Knowing your limitations is a good thing


Know your gear–That usually means how to use not just the camera but the software whether it’s Lightroom, iPhoto, Photoshop or even just Picasa. Never wait till an important job to try something new.

I got a frantic email the other day from a former student, now a pretty good friend. He needed to hire me as his photo assistant.

He’s been doing a lot of work for the local university specifically their athletic department.

Retired and obviously not needing the money, he loves shooting and I think the university is getting a great deal.

They provide him with season tickets and he does whatever they want him to do whenever they need him. In return he gets to shoot a lot of sports.

I highly recommend doing that if you are really into sports.

But there comes a time when you have to pay heed to what Dirty Harry says “Man’s got to know his limitations.”

If you don’t have the skills or the equipment to shoot a particular job, don’t wait till the last minute to figure it out.

In my student/friend’s email, he said he would be doing sports team pictures and he wanted to try something different.

By that I assumed he wanted to “light” his subjects.

My gear broken down–Depending on what I’m shooting, all this gear can be overkill or it can be insufficient.

I have no idea what and how he did the team pictures last year. He has long lenses, many camera bodies but no lighting, so it must have been with a tripod or in available light.

As his “assistant” I would be bringing my lights and setting everything up, helping him pose his subjects, then hand him my radio remote and tell him the aperture setting for his lens.

I can hang with that. It’s an honest living. No photo credit, no problem. Sadly he found my quote too high.

A day later I got another email from him asking me how to set up shooting tethered to a camera.

In my photo class I use this because it makes sense for demonstrations but in practice I don’t work like this.

I answered his email in the most diplomatic of ways I could without making it sound like a put down.

It’s a quick question unfortunately, not a short answer. If your computer skills were better, I could probably provide the answer via email.

My advise: keep it simple and just do what you did last year. Maybe plan a little better next year and give yourself more time to prepare instead of springing this on “us” under such short notice.

Whoever is hiring you at UCR to do this again must be happy with what you did last year, so why worry about it?

If they are willing to pay more, then give them “more.”

In the meantime, you just have to learn some new skills by buying some lights to prepare for next year?

Tethering your camera to your computer will not make your shoot any easier. It will make it worse simply because instead of you having control on what images you choose, whoever is around will now be second guessing your shoot. They’ll be editing your work as you shoot. You know I speak the truth. They’ll be directing you and in the end, you’ll be relegated to a being button pusher.

I don’t work tethered on location. The histogram is more than sufficient.  I use the laptop in class because it’s fast and convenient for demos.

I hope you understand my suggestions are nothing personal. Get some lights and practice instead of trying to shoot this using someone else’s equipment. In the long run, you’ll be more prepared.

Write back if you have more questions.

Since the time of the shoot is set in stone, I told him I had to charge more because I have to get someone to watch my kids.

What’s the point of working a job only to see the money go to elsewhere, right?

In case you don’t know this, most public relations/marketing departments of universities have let their staff photographers go.

They get by with freelancers and students’ work most of the time. A lot has to be said about budget cuts and all hard times. Surprisingly they are still hiring writers. It has to do with the perception that if they equip these writers with digital cameras, they’re getting 2 for the price of one.

Knowing your limitations especially when you don’t have a lot of gear is a good thing.

It gives you an idea of what you can realistically photograph.

If you’re thinking of buying more gear, always consider renting. Some camera stores allow you to rent and even provide you some incentive to buy after wards.

If there’s a lesson here, this is it:  you shouldn’t let your gear hamper you from learning new skills.

What you should be doing is, thinking ahead and practicing before hand and getting the hang of the equipment for the next time you want to get better results from the same shoot.

Hiring an “assistant” in this manner is intellectually dishonest. You won’t be doing the work, will you?

You’re just pushing the shutter button.

2 thoughts on “Knowing your limitations is a good thing”

  1. Pogo,
    Thanks for saying so. I think many photographers especially those who shoot sports think they’ve mastered available light photography can step up to the next level without learning or buying lighting.

    You never stop learning but you do need to know what you are ready for so that you don’t embarrass yourself.

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