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