How to Manage Nerves at Your First Paid Photography Gig

Getting your first paid photography gig can be exciting, but also extremely nerve-racking!

Going from a photographer that shoots for fun to one that shoots for cash is a strange transition. You move from having the freedom to shoot as you please to needing to deliver and meet a client’s expectations. Of course, someone saying your work is worth paying for is amazing, and it’s something you should celebrate. But nerves can take over, and self-doubt begins to creep in. We want to help you manage those first-gig nerves so you can work at your best and deliver to your client.

Don’t Forget to Breathe

I remember my first paid gig. It was a music event in London. As a music lover (and former DJ), being around people dancing and having the time of their lives was a dream come true, especially because I got to photograph it. But when the day arrived, I was overcome with nerves and anxiety. “What if my camera fails?” and “Do I even know what I’m doing?” were only two of the many negative thoughts I was having. Thankfully, during a bout of depression, I had learned about the importance of breathing and how it can help calm the mind.

If you’re in the same position of feeling breathless and worried, step to one side and do some focused breathing. 10 methodical breaths, in and out of the nose, will center your thoughts and help you control your breath. Spend a couple of minutes doing this on repeat and when you feel relaxed, get back to work. Also, tapping (EFT) is a wonderful way of overcoming anxiety. Tapping zones like the top of your head and under your eye with two fingers has shown to reduce stress levels.

Speak to a Mentor

It’s common for pre-gig nerves to kick in before the event takes place. Days leading up to the gig, your mind may start to have doubts and negative thoughts. This is a good time to check in with a mentor or someone who has plenty of experience in professional photography. They’ll be able to reinforce your skillset and point out the positive elements of your photography. They’ll also be able to share their first-hand experience of what they’ve done to overcome nerves and self-doubt. See them as somewhat of a cornerman at a boxing event. Ask them to play the role of hyping you up and making you believe in yourself.

If you don’t have a mentor, then approach an experienced photography friend for some advice and motivation. And if you don’t have that either, start getting out and networking: they can play an invaluable role in your journey through photography.

Positive Affirmations

There’s a reason you got your first gig. Clients don’t hand over their cash just because they feel like it. It’s because they believe you have a service worth paying for and one that can benefit them. So when you’re saying to yourself, “I’m not good enough to be paid,” you’re wrong. Because it’s not your decision to make: it’s the consumer’s. And if they believe you’re at a standard to warrant payment, then that means you belong there. Sure, there are cases when we’re left wondering, “Why would anyone pay for that?” But for the most part, they’re rare, and if you’re not totally delusional, then you won’t be one of those terrible photographers who got lucky.

So take some time to reaffirm your skillset. Say to yourself (either out loud or in your head), “I deserve to be here.” Combine it with your breathing exercise, and soon enough you’ll feel like a true photography warrior ready to take on the gig and smash it!

Focus on the Photography

We know the nerves are awful, but, one way or another, you need to overcome them. You’re not being paid to have a meltdown. You’re there to do a job; this is real work now. You need to get in the zone and focus on the job. The likelihood is you’ll have done the type of photography you’re being paid to do before. Treat it as just any other shoot, believe in your skillset, and put your eye to the viewfinder. You’re a photographer now.

And when it’s over, deliver to the client and take your money. More importantly, be proud of what you’ve achieved. You got into photography because of the fun and passion. There’s no reason for money to change that. Enjoy yourself!

Dan Ginn

Dan Ginn is a content writer and journalist. He brings with him five years' experience writing in the photographic niche. During that time he has worked with a range of leading brands, as well as a host of professional photographers within the industry.