digital photography tips with Digital Photo Mentor Darlene Hildebrandt

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Even the Pros Screw Up

This week we're going to talk about how to lighten up and laugh at yourself, because so often I see new photographers get so serious and be so hard on themselves to get it perfect every time. Please hear this and understand that even the best of the best and professionals sometimes make mistakes, so give yourself a break!

To do this I'm going to bare my soul and tell you about some of my biggest screw ups and hopefully you can laugh at me or with me and share your own stories.

Professional Photographer + responsibilities = pressure

Being a professional photographer does come with certain responsibilities and pressures. I know over the years of doing this I've felt the pressure, especially just starting out.

The entire first year I did weddings I wanted to throw up for at least the first hour or two every time I went to a job. There is only one chance to get it right and back in the day when I started it was all film so there was no instant feedback, and I had no idea until the film came back days later if I had done good or not. Many times I left at the end of the evening thinking I had totally blown it, when in reality I had done a fantastic job and the clients were really pleased.

Part of those nerves were my own insecurities and inexperience and part of that does go away in time. But part of it is the pressure of the situations, and even now when I do the odd wedding for family members I still get the knot in my stomach because I feel obligated to create great memories for them. I think a little of that is healthy and it keeps one humble and focused. Too much though will just make the whole photography process less fun, and cause you to lose passion for the thing you love.

I admit it, I screw up now and then! Laugh with me

Here's a short list of some of the things I've done, and still continue to do on a regular basis. Not because I'm stupid, or a bad photographer, so I don't beat myself up and neither should you.

  • Sometimes I shoot using the wrong White Balance and end up with wacky colored images (not such a big deal if you're shooting RAW files)
  • I've shot in full Manual Mode when I thought I was in Av (Aperture Priority) and the exposure was WAY off, so far as to be unusable
  • I've forgotten to focus entirely, either using the back button or I switched it off on the lens and forgot to switch it back on. I just did this last week. I can't remember why I turned off the Autofocus on my wide lens but for some reason I did and I shot for about 30 minutes at an event I was covering for a charity before I realized the lens wasn't focusing. DOH!
    Oops! I use back button focus and sometimes I forget to focus at all. This would be one of those times!

    Much better!
  • Accidentally I've shot at a really high ISO (like 12,800 the other day!) and forgot to change it back (especially when I've been doing candid shots in a low light situation and switch to bracketing for HDR images – high ISO is really bad for HDR)
  • I forget to format my memory card before start I start shooting again. I do this one ALL the time and feel like a dope when I get 20 or so images in and realize my card is full and I can't format now or I'll lose what I've just shot so I have to go delete one by one (not the best way to do it at all!) Sometimes it makes me question whether or not I've actually downloaded that card or not and if I should be deleting them. Then I have a real mess.
  • I admit, sometimes I've been too lazy to get out of car to get the shot so I just open the car window and take a quick one. I've also been attacked by a swarm of tiny black flies (or whatever they were). I got out of the car while my husband waited and I took one shot and ran back inside. He asked me if I was going to take more and I just simply handed him the camera and said “you go ahead!” I walked right into a swarm of bugs and ended up eating a few I think so I was done.

Some funny stories that turned out okay

No tripod insert or light meter – no problem!

Once early in my career I was working for another photographer and I had a job to go photograph the manager of a store and a contest prize winner for a promotion the store held. I forgot to take a tripod insert (thingy that goes on the bottom of the camera to attach it to the tripod) and I also forgot to take a light meter (measures the amount of light so you can expose correctly). The job was a 45 minute drive from the studio and the people were waiting, so going back to get them wasn't an option. So I asked if they had any duct tape (a photographer's best friend) and literally taped the camera to the tripod. As for metering, keep in mind the film camera I was using then had NO internal meter and no way of previewing the exposure. So completely had to guess! I'd done this type of shot in this type of lighting conditions before so I knew that with the ISO 400 film I was using if I shot at f8 at about 1/15th of a second I'd be pretty close. Oh yeah, flash wasn't TTL back then either – full manual and meter everything! So forgetting a meter was a pretty big deal. I did bracket the shutter speed a little from 1/30th to 1/8th but I was pretty bang on with my first assessment. The shots came out just fine and tack sharp! I was lucky I didn't lose my job, but through using the experience I had, and keeping a cool head and problem solving rather than freaking out really got me through it.

This is the camera system I used to use for weddings, Hasselblad. Not made for speed, no auto focus, no meter, 12 or 24 shots per roll of film. A little limiting by todays standards of speed, but unsurpassed quality. You actually had to do the work, not the camera.

No film – okay slight problem!

Back in the days of film (why does it sound so historic, when I myself only went full time digital eight years ago?!) I used a kit like the one in the photo above. This story could have turned out really bad but some quick thinking and my mom saved my butt! Gotta love moms hey!? I was doing my cousin's wedding which was taking place out in the country so I had about an hours drive from home to the hair dressers where she was getting ready. I got there, opened my bag to load film and I had NONE! I had a slight panic attack to say the least. It wasn't like I could just run to the drugstore and get some because (A) there wasn't one anywhere nearby and (B) I was shooting medium format film and only the pro stores carried it. One phone call later and my mom was in a taxi to my house to get my film, and I was on the way back to the city to meet her half way to get it. In the end I missed everything at the hair salon but managed to get back in time to get some shots of her getting into her dress and with her girls and family. I was really lucky she was so understanding and I have a great mom. It could have been much worse than it was, and we had a happy ending and I didn't have a heart attack.

No batteries? Could be a problem

Today forgetting film isn't really an issue, nor is a light meter – as my memory cards are always in my bag and the light meters are built in to the cameras now. But one thing I seem to have a fear of is forgetting to charge my camera batteries. Using an SLR you can't just go grab some double A's and be good to go. Show up with dead batteries and that will be a problem. Luckily this one hasn't happened to me, probably because I actually have nightmares about it. That or I'll go out in public naked or wearing my pajamas!

But isn't that our deepest fear as humans, for people to see us at our most vulnerable? Without our walls or masks to protect us? That we'll be seen and judged by others? Let me say this:

Being vulnerable and putting yourself out there will only help you grow as a photographer, and as a person!

A few months ago I wrote about expressing creativity without fear. Being vulnerable is part of that equation. Be willing to take a risk. Be willing to be judged and do it anyway. Step up to the plate and ask that person on the street if you can photograph them, or just do it and see what happens. It bears repeating that only through risk and vulnerability do we achieve more, and reach heights never before possible.

Broken lens – sad story!

Back in April this year (2012) I had just purchased my new Canon 70-200 f4 lens (I downsized from the f2.8 to travel a bit lighter) and I headed off to San Francisco for the Google Plus Conference for Photographers. As my husband and I walked around the pier our first evening there, I had shot maybe 20 or so images with my new lens when – CRASH – it was suddenly on the ground and looked a little askew. The camera strap I was using attached to the bottom of the camera where the tripod insert goes and it just let go for no apparent reason. I was not a happy camper as I figured it was toast and I was now out $1400. I also found out my Visa which gives me great travel points did NOT cover purchases. If I had paid for it with my Amex they'd have replaced it no questions asked, regardless of the damage. So – lesson for you here, buy major purchases on a card that has purchase insurance and will cover damage or loss for 90 days. The strap manufacturer (which shall remain nameless) could find nothing wrong with their rig but did cover the cost of the repair out of pure good will, so it does have a happy ending, with a tough lesson and a lot of stress later.

What's your story?

Okay, it's your turn. Tell us something that happened to you that you can now laugh about, but at the time was traumatic! Remember – be vulnerable, it's okay. We're all friends here and we can laugh together WITH you, not at you.

You're Only Human

Finally, I'm going to leave you with the words of one of my all-time favorite singers, Billy Joel – You're Only Human. Enjoy, and take it easy on yourself, because you are only human after all!


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