Do you ever have those moments when you’re sitting in a meeting and suddenly you realize you have no idea what you’re doing? I know I can’t be the only one. I think it’s OK to admit you don’t have the slightest idea what’s going on if you can learn from that admission.

One of my most memorable "I have absolutely no idea what’s happening" moments happened within my first few days at the Telegraph. When I was hired, Deb Egenberger asked me if the big Canon cameras intimidated me. I laughed — even though it felt like a bag of cement around my neck compared to the other cameras I’d used, it couldn’t possibly be that different, right?

She went over the basics and sent me to my first assignment at Hines Pines, a Christmas tree farm near Cozad. I stood outside the farm’s big red barn and scoped out the shot I wanted. I looked through the viewfinder and realized I was way too close. I started looking for the button to zoom in and out. For those of you unfamiliar with DSLR cameras: There usually isn’t one.

I searched unsuccessfully for quite a while and apologized profusely to my source. Thankfully, I’m a problem solver. What do you do when you’re too close? You back up. As I walked blindly backward, feeling more than a little stupid, I made the decision that I was going to learn how to take photos like a "real journalist."

Liz McCue was still at the Telegraph then, and since she could truly work magic with a camera, I asked her for help. She tried over and over to explain how different elements like ISO, shutter speed and aperture worked together. I didn’t get it. I would adjust all the settings and come back with a photo that was either black or white.

So I moved on to our sports editor, Andrew Bottrell. Frankly, I’m amazed he didn’t take cover when he knew I was coming toward him with questions. I think he’d started to feel sorry for me because, like Liz, he tried to explain everything to me about a thousand different ways and I still didn’t get it.

Occasionally I’d get lucky, but most of the time I’d get desperate for a decent photo and switch to auto. In that mode, the camera figures out all the settings for you. It’s great when you need to get a photo quickly, but it wasn’t teaching me anything.

When Job Vigil asked for volunteers to cover various Nebraskaland Days events, I volunteered for the Miss Nebraska pageant. I’ve lived here my whole life, but had never attended it, and thought it might be interesting although I had absolutely no interest in pageantry. They were going to send a freelance photographer, Corbey Dorsey, with me. If you’ve ever been at the horse races in Grand Island or at a concert in Kearney, you may have spotted Corbey: spiky hair and a camera lens the size of a small cannon. Corbey knows what he’s doing — his photos are always stunning.

As the pageant got going, I started to take pictures and they were terrible. I flipped to auto and quickly found out that it just wouldn’t cut it. I was freaking out.

"Why? Didn’t you have a photographer there?" Yes, I did. His pictures from that night were gorgeous, as usual; however he wasn’t going to be there for the second night of preliminaries or the teen pageant. Those pictures were on me.

Thankfully, I’m a problem solver. What do you do when you have no idea what you’re doing and your photos are awful? You just press buttons and play with settings until something looks OK. Steffani Jiroux took the stage to perform a ballet piece from "Swan Lake" and I began hitting the shutter button. I glanced at the camera screen and saw what I’d captured.

The Swan

Steffani Jiroux performs a ballet routine during the 2015 Miss Nebraska pageant. 

Honestly, I’m not sure how I did it, but I’d taken what is still my favorite set of photos two years later. I’d captured something more than a woman performing her talent — I’d captured a moment of grace and beauty, of someone doing something that truly they loved. In those photos, I found a renewed sense of confidence.

I realized that I wasn’t totally hopeless and that maybe when I had the years of shooting that Andrew, Liz and Corbey had, I’d have something almost as good as what they produce consistently. A couple of months later, the Miss Nebraska organization invited me to put a bid in to be the official photographer for the 2016 pageant. I was flattered, but completely unprepared to take something on like that.

This year, I decided to go for it and bothered my photographer friends endlessly as I figured out how to put together a bid. I must have done something right, because I was chosen to be the official photographer for the 2017 Miss Nebraska pageant.

As I’ve started preparing for the pageant and the events leading up to it, I’ve definitely had more flashes of "I don’t know what I’m doing" than I’d care to admit, but I’ve also never been more excited to take on a project. I’m grateful that the Miss Nebraska board could see that passion I have for capturing moments that these girls will hold on to for the rest of their lives. I’m even more grateful for the parents who’ve been exceptionally understanding in those moments when I’ve had to say, "I know how to take a picture; it’s just all the other stuff I’m trying to figure out."

As frustrating as the learning process can be, I’ve come a long way. At the very least, I no longer have to walk backward because I don’t know how to zoom out.

Here's some of my favorite photos from the last couple of years:

Can't see the gallery? Click here.

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