I like this phrase, and use it frequently. Usually about other people - rarely however do I apply it to myself. I mean who would? As you may have read, I recently passed up on an opportunity to moan about how my 500mm lens had "broken" - you can probably see where this might be leading....
Rolling back to last Friday evening, I was just getting ready for the Bridled Tern twitch, and so was packing up the camera bag. As I was lifting the lens into the bag something just didn't feel right. Sure enough, a deadly rattle, and glass clearly moving about inside. Unbelievable for what is an almost brand new and stupidly costly piece of kit. I gingerly placed it back not wishing to exacerbate any damage, and picked up something else. I am fortunate to have choices, or fortunate that I have worked my fingers to the bone to give myself choices. Anyhow, despite the gut-wrenching blow, I swelled with pride knowing that to discover that the lens was broken in Wanstead was infinitely better than discovering this fact on Inner Farne with forty thousand photogenic and fearless seabirds in front of me, and that I was so in tune with my kit that I just instinctively knew there was a problem. What is that expression? Oh yes....
Pride comes before a fall.
It's been a busy week yet again, and so yesterday morning was the first opportunity to get it dealt with. I had spoken to one of the pro-shops in London, and had arranged an 8am appointment to get it looked at and booked in for repair. Behind a non-descript front door of an industrial unit in south London I stepped into an Aladdin's Cave of photographic goodness. My kind of place, staggering quantities of top class gear for the working photographer. I strutted up to the desk and passed my lens over - I won't say I tossed it to the guy, but nearly. He had a look, had a little shake. Yup, rattle present and correct. At this point he glanced over to his colleague, and they exchanged a look. Was it? Could it be?
To be fair, they were very nice about it. Unbeknownst to me (and the lens manual, not that I ever read it), this lens and a handful of others have a quirk of the image stabilisation system whereby if you disengage it from the camera whilst the stabiliser is still active, it does not lock down, and so the gyro-controlled element was free to move around. And this was the issue, and like all problems of a technical nature, the answer was obvious. Turn it off, wait for a second or two, and then turn it on again. This the guy proceeded to do, attaching a camera, one of three billion they had lying around, turning it on, and then turning it off again. Hey presto, the rattle had gone, and the lens which was never broken in the first place was of course performing perfectly.
To say I felt like an idiot is the understatement of the year. Surrounded by all this gear, and feeling like I belonged, it suddenly dawned upon me that in fact I knew very little. The people that worked here, and those that shopped here and take photos for a living, they're the ones who actually know what they're talking about. The rest of us, especially me, are just dreaming. The irony of having felt so smug about realising there was a problem before leaving the house, whereas had I simply shoved it in my bag and switched it on when I got to the Farnes, was not lost on me - a wry smile when I realised this. On the plus side, I left the shop with a lens that has a quirk that I now know how to avoid, rather than without a lens that had a serious problem.
Now of course this is a pretty boring story. You could argue in fact that it is exceptionally dull. I offer it merely as illustration that no matter how good you think you are, it is wise to re-evaluate once in a while and ideally come to the conclusion that there is always something and likely many things that you don't know, but also that you don't know what you don't know.
Much to learn I still have.