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Thursday, 13 February 2014

Professional Photographer Column: June 2013


Often when I am shooting weddings I get offered a drink and sometimes this is as early as bridal prep because the girls are already on the fizz.  I always say thanks, but no thanks, because I’m driving my camera.

Using a car analogy seems appropriate to me because I regularly see that many photographers don’t know how to drive their cameras properly and as a result are not getting the best performance out of their kit. Many are letting the rest of the industry down with the resulting standard of what they deliver. 

There is a very unfair assumption amongst the general public that photography is easy and many of us seem to confirm this by trying to avoid ‘fiddling’ with our cameras. The truth is there are decisions to be made about the existing light or the light you are going to add.  You should never be ashamed about taking a moment to make the right decision.  Once you have established the light you will be working with you need to get your exposure and prepare your camera for the task. 

When I’m shooting I just ask clients to give me a moment whilst I get my exposure.  This allows me to focus on my camera for a matter of seconds and gives my clients permission to relax.  Once I have my exposure set for the lighting conditions my attention reverts back to them fully and all subsequent adjustments are made whilst I’m chatting/directing.

For some time now these incremental adjustments have been made with no real conscious thought about what I’m doing.  I am making exposure adjustments on the same autopiIot I drive my car – getting from A to B with barely any focus on the actual process of driving. 

Do you remember what it was like learning to drive?  All those things to think about and do simultaneously? It wasn’t a lot different when I first took my camera off auto.  I was very aware of every turn of a dial or press of a button.  With time and practice it becomes instinctive and you can say with confidence that you are in control of the tools of the trade and can handle the unexpected.  You are ready to take your driving test.

Of course one of the problems we have in this industry is the lack of a driving test.  We really could do with a compulsory assessment to ensure that a basic standard of competence is achieved.   We could even split it into a practical and a theory test and have a centralised photography standards agency...  Can you imagine, people might have to actually read their manuals and learn how their camera functions! 

Here are 3 things that I am most often amazed that fellow photographers don’t know about when I train them:
  • How the 3 main TTL metering modes measure reflected light and how the camera is assuming the presence of 18% grey.
  • How to put their camera into continuous release and focus modes for moving subjects.
  • How modern speedlights work in high speed sync mode.

Whilst cameras are getting more technically complex they are getting easier to operate – resulting in people like me breaking into the market with relative ease.  I get asked all the time how I have learnt so much in 5 years.   The answer is simple – every time I discover I don’t know something I go and find the answer – from magazines, books, the internet or training with fellow photographers.  The first course I ever did was An Introduction to Your DSLR with Nikon, which was basically a crash (day) course in the dial and menu settings on my then D80.

I know that many photographers turning pro lack confidence.  I remember that stage of the journey clearly and the problem lay in my knowledge gaps – dark holes where fear lay waiting.  In life I am a confronter, sometimes to my detriment, but I am a firm believer in Neale Donald Walsch’s saying ‘Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone’.  The wiki definition of comfort zone is a good read and begins ‘The comfort zone is a behavioural state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk’.  I didn’t come close to an anxiety-neutral condition in the first 2 years of my business.

In one of her blog posts Jenika (Psychology for Photographers) acknowledged that photography lies at an uncomfortable intersection of art and business but in order to survive we must ‘stare fear in the eyes and eat those doubts for breakfast’.  For me confronting fear meant not saying ‘no’ despite being properly afraid of what was being asked of me.  Critically it meant bridging knowledge gaps in order to be able to deliver what was expected.

For example when it became clear that I was going to be shooting David Tennant’s wedding 100% indoors in December I immediately focused on mastering fill flash – adding enough light to produce quality images but losing none of the ambient feeling of the day.   I started shooting that wedding at 8am, behind closed curtains with confidence.  That’s the only way I can function – I actually respect people who can blag their way through life - but as for me, I would fall apart!

So this month I challenge you all to confront your comfort zone.  To acknowledge where there is a knowledge or skills gap in your business and do whatever it takes to fill it and maybe break the inertia.  I’m prepared to bet that you will feel a whole lot better for it and I’d be interested to hear how you get on.

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