Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why Terror Can Be A Good Thing

Terror isn't something you wish on yourself, probably not on your worst enemy either - but I am here to say that we all need to experience a little more of it in our lives. There are two kinds of terror - for simplicity's sake, let's call them the good and the bad kinds. You know when you are super excited to do something, like ride a roller coaster, but scared out of your mind at the same time? The same can be said for doing anything you always wanted to do, but were afraid you would fail. This is the good kind of terror. And that's what we need more of!

Recently, I had the opportunity to be a second shooter for my friend's wedding. I think weddings are amazing. The details, the emotion, the love, the details.... did I say that already? So much there to capture, like a banquet for the eyes. I always said that I would love to be a wedding photographer but for a few things:

1. The schedule. Fridays! Saturdays! Sundays!

2. The super duper long days. I love the details, the prep, the ceremony - the reception? Not so much. As I guest, I feel this way too - I like the conversation of dinner, but once that is over, I peter out for the dancing and post-cake social hijinks. :)

3. Flash. I dislike the way I take flash photography. Not saying it can't be done well - I just know I don't do it well, and at weddings, flash is inevitable. :)

4. Equipment. My gear is high-level amateur, low-level pro. My camera body doesn't handle low-light very well and my only battery doesn't handle the long days very well either! These can be remedied in time.

5. So. much. pressure. You have one chance to capture all the mega-important once-in-a-lifetime shots. One chance for that kiss - no going back and saying "uh... could you do that one more time? I missed it!", the emotional hugs of a first look, the kiss of a father saying goodbye to her daughter and handing her over. Monumental stuff, people! And it's that kind of pressure, knowing that you need to be on your toes - and even if you have a plan and are all set to get it - Aunt Edna steps in your face to hit the bathroom right as they are kissing and you've blown it. Your super powers have to be "Highly Adaptable", "Invisible Girl" and if possible, add "able to fly" or "super speed".

6. I was terrified of it.

Notice I said "was"...

No matter how much the rest of that list still hampers me, I can now cross #6 off my list of reasons holding me back, and that makes me happy.

I have had many requests to do weddings, all of which I have turned down for these reasons. My friend Sara was getting married at the end of October and we were invited. I was doing their engagement photos and we were talking about her wedding photographer. This was going to be her first wedding and that stirred a "want to help" feeling in me. First, a desire to help out Sara - it can only help having another camera on the event, to make sure there is coverage. And, without meeting this new photographer, I wanted to make sure she had someone to lean on. Dealing with my own worries about doing a wedding, I think I had a gist of what she might be feeling and I decided to offer my help if she wanted me.

I left that day of the engagement shoot feeling somewhat sick - that "what did I do" feeling settling into the pit of my stomach. I decided to leave it to fate. I offered my help, she had the choice to take it or leave it and I would accept that choice as the Universe deciding for me too. Feeling better about letting go, I got the text a few days later and my nerves began humming. It was the "Holy Crap, what am I doing" thought again, but it was also that ultra-excited, "let's see what I can do with this" mentality layered right behind it. The good kind of terror!

Eventually, as the day got closer, I kept getting more and more nervous - but preparing for the day, practicing here and there, browsing wedding photographers' sites, getting the feel for the look I was going for, creating a mental list of the shots I would need to capture and the ones it would be nice to capture - helped. Preparation and practice are the keys to be mentally ready, and mentally ready means your training and intuition can take more of a lead role in whatever you are trying to accomplish. The terror of what I was about to do kept my visual memory, technical specs and adaptability strung tight and ready, like an arrow notched, and the day began.

The key to weddings, that I soon found out - is the ability to adapt to the many things that WILL go wrong that day. Will you miss things? Yep. Are you going to have to be ok with that? Yep. And knowing that now, it is ok. There are SO many things you are expected to capture, that it will happen. Like Aunt Edna walking in front of a key moment - and you will get your best shots on your ability to work around those catastrophes! There are many things I wish I could go back and change on how I handled the day, but besides being able to cross something off my bucket list, now that I am on this side of the day, I know more about what to expect. And for me, that was a large portion of the terror. :) Aside from also not knowing what the day would hold, I now know that I can do it, and that question loomed larger than anything else in my head, the self-doubt threatening to overtake most of my rational psyche.

There's also the added bonus of doing something that scares the pants off you, that when you get through it, you feel like you scaled a mountain. You learn things, you gain pride in yourself, you gain courage... you are always stronger in the end for it.

That's not to say things will always go well if you tackle that terrifying thing, but you will always be stronger and more ready for the next encounter. Part of the terror is the unknown... and just by doing the terrifying thing, you eliminate that variable right off the bat. Never again will it be unknown! And isn't the anticipation of not knowing what it will be like almost 75% of the terror?

As the bad kind of terror helps us to survive by playing the same role, the good kind keeps us razor sharp, focused keenly on the present. We can't live our whole lives like this because it is plainly exhausting, but it helps get us to the top, to succeed and pushes us to come out the other end with more than we could have imagined we could do. And when we are done, we can look back and say... I did that. I did that! And poof! Just like that, the unknown factor is irrelevant and will be gone forever.

Terror will always be there - and I hope it is at some smaller level, at any shoot. It is what keeps all the cogs and wheels of your mind lubricated and strung tight, working at top peak; it enables the clarity of focus to make sure you are trying to get what you planned to get and to tap dance around the eventualities with ingenuity and come out with something great. And most times, that something great you end up with is not the same something great you imagined, it is something better - outlined by the sharp edge of terror and filled in by your creative reaction to it, and that can never be a bad thing. So, I say - bring on the (good kind of) terror. We are all the better for it in the end!

Beautiful Sara. I never would have gotten this image, that I love, if I hadn't experienced the terror. :)

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