External Flash, Internal Fog

I even made a special stop at CVS on my way to the event to buy extra memory cards for my camera. My bag was stuffed with all the photographic essentials. In just six months I learned how to shoot in manual, the basics of photoshop, and how to take the lens cap off before the first test shot.

Me, six months ago: “Why is the picture so dark?”

Random person: “Uhhh, your lens cap is still on.”

Me now: “Let me remove my lens cap first.” (take picture) “Not too bad for a first test shot.”

Random person: “Please don’t take my picture.”

Me now: “Sure, no problem. Now, where the hell did I put my lens cap?”

Clearly, I was ready. Channeling the power of positive thinking on my way back to the car, I realized that because I left so much extra time I could turn the weight of my bloated head into an advantage and stop to do a few squats. Who needs free weights when I have the full force of overconfidence bearing down on my glutes. Only a true professional arrives early to an event. Only a true professional brings plenty of extra memory cards.

There was no room in my head for the fact that I was not driving to a photo shoot but heading to a photography class on how to use external flash. Not even an inch of room for the reality that I barely knew how to turn on my flash. Not even a teeny tiny crevice to fit the endless questions I still had about photography. In my mind, I was headed off to shoot a family with really great hair whose photos would turn out to be so epic they would commit to booking me once a year for….ever. In fact, they would insist on writing me into their will as their official family portrait photographer for as long as I live (which thanks to all the omega 3’s fortified in our eggs, would be well into the triple digits. I just hope the salmon the hens are eating is wild caught and paired with a nice aoli).

What can I say. I never thought I’d even be able to learn to use a DSLR camera and now I was operating in manual. I was feeling good.

My car was reaching empty, but my tank continued to run solely on the undeserved confidence of someone who thought doing the bare basics earns one a sense of accomplishment. (Ok, bare basics not including filling up gas tank).

First stop, external flash class…next stop, a portrait session with Reese Witherspoon where I perfectly capture a loop lighting shot of her face, the shadow of her symmetrical nose falling gracefully on her cheek.

I slid into one of the last seats in class. We were all asked to get out our cameras, put on our external flash and begin taking some test shots.

Camera out, lens cap off, external flash attached, camera on…ummm…


I said camera ON!!! 


My mind raced backwards. The drive, CVS, power egg breakfast…

Me, at breakfast, “Yup, ummhmmm, I taste the ever so slightest hint of lemon infused aoli…oh, and is that a tiny aftertaste of merlot? Oh, this hen had a sophisticated palette. Wait, is it ok for me to drive?”

My daughter running around with her underwear on her head. Me, taking out my camera battery to charge before class. Me saying to myself, “I am so professional by making sure my battery is fully charged.” My daughter running by screaming, “Underwear head!!!!!!!!!!”

Me, “Not over your eyes! Be careful!” Me…distracted and possibly a bit tipsy. Me throwing on clothes, running off to class.

Me sitting in class realizing my camera battery is still plugged into my dining room electrical socket. Me realizing I have so much to learn…about photography, lighting, apertures, Photoshop, Lightroom, pixels, white balance – I totally don’t get white balance, how to upholster a chair-I’ve always wanted to do that. The right amount of time to leave asparagus in the oven so it doesn’t get soggy…French. Call me a Francophile. Tell me it’s a dying language. I don’t care. I desperately want to speak French. So much to learn about life.

I slunk down into my chair, entertaining a last ditch hope that some magical power would deliver the battery into my hands. No, I forgot it. The time and money set aside for this class, wasted. Power of positive thinking nowhere to be found.

I supposed I should be glad the weight of my earlier egotism pushing on my neck was now lifted. Well, I guess I can cancel that massage appointment. 

“I forgot my battery…,” I squeaked out, feeling humiliated. I waited for the rest of the class to give me the cold shoulder or ridicule me for being so careless.

Wait for it….

But, nothing like that happened. Apparently, they do not hob nob in the same social circles as my sometimes overly pumped up and sometimes overly critical inner voice. Instead of shaming me, people were extraordinarily nice. The teacher and assistant were super sympathetic.

Several people quickly dug into their bags to see if their extra batteries would work for my camera. They did not. One woman said she wished she brought her extra camera so I could use it. As if any of my mistakes were their responsibility. I was touched.

Extra batteries, extra cameras…that is so much more “with it” than only having an unnecessary supply of SD cards. Did I think was going to take ten thousand pictures in this class?

Yes, I have a lot to learn. But, my lesson from that day was not that I need to remember my camera battery. It was about kindness. The photographers in class were anything but competitive. Everyone helped and encouraged each other.

I wobbled through class, forced to be the subject of the pictures in my group, a fate I well deserved. Based on that woman’s insistence, I shared her camera. I ended up learning a lot and had a great time talking to everyone.

Lesson #1: What makes someone professional is not the gear or how much they make but behavior. Their genuine empathy, kindness, generosity and collaborative spirit meant more than I can say.

I drove home, gas tank operating solely on the that “rising tide lifts all boats” stuff – something I also hear a lot in Chase Jarvis podcasts. It sure is true.

When I got home I put my battery back in my camera, put on my external flash and took a test shot.

Through the leg hole of Peppa Pig underwear, I caught a shot of my daughter’s face, mid laugh. Not quite loop lighting. More like overexposed, interrogation lamp lighting. But, it’s a start…of what, I don’t know, but a start. Maybe with practice, someday, interrogation lamp lighting will become my signature and Reese will call me up for a session.




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