Note: If you identify with this post – you, too, may be an over-achieving, potentially neurodivergent introvert!
From my earliest days I remember my sweet mom trying to teach me how to take pictures “properly.” I’d be focused on a chain link fence, mesmerized by the pattern; she’d shove a sibling into frame and instruct me to take a photo of their face. Anything other than a portrait was “wasting film.”
After studying photography in college, I got a job as an event photographer. Back then, the world was smaller and there were only a few paths for most photographers to make a decent living. We shot weddings and bar mitzvahs, things like that. I actively hated it. It would take me days to recover mentally. I quit and decided I would never mix work and pleasure again. Photography would be my hobby, the activity I loved to do, and work would be my means of paying for my hobby. I went back to school to get a business degree.
I continued taking pictures of things I liked for my own amusement: architecture, landscapes, patterns, leading lines, symmetry, reflections. Eventually, I became confident in my niche and was able to secure photography jobs within it. Now I shoot for travel, hospitality, and real estate brands, mostly.
To this day, though, people ask me to take baby photos, headshots, family Christmas card pictures, to shoot their engagements or their weddings. I tell them, “I don’t shoot people,” and they look at me like I am a crazy person. A photographer who doesn’t take photos of people? How can that be? Some think I’m being modest. “I bet you’re great at it!” they assure me, missing the point entirely. I’ve tried this analogy: if you were on trial for a crime and wanted to hire a lawyer, would you choose a corporate lawyer or would you want someone experienced in criminal defense? They're both lawyers, but one is better suited to the task at hand. They just don't make as many TV dramas about one of them, so you may not be as familiar with that specialty.
There are many reasons some photographers opt not to shoot people. Here are a few:
1. The Introversion Challenge
I’ve heard you’re an extrovert if your social battery is charged by being around other people, whereas you’re an introvert if your social battery is drained by it. Photographing people is intimate and personal. It just is. It’s not just about capturing a face; it’s about capturing an emotion, a mood, a moment. This requires a level of connection and understanding with the subject(s), and that expends emotional effort. Most of the time, it means directing and interacting with the subject. It can be incredibly exhausting for people who identify as more introverted.
2. The Expectation Versus Reality
The expectations that come with photographing people can be unrealistic. Every subject has an image of themselves in their mind that they want to see reflected in the photograph. The photographer’s artistic perspective doesn't always align with that image. This gap between expectation and reality often leads to dissatisfaction, no matter how technically well executed the photograph. It’s another layer of anxiety that a lot of us just don’t want to deal with.
3. The Fleeting Moment
The perfect moment in portrait photography is fleeting. A glance, a smile, a frown - these are transient expressions that can disappear in a blink, never to be authentically replicated. When you’re someone who is obsessed with composition, prioritizing capturing this can be a difficult mindset switch.
4. The Beauty Beyond People
Most importantly, my preference for not photographing people stems from my love for capturing the broader world. There's an inherent tranquility in photographing landscapes, cityscapes, and architecture. The slow change of clouds over the ocean, the gradual shift of sunlight on a sweeping circular staircase, the stable elegance of a skyscraper - these are subjects that allow for contemplation and unhurried composition. The world is rich with patterns, textures, colors, and moments that exist beyond human subjects. I not only relish photographing these subjects the most, but these are also the photos I prefer to look at.
I absolutely respect and admire portrait photographers for their skills, it’s just over the years I have grown more comfortable in doing what appeals to me more. My passion is in the grandeur of a mountain range, the repeating arches in a church, the geometric beauty of a city skyline - it's in these spaces that I find the fire of my creativity truly ignited. Photography, after all, is a deeply personal art, and for me, and some people like me, it's less about capturing humans and more about the world beyond us. And that's OK.
Blogging my path as a professional photojournalist / social media addict / influencer