Parent: "Did you enjoy your first day at school?"
Child: "First day? You mean I have to go back again tomorrow?"
I have a memory from childhood of assuming that once I left school I wouldn’t have to worry about learning anything ever again. In fact sometimes I studied hard in the desperate hope I might even be able to finish school completely by the time I was 12. I was really looking forward to it, until one day a teacher said, "Real learning starts once you leave..."
I was horrified. Would it never end?
He was the only teacher to ever say that, and for a while I managed to convince myself he was just winding us up. Certainly if he’d said that by the time I reached the ancient age of 46 I’d still be learning, I would probably have lost all hope.
Of course learning new things is what keeps the mind agile, even if it is sometimes accompanied by the lurching fear we will never get the hang of it and end up feeling useless and humiliated.
Next week I’m doing a photo shoot that requires 2 new skills to learn. The first is creating a flaming handheld torch, like you see in films when the character is heading down into a dungeon or tomb. Over the weekend I was emailing friends, reading articles and watching YouTube videos. Yesterday I tore an old t-shirt in two. The first half I dipped in melted wax, then wrapped it around a stick and bound it with thin wire. The second was also bound to a stick, but I drizzled it with lamp oil instead.
So now I know wax helps it burn longer, but oil burns quicker and fiercer and is easier to light, though more likely to remove your eyebrows if you’re not careful.
The second thing to learn is something that’s been on my things-to-do list for quite some time: off-camera flash.
Most cameras come with a built in flash to produce more light in low light conditions. However, there are distinct disadvantages. As well as red-eye effects, the light produced is harsh and comes from the same direction as the camera, which is limiting and often uninteresting. Usually for portraits, light either needs to be soft and ambient (more flattering), or from the side (more characterful).
On a bright day, a place in the shade or near a window gives you plenty of options to play with. On a dull day, studio lights can be manoeuvred into many different positions. But if you’re outdoors, away from a power supply, and light is low, then flash units are necessary. However, to create interesting lighting effects you need to be able to position them in other places than on top of the camera, and then find a way to trigger them to go off in sync with the camera.
The first of 2 I’ve ordered arrived this morning.
Because I regularly visit various photography sites, read lots of articles on photography and watch countless YouTube videos on the subject, I know the potential of having what is effectively a portable lighting system I can use anywhere.
And on one level it’s very exciting as a whole new world opens up to explore.
But I’m also aware of just how much I have to learn before I can a) use them, and b) use them effectively.
So far I’ve unwrapped the box, taken it out of the box, stared at it, opened the manual, closed the manual, stared at it, photographed it, gone and found some batteries for it, stared at it, and now written a blog post about it.
At some point I’m going to have to switch it on…