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I don’t seem to know what I’m doing

This week I received one of the nicest and most kind emails from someone I have only met twice and both times were in passing. More on this later…

I sometimes get questions about what is the difference between commercial photographers and those aspiring to become pros. Perhaps the largest difference that is seldom discussed is the ability to make a potentially bad situation into a great one. Pictures don’t come with ‘back stories’ the viewer either feels it’s a ‘good, nice, or bad photo.’ Yes it’s a given that a certain level of expertise is expected, but there’s so much more than gear and technical expertise involved when your entire income is based on photography.

About a month ago while at a client’s location in Seattle I was asked to photograph a ‘young woman’ who had won a photo shoot and resulting place in a publication from the client. I had no idea the age of the woman, but when she entered the room I was thrilled to see that she was very young, perhaps 7-8 years old. I asked her to sit, chatted with her for a while and then asked her to give me a smile… That’s when I discovered my challenge! For those who know my work style I strive for authentic expressions, even in studio situations. Apparently someone had drilled what I call “A Thanksgiving Smile” into my little subject. A Thanksgiving Smile is the one we all get when we get our photos taken and the photographer yells out “Say Cheese everyone!” When I asked why she smiled that way she simply said, “Because my mom told me to smile this way for photos.”

I noticed that if I was adjusting my camera, she lost the dreaded Thanksgiving Smile, so an idea occurred to me. I told her that I was having a very difficult time with my camera, that I could not figure out what was wrong and I was so sorry. With a big sigh, she said in an exasperated manner “Well OK…” and then her expressions changed to natural. I tested this a couple of times yelling out “OK I figured it out!” whereby she IMMEDIATELY gave me ‘the smile.’ So I labored and sighed again shooting her all whe while I was ‘having trouble.’

Today I received an email from the young girl’s Grandmother, telling me, “my granddaughter still talks about how you couldn’t figure out your camera!! She tells everyone that it took you a really long time and she was getting bored…”

I had actually forgotten all about that incident (no short term memory!) and when I considered the grandmother had taken the time to seek me out on the Web and write me that kind note I was really moved and I literally laughed out loud about the young girl’s perception of my abilities!

So I figure that just this ONCE it was OK for me to not know how to use my camera properly as well as having a poor reputation with a young seven year old. So although photos don’t come with a back story, I just had to share this one today. Thanks Grandma, you’ve made my week.

Just one of the shots I grabbed while I was “Having trouble figuring out how to use my camera.”


Here I am, trying to get my $hit together….LOL! You can see how relaxed she was when I was “Trying to figure out what I’m doing!”


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LOVE THIS STORY!… Mark, you are a GENIUS!