I walked into the photo lab at the high school for my first night of Adult Ed’s ‘Basic Photography’ class. I’d been looking forward to the class for days, couldn’t wait to start learning the basic elements of shooting better pictures. In the lab, the desks were pushed together to form four larger squares; I picked an empty one and sat down. Looking around slyly, sizing up the other six student’s cameras I immediately panicked. My Canon point and shoot suddenly seemed inadequate and so did I. All of the others, without exception, had pulled expensive-looking cameras and lenses out of square padded bags. I had removed my little camera from my pocketbook, slipped it out of its zippered case and hid it in my lap, under the desk where it wouldn’t be seen. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so insecure, so less than, so afraid of being judged.
The class started and the instructor gave us a little background information about his photography career. He passed out a sheaf of papers loaded with information about shutter speed and f/stops, meter modes and depths of field. As he talked he pulled out photos to illustrate each point. Having never taken a photography class before and not being familiar with the vernacular I was overwhelmed. I thought of my first Italian class, first Spanish class, first ASL class; each was conducted in a language I don’t speak and I was lost. The more fixated I became on not understanding what was being said the more freaked out I was getting.
I sat as still as a statue for an hour and fifteen minutes. I didn’t look around, I didn’t ask questions, I didn’t make eye contact. I was embarrassed and nervous and in over my head. I work very hard at feeling good about myself, try not to compare, remember that most people are worrying about their own issues rather than paying attention to me. But looking around that lab I stacked myself up against everyone else and fell way, way short. As the others asked questions, played with their camera settings, snapped lenses into place, I quietly turned my camera on. With it still in my lap I started fiddling around in manual mode, changed the ISO, found the light settings.
As he was walked around helping students, the instructor told us that one of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions, he thought it was the one with Kathy Ireland on the cover, had been shot with a 35MM disposable camera. He went on to say that the camera is just a tool, like a paintbrush is to an artist, we can all take great pictures. It’s less about the camera and more about our vision and ability. And just like that I snapped out of the morass and back into the class. I waved my camera up in the air and said “so I don’t need to go out tomorrow and buy a $600 camera.” He assured me that I would be able to learn on the camera I had. I left the class feeling slightly unsure but much better than when I had arrived.
Later, rehashing the night with Bill helped too. I’m taking a basic photography class. I’m a beginner. I’m going to learn so much. The discomfort I’ve already experienced, and will probably experience again, has value. I’m not less than, I’m not better than. I’m just someone open to learning something new. I may decide I need a better camera as I go through the class…or I may be perfectly happy with what I’ve got. I know the next five weeks are going to take me out of my comfort zone and teach me another lesson, hopefully there won’t be any tears!