Hey, I Need to Know what ISO Means — I’m Shooting a Wedding in an Hour


I grew up without the Internet.

When I was young and starting out in the business, I had no Internet, although I did have a computer. It was an Apple IIe. I felt very fancy with it, kind of like Matthew Broderick in “War Games.” To me, it was like a big expensive calculator because I only used it to run reports and for record keeping. When it came to photography and the running of a business, I had to obtain information from classes and teachers, and by doing research via those archaic inventions called “books” — you might have heard of them.

I also had to walk to school in the snow barefoot, uphill both ways. (Sorry. Whenever I start out a sentence with “when I was young,” I always want to follow it up with that. Thanks for indulging me.) If you needed to learn something back then, you either had to figure it out on your own, using research and experimentation, or get help from someone who knew the answer. You had to put some effort into it.

searchSo, admittedly, when the Internet became a part of everyone’s life, life became a little easier. No more trudging to the library or sending away for information, for we now have a wealth of it at our fingertips 24/7, which means there is never an excuse not to know something. “Let me Google that” has become part of our vernacular.

“What is a Hunter’s Moon?

“What’s in haggis?”

“What does poison ivy look like?

“Should I be worried about this bump in my ear?”

Or, in the case of photography:

“I have a family session booked in a couple hours… how do I use on camera flash?”

And no, I am not making that last one up. I wish I was.

I’ve been noticing a growing trend on the Internet, mostly on Facebook, of photographers in business asking basic questions prior to shooting for a client. And I do mean basic.

You’ve probably noticed this, too.

facebookAt first, I kind of shrugged it off. We were all new once, right? And it’s wonderful that there are places where we can go to ask these things any time of the day or night.

Facebook photography groups and forums are endless: there is something there for everyone. And when you’re new to photography, things like white balance and aperature settings can be confusing. That’s why most photographers learn these basics and put some education and experience under their belt prior to taking on clients and hanging out the “Open for Business” sign. These photography groups are by no means new and I would glance at them as the questions came up in my Facebook newsfeed.

But then, something shifted.

The questions started to become much more basic, much more of the “you-are-taking-someone’s-money-and-you-don’t-know-this?” variety. VERY basic questions about depth of field, posing, lighting, and “what is this button for?” Questions asked the day before an event where there is no time to even practice the advice given. And no one to verify that the advice is even correct.

This is where we hit the danger zone of the Internet. If this was a Star Trek episode, Captain Kirk would be ordering “Red Alert! Shields up!” For although the Internet is a marvelous place filled with so much wonderful information, it also has led to photographers taking on clients before they are ready.

There. I said it.

Now, before you get your knickers in a wad, let me say that we all start somewhere.

It’s a phrase you hear a lot in the portrait photography industry and, with good reason; it’s true. I don’t know of anyone who, straight from the womb, picked up a camera and began to create incredible portraiture.  We were all new at one time, and in our newness, we made mistakes. If we’re honest, even thirty years down the road, we still make mistakes, hopefully, not the same ones.

A t-shirt design by TheShirtDudes

A t-shirt design by TheShirtDudes

Asking questions is a Very Good Thing, especially basic questions. But figuring out ISO a couple hours prior to shooting a wedding, a wedding that booked with you because the bride and groom who hired you assume you know what you’re doing…well, not so much.

And to this girl’s mind, it leads to an even greater question: Why is this happening? (That’s also the same question I ask when Starbucks is closed or I have trouble buttoning my jeans.) I am all for confidence and sometimes you have to suck it up when you’re shaking in your shoes nervous. We’ve all been there, done that. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

I mean, when did it become okay to take a client’s money and not know how to properly expose an image? Or book a session requiring on camera flash and not know how to do it? When did this become okay? And why, on earth, would you want to put yourself in that position?

And do we see this in other businesses? Are there Facebook Restaurateur Groups with chefs asking, “Can I use expired yeast for baking?” Or what the term “sautee” means? Or bakery owners asking how best to decorate a wedding cake three hours before the reception? (See, I always use food examples. It’s a thing with me.)

Now, I suspect it’s all part and parcel of this idea that experience isn’t necessary because we are artists, dammit, and we know how to create. Except, when we don’t. And to be fair, our industry is saturated with workshops and webinars telling photographers it’s okay to go out there and not know what you’re doing — just follow your dream. Spray and Pray, anyone? Fake it til you make it?

“Hey, everybody with a camera, you know, why don’t you wait at least a few years while you fine tune the basics of your photography before you go into business and shoot weddings?”

That advice doesn’t sell workshops, I’m afraid.

Now don’t get me wrong, I applaud these groups. They allow us to ask the questions we so often don’t ask because to our mind, they sound stupid. And “stupid questions” are exactly the questions we need to ask in order to grow in our field. But, if we’re honest with ourselves, the fact that we don’t know the answers should tell us something about our state of readiness. And asking for help right before the shoot is like trying study for finals an hour before the test.

Sure, there are some things you just won’t be able to learn until you do them. Life has a way of throwing unexpected situations at us in the middle of a shoot which force us to use what we know and improvise. But there’s a big difference between knowing what to do and being nervous, and being nervous because you don’t know what you’re doing. The first kind of nervous is exciting; the second kind might result in unhappy clients and a refund.

How do I know this? I read it on a Facebook group. Now, go learn your stuff so you can be awesome.

Image credit: Day 53 – Digital SLR Cameras & Photography for Dummies by slgckgc, Google Main Search by MoneyBlogNewz, facebook friend by openDemocracy

  • JordanCS13

    Well, actually the difference is that a pro gets paid. I’m strictly an amateur photographer (well, predominantly.. I don’t generally get paid for my shooting because I don’t advertise myself in that manner and generally shoot for myself. I’ve sold a few prints here and there and have done a few paid shoots. I also do get paid for photography writing and such, though it’s a small part of my income.)

    There are plenty of amateur photographers that are far better photographers than many of the pros. The problem here is that there are amateur photographers who know what they are doing, and there are amateur ‘photographers’ who simply went out and bought a fancy camera and now expect to be awesome as a result.

  • JOey

    This isn’t encouraging? Advocating? are you kidding. This is just a bitter person labelling others for amusement. Check out the rest of this “authors” articles.

  • David Liang

    Why doesn’t anyone ask who these clients are that are hiring these unqualified photographers? It works both ways. When you buy a product or service do you not do some due diligence? Is there no “shopping” involved, no research, no ratings or reviews looked at?
    Selling garbage is one thing, buying it completes the circle of stupidity.
    It used to bother me when I think about these unqualified photographers asking basic questions in forums, but then I realized a few things. One, their results will most likely disappoint and make the customer appreciate what good work is and why it costs what it does.
    Two, cheap services and cheap products while nearly useless or barely functional still serve a need. The dollar store doesn’t sell quality items but people still buy for many reasons like they have no choice, economically. I see the same thing with these happening with photographers. I wouldn’t shoot a wedding for $500 but what if there’s still a lovely couple our there that really needs a $500 photographer? Bad photos are still photos for their wedding day. I’ve known a couple so poor they tattooed their rings on their fingers, got married in a Sunday dress and dress shirt. That also says a lot about how much they loved each other, some of these people would love to have photos for their wedding. If “uncle bob” wasn’t in their family and they had to pay, something is better than nothing.

    I don’t see a problem really this is just a result of a lower of a barrier to entry for an industry, and now there’s a whole previously undeserved client base that now can be served. Dollar store services? Sure, but served none the less. It’s a free market and this will happen regardless of bitching. Better to embrace it and worry about your own businesses.

  • Tim Mielke

    Well said. I teach photography at Maranatha Baptist Bible College and constantly run into people who have an “Uncle Bob” who has the latest and greatest DSLR but uses the P exposure mode (for Pathetic). If you are going to be a professional photographer, then learn your trade well before going into business.

  • NegativeK

    “For although the Internet is a marvelous place filled with so much wonderful information, it also has led to photographers taking on clients before they are ready.”

    My dad, with his photography training, tried to do weddings and photo lab work out of college. He ended up moving from there (a college town) because he had the exact same problem — inexperienced students with a new camera would come to his lab and ask him to print grossly misexposed photos from weddings they shot. They’d also try to haggle the price down, as they weren’t charging much for the wedding photography.

    This phenomenon isn’t new.

  • Clayton Finley

    I’m sorry, but half the articles on here are for/about butthurt pros who feel entitled to jobs because someone else is doing them for cheaper. How about you buy yourself a “business marketing for dummies” book and up your business demand. If you want to be a professional photographer, go to business school, not art school.

  • Christian DeBaun

    Well said Sid. Concur 110%

  • Renato Murakami

    The main problem there is the perception of clients on the professional side of photography. And perhaps the perception of amateur photographers and people who are just starting on the complexity of the job itself.
    I mean, really, how many of you guys heard a friend that’s “looking for a new hobby” or something like that ask what camera you use to take such incredible pics (say a light painting photo, star trail, shallow dof, bokeh or something that requires at least basic ammount of knowledge to achieve) that he/she should be buying one without even knowing how a camera works?
    I have a friend who’s going that way, but he’ll be taking lessons. But I heard others who were just thinking they would suddenly acquire everything needed by buying a dSLR.
    I think that this lack of understanding of clients plus the over estimation of camera gear from amateurs that ends up in this kind of situation.
    I sold my late Canon XSi couple of years ago to a girl that needed it urgently because she was going on an overseas trip on the next weekend and wanted a camera better than her point and shoot to take better pics. I asked her if she ever shot photos with a dSLR before, to which she replied “no”.
    So I did my best to explain her that it’s not that easy to go from point ‘n shoots to a dSLR, that she might be having too many high expectations on gear alone, that she should learn a bit more about it… but after a lot of back and forth, I ended up recommending her to put everything on full auto and go for it.
    At least it wasn’t client shots, but it’d be plenty sad if she came back from the trip with no useable photos because she didn’t know even the basics of basics.

    The overall recommendation to go outside and shoot is very very good, but it’s not necessarily a recommendation to professional photo shooting. You shouldn’t be involving third parties who are paying you and expecting good results when you are experimenting/learning with it, unless you are very explicit about it.
    I mean, if the client is ok with it and aware of possible consequences, that’s their problem. But otherwise, it’s unethical and unprofessional… not a good way to start a career.

  • PracticallyPractical

    I get that, and I may not have made my point clearly. You can be an amateur but still be professional. There are a lot of folks who are taking on work because they’ve gotten a lot of likes on FB from iPhone pics. It’s one thing to get a good (or even GREAT) shot when you’re just goofing off. It’s a whole different thing when you absolutely have to get a shot – or many shots. I just don’t equate the term “professional” with “paid” – and I get the gist of this article, it’s just that there’s so much of this kind of kvetching out there these days that I felt compelled (for whatever reason) to comment, however ill-placed. I’d like to add that I can’t really blame the amateur for getting out there and getting the work. I’m a terrible salesman. I would never take on a wedding due to the incredible responsibility (that to me is the bigger issue presented in this article that I do agree with – taking on that sort of responsibility and not knowing how to be “professional” – my definition. It’s sad that there’s a growing devaluation of photography, but that runs into my other point – it’s an opportunity to find a way to rise above it.)


  • Michael McNamara

    “(When did it become okay to) book a session requiring on camera flash and not know how to do it?”

    Should read: “(When did it become okay to) book a session requiring on camera flash?”

  • Fred D

    These people don’t know that they don’t know. The first thing that they teach you in philosophy is to accept that you know next to nothing. This is why most people drop out of philosophy classes.

  • Furunomoe

    P is Pathetic? Then I guess A is Awesome, S is Superb, and M is Master, right?

  • Peter

    this is well demonstrated by Neil Van Neilkerk tutorials and flash work on his Tangents website

  • Katherine Mann

    Bravo, well said.

  • Daniel Walldorf

    I thought the exact same thing! But I guess he meant his now wife was his assistant.

  • Thomas Casey

    Or preferably both.

  • Eugene Chok

    I was trained as a photographer in australia, i have noticed now i live in north america, a lot for he schools here focus on the art and getting yourself int he correct headspace for shooting and a bunch of what i consider esoteric bs, australians schools are much more about the technical aspects of shooting, interviewing photographers for second shooters i find they have diplomas in photography but no idea what lens diffraction is, inverse square law or even what 18% grey represents? how can you have a several thousand dollar eduction and have a diploma without knowing these things? these guys also complain they don’t earn enough money? i spent a year carrying a bag for minim wage…

  • Isaura mattos

    I agree. Everyone feels able to do photography professionally due to wide access to equipment, whether any.

  • Avaviel

    Wait a moment, so, I assuming you don’t like this article then?

    Also, it’s sarcasm. Hence, quotes. Welcome to the internet, sir!

  • iris

    My thoughts exactly!

    Besides, this author isn’t even a photographer. Her husband is.
    My guess is that she’s just a bitter troll and a bully.