, it may have nothing to do with you or you’re photography. Many clients simply don’t like the way they look on camera, and no matter what you do, this will never change.

They could have been hoping for a secret angle or pose to help them look better and amazing in photos, but they will soon realize this is not the case.

Most people don’t realize how much post-production work is done in magazines and ads they see everywhere.

This creates some pretty unrealistic expectations, especially in the world of social media.

Ask yourself, is it really a rejection of your work?

In your mind, you may have perceived the response as a rejection. To be honest, we all hate rejection and confrontation.

Especially me. It can bring on feelings of anxiety and uncomfortable stress. The best thing to do is wait until you are calm, and then set up a time to speak with the client one-on-one about the portraits.

Maybe a quick phone call will help clear up any misunderstandings. Try to put yourself in their shoes to see what you missed.

Communication and setting expectations will help you understand how to move forward.

Approach any conversation with an open mind and without anger or resentment. You have to clear your mind before the conversation so you can focus on the issues at hand.

Asking and welcoming for feedback

It’s ok to ask for feedback, so you can better understand the issues the client may have with your portrait work.

Believe it or not, sometimes they will not have any specific answer to your questions other than “I just don’t like them”.

Putting feelings and emotions into words can be hard for anyone, especially if the feedback is perceived as embarrassing to the client.

If you value the relationship, work to make them feel comfortable in explaining their feelings.

Handholding is sometimes an essential part of the process. Most importantly, you just have to understand you can’t please everyone.

Also, be sure you are welcoming feedback on your photography. Yes, everyone will want to give you feedback.

Not because you asked for it, but because we all feel the need to express our opinions. Most important is how you handle the feedback or criticism being presented to you.

Learning from your “rejection” experience

The main goal of this story is to help you understand that every experience is a chance to learn. No matter what reason the client gives you, they will not all be happy with the outcome.

Even if they loved your portfolio. It can be easier said than done, but you can’t take it personally.

We fall in love with our work as artists, but we have to learn to let go and move on.

Based on your conversations with your client, you should both clearly agree on how to move forward.

I don’t know what that looks like but setting clear expectations will help in the delivery of any project. This is technically where contracts also come in handy, but that is another story altogether.

Go beyond the camera

Learning photography and working with people will mean you will need to learn skills that they don’t teach in a manual.

You will need to work on your interpersonal skills to help develop yourself and your brand.

Consider taking communication classes or getting out of your comfort zone and learning how to deal with confrontation to you can know what to do when the moment comes.

Social media and other outside influences

So back to unrealistic expectations. Social media has become a place where people live out their dreams but also create nightmares for others.

As a photographer, I am constantly comparing myself to other popular photographer profiles on Instagram and wondering why my follower count is not as high, why I’m not as popular.

Seeing the success of others (real or not) can create a certain resentment and feeling of helplessness for artists.

Now consider how your client is feeling. They want to look their best and they may have been hoping for something to help them look magical.

This is a fake feeling and no matter what you do, you can’t change a client’s perception of themselves.

It’s not your job to change that perception, but it is your job as a photographer to do your best and show them a beautiful moment in time as you capture their portraits.

Pick yourself back up after photography rejection

You should be your biggest fan. Believe in yourself and your skills as an artist and photographer. Don’t let one experience bring you down and keep you from doing something you love.

Surround yourself with a community of like-minded individuals that will give you constructive feedback on your photography.

Remember that constructive feedback may not always be what you want to hear, but if a more experienced individual is wanting to help you, then keep an open mind.

How the photography community can help with rejection

I have said it before, but you are not alone. I’m writing this article from experience. Working with different personalities can bring its own unique challenges. Your goal should not be only capture a portrait.

You are working to capture a moment in time that they will get to see and share over and over again with friends and family.

If you are a part of a photography community (local or online) I recommend you talk with other photographers or creative professionals to see how they have handled similar situations.

You truly might be surprised about how common it is for people to feel the rejection in their portrait photography.

Keep improving on your portraits

Experiences create an opportunity to learn and grow. Once you receive feedback from the friend or client on the photos then start looking at your work more objectively.

Yes, photography is an art but it’s also a business and your goal is to provide an end product that satisfies the customers expectations.

We work to hit the mark and sometimes we miss it. The reasons can seem hard or simple, but in the end, we need to keep improving.

Keep shooting and trying new things that will give you an advantage and set you apart from the crown.

Recap: Stay calm and keep shooting

Hopefully you’re in a better emotional state by now and realize that there are some problems that are just out of your control.

Remember why you started photography and keep that in mind before thinking about giving up.

We all have good days and bad days, but what sets you apart is the ability to keep going and keep making improvements to your work.

Conclusion: Turn rejection into opportunity

The fear of rejection in photography is real. Rejection is a common occurrence in portrait photography, but when you rise to the occasion and look to gain control of your emotions before jumping to conclusions, you will start to handle the rejection better and better.

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