“Love your photos! What kind of camera do you have?”
Being an amateur photographer is tough for a lot of reasons, but a large one is having to humbly ask questions you desperately wish you didn’t have to say out loud. Every professional has started out as an amateur. We’ve all been on the other side of the coin, secretly trying to make sense of all the photo technical jargon while still trying to appear like a coherent adult that deserves to own a camera.
Lets lay down a few ground rules.
Note: Don’t think I’m discouraging you from asking questions because you’ll potentially come across as annoying. These following listed below are not necessarily bad questions, mind you, it’s just that they can’t be answered with any kind of valuable information. If you’re going out of your way to ask a pro for their insight, at least phrase your questions in a way that will render some useful answers.
Don’t: “What kind of camera do you have?”
Asking what kind of camera another photographer uses does nothing for your development. What useful information can I possibly answer that question with? I shoot a Canon 5D Mark II. Great. Is that what you wanted? To see me hold something and now know its technical name? Does that mean anything different to you than if I would’ve answered with Nikon D600 or a Leica M-P (Typ 240)? Probably not. Best case scenario I’ve barely given you something to Google when you get home, provided you can even spell out my answer correctly. That’s not snark or sarcasm either, that’s just an example from personal experience. The first time I asked a photographer what they shot, I didn’t understand the words “Canon 5d Mark II.” I thought she said something like “Canon ID Markadoo.” I went home and entered horribly misspelled words into the search bar until Google finally said, “Dude, give it up! The Markadoo isn’t coming out any time soon, why don’t you just take a look at a Mark II instead?”
Instead: “Why do you prefer that camera over others?”
However, asking a photographer why they prefer that specific camera can give you boatloads of information, and get them to open up. In my case, I need a decent full-frame camera, compatible with a large majority of lens types that’s in my price range. I also prefer Canon’s menu system to that of Nikon or Sony; it’s just easier for me to understand for some reason. There are countless other reasons I’ve decided to make this my go-to camera, many of them completely insignificant (I love the way the shutter sounds), and if you ask me about it I’ll talk your ear off. I’ll mention that while I’m using this camera for this particular shoot, I’m also currently building a film franken-camera in my basement, and it’sthis close to being useable. I’ll also list off everything I’m looking forward to in the Mark III and how I may or may not be contemplating taking out a second mortgage as soon as the Mark IV is released. You want to talk gear? This is how you break the ice.
Don’t: “What were your settings for this shot?”
Settings are useless. Stop asking about settings. They are completely irrelevant. Imagine going to a restaurant and having this conversation with the chef:
You: “Wow, what a fantastic meal!”
Chef: “Why, thank you!”
You: “Can you tell me what the oven was set to?”
Chef: “Um…I’m sorry, did you mean for the prime rib? Or the roasted asparagus. Or the soufflé…”
You: “Just the soufflé. I really liked it, I’d like to make it at home. What was the oven set to for the soufflé?”
Chef: “That was at a temperature of 350 degrees.”
You: “Great! Thank you!”
Later you return home and attempt to make a soufflé, without a recipe, without knowing how long to leave it in the oven or how long to let it rest, causing you to become horribly frustrated with your inability to produce the same result.
Sound a little familiar? It’s the same thing with photography. Camera settings are incredibly specific to the situation. A shutter speed of 1/50, ISO 2000 at an aperture of 2.8 might make perfect sense for a still life shot at a wedding in a candlelit church, but as soon as the light barely changes (someone opens a door, or a cloud rolls by), an adjustment needs to be made and the settings need to be changed. If you’re trying to freeze movement you’ve got to have that shutter speed turned up. Increase your depth of field by stopping down your aperture. Every situation is different.
Instead: “What was the process for this shot?”
Instead of asking for the oven temp, ask for the recipe! What was their process for achieving this shot? How did they set it up? What look did they want to achieve and how did they think through everything they needed to do? Now instead of rattling off “1/200, ISO 100, f1.8,” they can tell you they were looking for a smooth bokeh background, so they shot with a wide aperture for the shallow depth of field. They’ll explain how the room was crazy bright, so they had to crank their shutter speed to combat some of the light, then they placed their client in just the right place where the light happened to be reflecting from a mirror behind them, giving their hair that perfect rim light they were looking for. See how that works? Now we’re getting somewhere.
Don’t: “What photoshop action/filter did you use?”
Take it back. Take it back now. Are you fu**ing kidding me? Filters are for Instagram. Actions are a baseline that you sure as hell better be tweaking later. Did you really think someone clicked a button and the entire photo came together? No. That’s what the general public thinks, but if you’re in the minors hoping to go pro, you should damn well know better. Post-processing requires just as much skill and finesse as the shooting itself. This question makes me want to steal your car and drive it into a lake.
Instead: “Can you talk a little bit about your post-processing for this shot?”
Ok, that’s better. Asking a photographer to talk about their post-processing acknowledges the fact that you know there is some post-processing involved, you don’t know what it is, you’d like to learn more about it and you aren’t reducing it to the simple act of clicking a button. A true pro will explain to you the delicate art of color toning, adjusting curves layers, dodging, burning, frequency separation and a whole lot of other factors.
Oh and by the way, Photoshop haters, don’t you dare quote Ansel Adams in the comment section. Ansel spent some serious time in the darkroom doing about as much photo manipulation as was humanly possible. I’d like to think if he were alive today he’d have a freakin’ heyday with Photoshop…also we’d be best friends.
Photoshop is another tool that photographers use, and it’s a beast. It’s not a quick fix and it’s especially not anything that can be used to save a crappy photo (which is, by and large, the main reason filters exist). If you’re going to ask about it, ask in a way that conveys the respect it deserves.
Don’t: “What does bokeh mean? What is a zoom lens? What’s the difference between auto and manual focus?”
Google. YouTube. Use them.
Don’t get me wrong now, it’s not that these are bad questions; I was full of all the same ones when I first started. But if you’re aspiring to be a professional photographer and you haven’t even taken the time to Google what bokeh is, don’t expect anyone to take you seriously when you ask. It takes 4 seconds to find countless, clear-cut, well-worded definitions… with pictures. I’m willing to spend hours with you going over even the most basic aspects of photography, but I have to know you’re putting in the same amount of effort learning this stuff as I am teaching it. So meet me halfway – the more time you spend researching the easy stuff, the more time we can spend together going over marketing strategies and pricing structures.
Instead: “I’ve spent a lot of time looking this up online, but I’m still really confused about it. Can you tell me what aperture means?”
Deal. No problem. If I know you’ve at least tried and haven’t been able to find the answer you need, of course I’ll take the time to help you out, and so will many other pros. Just show us the effort and you’re golden.
SOURCE: One of JENNA MARTIN ‘s article