I Don’t Know

I Don’t Know


On the set of Indian Summers.

On the set of Indian Summers.


Recently, I listened to a Freakonomic Radio podcast by Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt. This episode was titled The Three Hardest Words in the English Language. So what are these three words? Not “I love you” and not “floccinaucinihilipilificationpseudopseudohypoparathyroidism and pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis“. According to Dubner and Levitt they are “I don’t know”.  I think I agree.

Why do we have such a hard time saying these words? I can only assume it is because we don’t want to come off ignorant. Everyone wants to appear competent. Fair enough. Let’s face it, we do need to be good at what we do. We need to put in the many hours it takes to become an expert or at least well qualified in our field. Then do we risk coming off as ignorant and incompetent if we say I don’t know? I guess to some people we might. But I have found that often the people who can’t admit to others that they don’t know something live in self doubt about their own abilities and struggle with their own esteem issues. We should not let others control the way we act and think. If you have put in the time and are obviously good at what you do, when the moment comes, and someone asks you something you just don’t know, I think it shows maturity and confidence to answer truthfully.

I know a few photographers who would never admit they don’t know or understand something about photography. These photographers are talented and are very good at their craft, so what do they lose by using these three words? In my eyes, nothing. In fact they gain everything. They now gain a truly humble demeanor and are much more approachable. If there is anything I want besides being good at my craft, it is to be approachable by people.

Several times on the set of Indian Summers I have found myself in situations that are unfamiliar to me. If I am honest, my first reaction has been to fake my way through. But maturity got the better of me, and I found myself just admitting, this is the first time I have shot something like this. It’s OK. Everyone has firsts. We learn from firsts. If I would have pretended to know all about set photography, I would have risked looking even more the fool when I made the inevitable mistake. Instead, I ask questions, and have found people understanding and ready to help.

By fearing these three little words, we risk more than by the admission of them. Of course, living in ignorance is not acceptable either. We can’t take pride in not knowing. That’s just silly. So, we have to strike a balance. Work hard at learning while admitting where you lack or fall short.

One of the biggest areas of weakness in my photography is in the use of flash. I can never get my head around the numbers and values. Yet, once I admit that to myself and others I can freely and honestly seek help. I even got a camera flash maker excited because I am not the expert. They figure, if a hack like me can use their product anyone can. By the way, they are really easy to use. But that is for another post.


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About The Author

Matt Brandon

Matt is a Malaysia based humanitarian and travel photographer. Well known as a photographer and international workshop instructor, Matt’s images have been used by business and organizations around the globe. Matt also on the design board for Think Tank Photo, a camera bag manufacturer. In 2013 Matt founded the On Field Media Project to train the staff of non-profits to use appropriate technology to produce timely as well as quality images.

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