So you made it onto Santa’s nice list and got a brand new shiny DSLR under the tree. Or maybe you treated yourself to that new lens you’ve been pining for that will kick your photographic prowess up a notch. Either way, you are about to experience the emotional roller coaster that I call the five stages of photographic grief. It goes something like this:

Stage 1: Unbridled Enthusiasm

In stage one, you are ready to take on those pompous losers whose images grace the likes of National Geographic, Vogue and Vanity Fair. After all, you now have the same technology at your disposal as they do so, stand back world, here goes. As you unpack your new gear, you marvel at how solid it feels and how well it fits into your hands. You deftly slide in the battery and memory card and what do you know, the thing comes to life at the flip of a switch, ready to immortalize anything you point it at. But wait! In the nick of time, you remember to set the camera to manual exposure and RAW capture mode because you remember reading online that only amateurs and neophytes use auto exposure and (gasp) JPEG mode. Now you’re ready for those priceless moments and once in a lifetime experiences, off you go!

Stage 2: Disbelief

Stage two is characterized by several well used catch phrases: How can this be? That’s not what I saw when I was there! Where are the good ones? Maybe I should take up painting!

Yes, your dream has become a nightmare. Your first few outings have resulted in hundreds of gigabytes (who knew that shooting 10 frames per second could result in so many pictures!) of photos you’re too embarrassed to show anyone. Your flower macros look like impressionist abstracts, those flying birds just won’t stay in the frame and your cousin’s wedding reception photos look like outtakes from the Walking Dead! There must be an explanation. You’ll figure it out!

Stage 3: Blame

Stage three is where you check and recheck your obviously defective equipment to determine why you’re getting such uninspiring results. This is where you exchange your lens for an identical one because you read somewhere that there can be a wide variation in performance between examples of the same lens due to manufacturing flaws. This is also where you have the service department check all the shutter speeds and metering functions on your new camera to make sure they’re accurate. You even invest in some software, ruler and a focus target so you can fine tune the focussing parameters in the camera for each lens you own. But, unbelievably, everything comes back normal! The new lens is indistinguishable from the first one, your camera’s functions are bang on and your work with focus fine tuning seems to be making things worse. Is it possible the equipment is fine and the problem is somewhere else?

Stage 4: Acceptance

In stage four you start to think that maybe there’s more to photography than pointing your camera at a subject and pressing the shutter release, no matter how capable the equipment. Maybe there are skills, both technical and artistic, that need to be learned, practiced and honed over time. This sounds harder than you thought – almost like work. But you’re passionate about this so maybe you start looking critically at great images and try to figure out what makes them so good. Or take a couple of courses that explain some of the fundamentals of light, composition and colour in ways that make sense to you. And, of course, practice. Unlike film, pixels are free so you can shoot, review and reshoot until you’re happy with the results for free! What a deal!

Stage 5: Enlightenment

In stage five, you’ve learned a lot in a pretty short period of time, put in a few hours of practice and produced your first images that you’re really happy with. And it’s amazing. You can capture moments, not just snapshots and your scenics are balanced and invite the viewer to linger on the image and explore it. You realize that there’s so much more to learn but it’s fun, interesting and rewarding. You’re hooked on this medium and there’s no letting go now. Welcome aboard!