Tonje Lilleås

How I got over my fear of shooting portraits

It’s no secret that I feel a bit insecure around people. This insecurity has among other things given me a fear of shooting portraits. You see a big part of shooting a good portrait is connecting with the person you’re shooting. In this post I tell you how I went about getting over my fear of shooting portraits.

The dread of shooting portraits

It’s not that I don’t like people. I’m curious and find people fascinating. I love conversations, making connections and feeling like I can relate. It’s just that I’m a bit awkward and not that good with people, and knowing that has made me insecure. Now I bet that a lot of people who have met me would disagree. I bet that a lot of people would say that I don’t come across as insecure at all, rather the complete opposite. And you’re probably right. However it’s not effortless or easy in any way, shape or form.

When I started photography I knew that I wanted to photograph people as well as landscapes. I felt that photography to me had to be about life and the living. Therefore I also knew that I would have to get over my insecurities to be able to get the images I was after.

It turned out that just having a camera in my hands helped a lot, making me feel a bit more confident. Still I only shot candid images of people I knew well for years. Shooting actual portraits was still something that really frightened me.

Jumping in head first

A couple of years ago I got a message asking if I could shoot some models to illustrate a plan on improving quality of life for LGBTQ in a region close to where I live. They wanted the kind of candid images that I shot, and I decided to just go for it. I knew my technical skills were on par, and I had some ideas of images that I thought would suit the purpose.

Saying yes meant a whole day of shooting couples and siblings and just lovely and interesting people. I truly enjoyed it. However as I got home I understood how draining it was to do something so far from my comfort zone. If this was something I wanted to master without having to empty my last energy reserves every time, I had to practice. A lot.

But how do you practice shooting portraits? Well, you start with the people you know. You know; parents, uncles, siblings, brothers in law, whoever you feel comfortable asking to model for you. This can be challenging enough, and doing a lot of portraits of people you know will give you valuable experience.

Being challenged to step out of the comfort zone once again

Shooting portraits of people you know is great. However for me the next step, shooting portraits of people I didn’t know, still felt like a huge barrier. Nevertheless I really wanted to up my game, and to do that I knew it was the next step.

While attending a photography workshop this summer we visited a really nice farm called Bretningen. I shot some images of the landscape, lifestyle and farm animals, and felt satisfied with my production that day. Our group leader however wanted me to challenge myself more. He called on one of the girls living there and told her that I was a great photographer that wanted to shoot portraits of her. I was totally caught off guard and felt like the only thing I could do was to take the challenge. I tried a bit of a different approach than I normally would, focusing more on being myself and just trying to get a conversation going before picking up the camera.

At first when I started shooting I told her to think about something that made her feel happy, but I could see that something didn’t feel right, that it felt a bit forced. And she told me that she didn’t have the best day, and so we decided to focus on just getting images that captured what was there in the moment.

Even though I was totally frightened when my group leader handed me the challenge totally unprepared, the shoot really helped me to believe a bit more in my people skills in this kind of situation. A good experience and I was happy with the images as well, can’t get any better than that!

Getting over the fear of shooting portraits

I didn’t get over the fear by having one good shooting experience, but through the summer I got to shoot more portraits. And I think that’s the clue; you just have to do it. A lot. You just have to endure the awkwardness and insecurities. It gets better with experience.

Am I cured of the fear now? I’m not sure. However I know that I am open to shooting more portraits. That I know the basics as well as how I shoot my style. If you like the images in this post and would like me to shoot your portrait, please let me know! I need more experience and would be honored to work with you.

Also, if you do like this post, please consider leaving a comment down below or giving it a thumbs up. Feedback really makes a difference to me. If you’d like to see more of what I do you could also consider subscribing to my newsletter or following me on Instagram, Facebook or YouTube. I wish you the very best of days!




  1. Reply

    Jill Morris

    September 10, 2019

    Your portraits are fab. It must be very unnerving to step out of your comfort zone. I haven’t managed it yet. Connecting with the landscape is easier but I would love to improve my people photography. Glad I’m not the only one trying to overcome this.

    • Reply

      Tonje Lilleås

      September 18, 2019

      Thank you Jill! It was, and still it, terrifying, but it kind of made the prize taste even sweeter when I was able to do it. Still landscapes and lifestyle type of images are easier to me than portraits, but I guess it’s a work in progress. Have a great day!


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