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A lesson learned and a passion born

standard October 14, 2013 2 responses

The first session was on DSLR basics, something I desperately wanted to master. The SONY rep showed off her treasures as she lectured on shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

“But, you know, it’s perfectly ok to shoot in the auto or pro-auto modes. Lots of people do.”

I looked at the dial on my camera and groaned internally. What was it so hard to grasp what seemed to be some rather basic rules? Why was I utterly unable to internalize what I’d been taught so many times? I had zero desire to stay in auto mode. Might as well stick to phone photography if I did.

The next session, run by Me Ra Koh, who I absolutely adore, a last minute add-on in honor of the weather trapping us indoors, was all about shooting inside with the help of natural light.

Me Ra Koh

“No automatic, people! You can do this!” the second instructor urged as she explained that shutter speed, aperture, and ISO were like a tripod. Figure out two of the settings and you’re free to play around with the third. No need to adjust each one every time.

“Always start with the ISO. It’s the easiest. Low light; low ISO. Lots of light; high ISO.”

AHA! A hard and fast rule. One that I could use! Momentous moment! One I clutched at as a lifeline out of the confusion in my head.

“Photographers aren’t magicians, we’re just light experts.”

Suddenly it all started to really click. Three tools for controlling the light. Understand how and you can take all the photos you want.

That night, camera clutched tight in my hand, glimmer of success in my eye, I headed to a night photography session.

Gotta love having to use your phone as a flashlight to look at your camera settings.

“OK people, it’s really dark, so start by cranking your ISO as high as possible.”

I just blinked at the teacher.

“You mean low, right?”

“No, no. That’s just how Me Ra shoots, the rest of us do the opposite.”

Part of me almost gave up right then and there. A million pieces of conflicting advice received over the years was the reason I was still utterly confused and painfully stuck in Auto mode. Another part of me rejoiced. I took a deep breath and accepted her comment as the gift it had unintentionally been.


Turns out there is no “right” way to take pictures. There are just a bunch of suggested guidelines. When people say “you have to play with it.” (Which they do, inevitably after you ask your third, but why? But how? Question.) they don’t mean “just go away, I’m too busy to teach you,” or “oh, just give up now, if you don’t get it yet, it’s because you’re hopeless and I’m done wasting my time.”No, they’re really saying “these are suggestions, but really, go play, because what works for me might not be what works for you.”

It was, without a doubt, the most freeing thing I could have learned.

Too cheesy? Sorry.

If there is no “right” way to shoot, then that means there is no “wrong” way either. I can’t get it wrong.

I popped out of bed at 6:30am the next morning (3:30 ‘my’ time.) and grabbed my camera for some early sunrise photography. I stood there, smile on my face, mist turning my hair into an insane curly mop, not a hint of sun peeking through the cloud cover, and had a blast.

6:30 in the fog

I held my tripod image in my head, messed with the ISO, with the aperture, with the shutter speed, until I found a look and feel that I liked. And then I just played around with composition to my heart’s utter content.

Photographers in the sand

In the end it’s not unlike writing. In one you have a camera, a means of capturing light, and the guidelines for how to do so, but you’re the artist with the vision. In the other you have various pens and paper options, a means of capturing words, and a long series of guidelines for how to do so (aka grammatical rules). In both cases it’s up to you, the writer, the photographer, the artist, to find the combination that allows your voice to shine. Once you find the right “settings” your voice can sing.

I learned all of this while attending Click Blogger Retreat in the Outer Banks of North Carolina this past week.  I took a million photos (well, ok, a thousand), had an amazing time, and came home heart over heels in love with my camera and photography. Endless thanks to the amazing sponsors who made it all possible: Southwest Airlines, HP, Snapfish, Sony, Avery, National Geographic Kids, KIND, The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, Carolina Designs Reality, SAGA Construction & Development, and epiphanie bags and to the incredible staff at Today’s Mama who pulled off the magic.

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2 responses

  • Love all your wonderful moments of revelation and freedom! So much fun to have time with you Jessica. You are so dear, heart so big, and such a gift to anyone who gets time with you. Thank you for blessing me with your beautiful self. xoxo, Me Ra

  • This is where I am in my class right now, and so stuck. So very overwhelmed with the tripod (though we’re calling it a triangle, but, whatever.) I’m taking my notes and camera with me this afternoon to attempt to figure something out. This part is overwhelming me.

    SO jealous of your retreat.

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