DAY ONE: Overcoming a Fear of Speedlights


Alex Smith has been using a camera since she was 7 years old to document her life and the lives of her loved ones. She says, “as a photographer, there’s just one thing that makes me nervous that I have avoided for years: using my speedlight.”

Buried in the bottom of a drawer for 11 years, her speedlight started becoming the little monster in the closet she was scared to use.

“People know you can photograph, so they just assume you can do everything. I don’t want to let them down”, she reflects. Yet, feeling uncomfortable using a flash gave Alex a serious case of impostor syndrome.

Overcoming Fear of Failure

Even if we’ve mastered our craft, there are always aspects we are still learning. Learning is messy. It requires time and practice, not to mention the thing we try to avoid: failure.

Failure leads to self-doubt which stops us from trying in the first place.

CreativeLive instructor Mel Robbins shared in her class How to Break the Habit of Self-Doubt and Build Real Confidence, it’s natural to be feel nervous and scared when we try something new. The result? We either succeed or we survive but either way, we learn something.

Mel emphasizes the key to breaking the cycle of self-doubt is action. Mindset and positive thinking alone cannot break the cycle. When we learn by doing, we build competency. The more competent we become at new skills, we start to experience less fear, less anxiety and increase our real confidence.

Learning a New Skill

To conquer her fear of flash photography, Alex enrolled herself in Mark Wallace’s Speedlights 101 class.

Alex Smith taking Mark Wallace's Speedlight 101 class from CreativeLive

Using her husband as a model, Alex put the class into action by shooting different scenes around her house. Her main goal? Stop using TTL (automatic mode) on her camera flash and start using manual to control the light hitting her subject.

Deliberate practice in a low pressure environment can help us feel comfortable experimenting and making mistakes. The point isn’t to create award winning shots on day one, but to set simple yet challenging goals to start learning the basics.

“Normally I would see a bad shot with my flash and panic. I’d take the flash off and shoot it with natural light.” Yet because Alex intended the session as practice, she was more willing to persevere and keep experimenting.

Comparison of two photographs taken while learning to use a speedlight for the first time

Permission to Suck

The process of learning involves small wins and a whole lot of failure. The only way around it is through. The key is to give yourself permission to suck and keep the risk small.

Small successes are the building blocks to learning new skills. In his book Creative Calling, CreativeLive CEO Chase Jarvis writes, “your conscious mind is a critic. If you rely on it too much while you’re working, you’ll struggle to make progress.”

His recommendation? Don’t judge your shitty first draft. Just get the draft completed and then start iterating.

Chase reminds us it takes a volume of work to develop skills. It’s not about getting it perfect, it’s about getting it done. As he likes to say: Make it, till you make it.

Alex noted about the practice session, “I’ve come a long way since my first (over exposed) images to giving someone side lighting. That’s a huge win for me.”

“Ideally we never stop learning no matter how old we get”, adds Alex. “I needed to jumpstart this in my own life again. I often find myself avoiding uncomfortable things or situations until they very last minute. It isn’t until there’s a deadline that I pull myself off the couch and get to work.”

Learning to Use Speedlights

If Alex’s first day with her speedlight inspired you to dig out yours, here are some classes she recommends:



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