Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On the road to recovery: Lessons Learned

In my last post, I wrote about using my analytical abilities decades ago when faced with a very challenging situation i.e. my first camping misadventure.  Did I mention that I was a city girl born and bred?  Roughing it to me was visiting my grandparents' apartment in the 50s and sleeping on a bed made of blankets on the floor (either air mattresses hadn't been invented yet - or they didn't have one).  I loved my grandparents dearly BUT I didn't enjoy sleeping on the hard - and I do mean hard - floor.

I wrote that post as a prelude to this post, a post about the lessons I learned from my most recent adventure on the road to recovery from workplace abuse:  going outside my little bubble, my safe place, to be a volunteer photographer for Ray of Hope's annual walk for the homeless called "The Coldest Night of the Year."

Every once in a while, I will do something like this.  Just to test the waters.  To see how far I've come - or not come.  To see what I still need to work on.  And also, to get a wee bit of socialization in my otherwise solitary life.  Afterwards, I sit back and process analyzing what affects I had during and afterwards. What went right.  What went wrong.  What could I do differently.  Just like I did all those years ago when first with a disaster on our first camping trip as a couple.

With the camping trip - and with parts of my most recent adventure - there are parts which are purely technical like getting better, more reliable equipment.  However, the most challenging things I'm looking for are those emotional and physical affects which rear up at times like that.  What were they?  What caused them?

This time, I discovered a lot about myself that I hadn't realized.

Immediately, I was assailed with feelings of not being good enough.

I had mechanical failures.

I didn't know anything about night photography.

I was using unfamiliar equipment - as in an external flash I'd never used before.

I was way outside my comfort zone as I rarely go outside at night.

And then, I discovered a trigger I didn't know I had.

I started feeling down.  Not good enough.  On top of that I was tired, very tired.  I was shocked when I got in the car for the trip home at the end of the night to find out that it was only 8:36.  I thought it was closer to midnight!

Since the time between that night and now I've spent a lot of time analyzing my experience.

Would I do it again?  If so, what would - or should - I do differently?

The analysis falls into two territories:  the mechanical/technical aspects of taking pictures and the emotional/psychological aspects of being outside and around people.

The most immediate challenge was that I since I rarely go out at night, I've not done much with night photography.  Also, I go to bed early, so signing up for an early evening activity was well beyond my scope.

Yet, I was eager to try it.

For the rest of this post I'm going to focus on the technical/mechanical challenges that I faced that night.  The ones that are significant indeed but easier to "fix".

I realize now that I should have gone to the site in daylight and scoped it out.  What would be a good location to set up the camera.  I did bring my tripod as I know from experience that my hands shake and I need a steady camera for night photography.  I also had the presence of mind to bring my ever lovin', ever faithful "sherpa"  - the man who stood at the alter with me many years ago and promised to love, honour and set up my tripod.

I had also had the presence of mind pre-adventure to charge my camera batteries.  I brought both of my cameras - my DSLR and my "second best" camera - a powershot with a decent zoom lens.

I was dressed warmly for the weather.  In fact, even though it was cold and I was standing stationary for the most part out in the middle of the sidewalk, I never really felt cold.

So, there were my plusses.  The things I'd done right.

The minuses ...

If I were to do it again - and I sincerely hope so - I would work on learning how to use my camera better.  Basically, I'm mostly using the automatic part of the settings, so I need to get more familiar with my camera and really learn how to use it better.

I had an external flash which was still nicely in its original packaging in the box and this was the very first time I was using it.  I should have familiarized myself with this vital piece of machinery.

I set up on the sidewalk in front of construction signs using my big, bad zoom lens.  If I were to do it again, I would use my "other" lens.  I learned while doing that the powerful zoom lens while it's great for catching people as they're coming, is not great at all for taking pictures as the walkers got closer.  In fact, it was a darn hindrance.  And a huge frustration.

Then came the greatest catastrophe of all.  I decided to move my camera, tripod and all, which would have been fine EXCEPT a group came past me and said something which startled me.  I wobbled and fell, tripod and all.  The external flash fell off taking the piece it inserts into on the camera with it.  That ended the flash.

However, I still had my other, smaller camera which I'd loaned to another volunteer.  (By the way, she got some great inside shots with it.)  It just happened that about the time this part of my (mis)adventure took place, she came up and handed me my other, smaller camera.

Problem is I hadn't used it in so long, I'd forgotten how to use it.  How to set it for night shots.  How to raise the flash.  Basic things like that.  So there I was using a piece of technology that was "inferior" to my big, bad DSLR which I had forgotten how to use.

And therein reared up the biggest, baddest affect of all.  I felt like I was inferior to the other volunteer photographers.   That "lie" that's been plaguing me recently reared its ugly, insistent head:  "You (Suzanne) are not good enough."  You're just kidding yourself about your values.  About your talents.  About your photography.  About everything.

And so, I've been dealing with that lie - and other associated questions.

Will I ever be good enough?

Yet, as I look back at the pictures I took that night while some are definitely not perfect, they managed to catch in their very imperfection a realistic view of what that night was like for the walkers.  Cold.  Dark.  Approaching a bright spot - the rest stop.

Until next time.

Heading to the rest stop - taken with my smaller camera

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