We are fortunate to have friends in our lives. They give us a wider view of the world than we might otherwise hope for. The really good ones give us a true view of ourselves.
But they might not be the best points of reference when it comes to professional photographic advice. Mind you, if you are best buddies with Steve Sint you can feel safe – he knows what he is doing and you can trust his advice. Still, you have to be sure that you have asked the right question if you wish to get the right answer – even Steve is not a clairvoyant.
Every photographer has their own experiences and, dare we say it, their own prejudices. What they advise is coloured by these – and the nature of the art these days is such that these mental colours can fade rapidly. As a concrete example, we used to read the student requirement sheets that our local vocational college gave out to first-year photography students. Some of the goods that they were advised to seek were items that had disappeared from the photo trade ten years before…It was awkward giving out this information without shaking the student’s confidence in their teachers.
The other problem is that some photographers can be plumb wrong. Or worse – half right and half wrong. The newbie confronted with a sea of equipment and the swirl of new technical jargon clings on to the words of their friend like a mariner to a broken spar. Inviting them onto the life raft of modern practise…or even better, the warm safe shore of simple automatic photography…can be difficult or impossible.
What do we do? We never devalue the advice of the friend directly. We show alternatives. We sometimes suggest sources of information – like internet sites – if we feel the shopper can cope with the technical terms. In one case I invited the shopper to bring their other adviser in to speak to me so that I could get the benefit of their knowledge. Gentle questions can sometimes dislodge the death-grip.
And sometimes the new shopper goes out with just exactly what they need…and tells their friend about it. I’ve no idea how it is received.