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Kelly McGrath

Stepping Out From Behind The Camera

01/20/2018 0 Comments

My first camera was a Christmas gift from my parents when I was in third grade. It was a bulky, Fuji-film point and shoot in a vibrant neon green color (my favorite color at the time). I would photograph obvious things like my dog, or the snow falling in my backyard. It wasn’t a particularly complex piece of equipment, but it was my first taste of real, genuine photography. I very quickly fell in love.

So it comes as no surprise to me or anyone who knows me that I am still practicing photography today. This blog and my Instagram account serve as wonderful ways to share my photographs with others. But it has also highlighted my intense insecurity about being in front of the camera. My tendency is to want to hide behind it and let the photo do the talking. It’s something I often chalk up to being a naturally shy personality, but I know there is more to it than that.

The digital age we all live and work in thrives off of documentation. No matter where we go or who we are with, there is an expectation of digital proof. There are hundreds if not thousands of influencers and bloggers who have created incredibly successful careers by sharing images of their lives online. For many (like myself), it serves as a form of self expression. A way of documenting and sharing their evolving story and style with followers around the world. But as the world of social media continues to grow, so does the responsibility to consistently produce effortlessly curated images. Naturally this can become an issue for someone who prefers to be behind the camera and not in front of it.

While many influencers have other people photograph them, others serve as both photographer and subject. Social media and online marketing has flipped the world of photography on it’s head in many ways. People want to see people in photographs. Their investment is in the person standing in the photo, not just the pretty sunset in the backdrop.

But that can be hard to do when you’re the person behind the lens. Even harder still when you dislike how you look in pictures. How can I create the perfectly curated account I’ve envisioned if I don’t fit into it? One look through the early images of my Instagram feed and you’ll noticed that my face is hidden behind my phone in many of the pictures. Reason being? Well, there were many. I didn’t like my hair that day. My makeup was a mess. I don’t photograph well. The list goes on and on.

I also have this thing with face symmetry. My face is not symmetrical, and sometimes that is all I see when I look at pictures of myself. I can’t even tell you how many images have been tossed in the trash bin because I thought my face looked asymmetric, there was a hair out of place, or my teeth don’t look white enough. Such silly reasons, aren’t they? Because to the people who knows me in my personal life, they are all great photos. It’s the underlying pressure for perfect content that has highlighted these insecurities, not just for myself but for many.

Our online lives now serve as our first impression. Social media profiles are digital representations of our personalities, interests, and our work. Whether it’s before a professional interview or a casual date, our first impressions start on social media. This is in large part how the “highlight reel” stigma on Instagram was born. Only the best moments and images tend to make our feeds. The pressure to get the perfect shot, perfect angle, and look our best has never been higher. This leaves little room for the ordinary, every day, real moments. On the one hand, we want to appear our best to others. On the other, we know that we rarely look like that in our real lives. The fear of looking bad in photos is often just as strong as the fear of not living up to expectations in real life.

Apps like Instagram are also driven by numbers, which inevitably leads to comparison. How many followers you have, how many likes you receive, and/or how often you post are all used as measures of success. It’s no wonder so many of us get swept up in the numbers game. As my Instagram account continued to grow, so would my self-criticism. There are over 17 thousand people looking at my pictures every day. That’s a lot of people! How could I compare to the girl with the washboard abs, or the girl who lives by the ocean?

The short answer is that I can’t. But my followers didn’t follow me because of those things to start! I think the inclination is that as you grow, you must change. The bigger the audience the higher the expectation. But this doesn’t have to come at the expense of your voice and personality, and it certainly doesn’t mean putting yourself down for your differences. Those are what set you apart to begin with!

Newsflash, no ones face is symmetrical. Okay, maybe Rihanna’s face is, but I digress. No one is perfect, and everyone can be insecure. They key is to not let it stop you, and that can be really hard. I am such a perfectionist that I have a hard time settling for what I view as a “decent” photograph. In the past this has led to me not posting at all. Ironically I have also learned that the things I view as imperfections often go unnoticed by everyone else. I am own toughest critic, and that is what tends to hold me back.

So this year, I have made it a goal of mine to let go and embrace being in front of the camera. To spend my time worrying over such insignificant details would not only be a waste of energy, but also feel a lot like I am handing over my self worth to others. I love photography, and being the subject of a photo shouldn’t make me love it less. I hope to share more of myself in my images this year, and as scary as that sounds to me I am excited for the challenge.

Do you prefer to be in front of or behind the camera? If so, why?

I would also love to hear some of your thoughts or experiences regarding social media anxiety, so be sure to leave me a comment below.

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