Hey there everyone! Big thanks to Scott for sharing the blog with me today, and for Brad for putting up with my constant delays in turning this in.
I’m not sure if you knew or not, but I’ve recently set out on my own. It’s the first time in my 43 years that I’ve been self-employed, and it’s been a wild ride so far. I can only imagine what the future holds. If you want to read more about it, I did a whole post over on my blog.
But today, I wanted to share with you a new series of stories I’ve been writing. It’s called “Photography Lessons for My Mom.” Basically, my mom has taken up photography over the last couple of years, and helping her along the way has been really enlightening for me.
By the way, these lessons aren’t in a specific order. I’m just writing them as they happened while I was helping my mom. Here goes:
Lesson 1 – How To Learn Your Camera
My mom had mentioned she wasn’t comfortable shooting because she didn’t know what she should have her camera set to and was getting confused by all of the settings. So we sat down and I taught her the camera, the same way I’d teach someone Photoshop. Just as I’d never teach someone just starting out in Photoshop about Curves or Calculations, I’d never tell my mom to worry about rear-curtain flash sync, or focus-peaking. Rather, I just spent that time showing her the basic things I thought she’d need to get out there and shoot.
But here’s the catch, and this was my advice for her. She mentioned that it’d be hard to remember all of those settings, and that every time she goes out and shoots, she forgets them and where they’re at. My advice was this…
“Mom…You bought a professional piece of camera equipment. You purposely did not buy a simple point-and-shoot, and you want something with more creative control than your iPhone. But you can’t expect to master that complicated piece of equipment by going out and shooting once or twice a month.”
As we talked, I let her know there were two ways she could get better at moving around in the menus, and knowing her camera:
- Get out and shoot more. There’s no substitute for practice.
- However… shooting more really isn’t an option for her because she’s busy. So, I offered another tip. Sit down with your camera every day for 2-3 weeks for a few minutes. Go through the menus and settings that you use a lot. I promise you, that at the end of those two weeks, you’ll feel so comfortable with your camera that you won’t think twice about changing settings the next time you go shoot.
Lesson 2 – Just Shoot!
Next lesson… So, a few weeks later when I asked my mom if she had gone out shooting she said “Well, not lately… I’m going to try to practice these settings more, and maybe in a month or so I should be ready”.
That response really hit home to me because I hear it from a lot of people. It seems a lot of people own really good photography gear, but are almost afraid to use it. They think they’re missing something, and that studying more will help.
Obviously I disagree. I don’t care where she focusses, I don’t care what ISO she has the camera set to, I don’t care if she shoots it at f/4 or f/22, or what metering mode she has, or if she’s shooting HDR brackets and all of that crap. All of that stuff is nice-to-know extras, that we all let get in the way of the most important thing – shooting. Get your camera to a good place, and shoot!
Why My Mom’s Situation Really Impacted Me?
Here’s a little back story to why this really impacted me, and I’d never even told my mom this story before that day on the phone. When I was a teenager, I played the guitar. I started when I was about 10-11 or so, and fell in love with it. I took lessons every week for years. I had 2 of the best guitar teachers in the state of NJ at the time. They’d literally spend hours with me each week. I sucked up information as fast as they’d give it out.
Like many photographers I meet, I became obsessed with the “technical” details of music. When most of my friends who picked up the guitar were just jamming away to Van Halen, Motley Crue, and Ozzy Osbourne (I was a kid in the 70s and early 80’s), I was studying music theory. I knew every scale, every chord, up down, left and right. I became an expert at the “technical” part of playing the guitar.
But one thing I never did was to create. I never created anything. I was afraid. I always thought I wasn’t ready to make music, so I just played other people’s music, and read/practiced the technical stuff (scales, chords, etc.). My friends would take their tape recorders and just play rock rhythm chords to them for 5 minutes. And then they’d play it back and just jam over it. Eventually they got really good at “creating.” I was jealous. I always felt that I “knew” more than them about music, and theory and all that techie stuff. But they were better than me.
So why didn’t I do the same thing as them? I always thought I didn’t have the right equipment to lay one audio track on top of the other. I always thought I didn’t have the right amp, or effects pedal. I always thought I didn’t know enough about the song, or what scale to play in, or the music theory behind the song to really make anything that was my own.
Friends would ask me (much like other photographers may ask you to go shooting), to bring my guitar over and just jam out and play. I never did. Even though I knew I was good, I never felt good enough to actually go and “create” with them.
As a result, I eventually stopped playing. I lost interest because I got tired of not knowing enough to get good (or at least what I thought “good” was). I never created anything, and eventually I wasn’t interested in just playing other people’s songs so I dropped out of playing the guitar.
Lesson 3 – Stop Having GAS
I haven’t written about this one yet, so I’m debuting it here. My next lesson for my mom is to stop having GAS. I know, it’s not an easy thing for a 43 year-old son to say to his slightly-older-than-him mother. Oh, and in case you’re wondering what GAS is, it’s an acronym for Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Basically, it’s the feeling (and action) of a constant need for more gear. That some how, gear is what’s holding you back.
For a while, my mom was texting me all the time with questions of whether she needs this lens, or this filter, or this something-or-other. Where’d she get it from? Most likely her friends. She belongs to a camera club, where you have all different levels of experience and budgets. I can totally see how it happens, right? I mean, if you’re like me and you get a piece of gear the you love, what do you do? I know I go around telling people, “OMG! I love this new lens!” But I’m not necessarily thinking that they may not shoot what I shoot, or have a need for it. And so the cycle begins.
As an example, my mom came to me and asked me if she should buy a macro lens. First off, I have one and I told her she could use it anytime (for $100 that is) ;-)
What I explained to her was that before going out and buying something new, borrow it if you can. Or make do with what you have for a little while longer. But don’t buy anything new until it becomes prohibitive not to own it. Until you get to the point where you know your photo was held back by not having that macro lens.
I also explained to her that many of the photos she was looking at were close ups, and could have been taken with her 24-240mm zoom lens with the right settings and composition. But the most important part about it, was to show her that the gear was not holding her back. In just about every situation she asks me about, I can almost guarantee you that she already has the gear she needs.
I mentioned in the beginning that it has really been an eye opening experience for me. It’s changed the way I teach because I realize so many other people have the same questions that my mom does. So… thanks mom!
And thanks to all of you for stopping by to read my post today. If you like this article and want to follow up on the series, head on over to my website. While I post all the time, the best thing to do is just sign up for email updates, and I usually send them out every couple of weeks so you don’t have to keep checking back.
– Matt Kloskowski