The Camera You’ve Got

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It was low tide. Green algae covered the boulders like a clingy dress. The dry stones above the high tide line were brown sandstone, smoothly eroded, some with fossils embedded in them. I finally felt ready to pull out my camera and connect with this scene. I composed a shot, and saw, blinking in the viewfinder—CARD. Which means: you forgot to put in a card, dummy.

It was 6 miles down the road, still in my card reader, back at the bed and breakfast.

I thought I had trained myself not to do that anymore. Damn! I took a deep breathe, said, well, I’ll take in the moment. This is what the universe says to do right now.

That lasted 10 minutes, maybe.

The sky had a thin sheen of mackerel clouds, making the sun into a giant softbox. There is no better light on the planet. There were amazing pictures here, and I couldn’t quell the impulse any longer. Well, OK, I have this phone on me. I guess I can use that. Even if it is a toy.

I have tried to reconcile myself to that ubiquitous device that most of the world now uses for photography. I really have. A client once contacted me about training their staff to take better shots for social media, so I trained myself to shoot well with an iPhone so that I could tell them how to do it. I have a set of auxiliary lenses, and my phone lives in a special case that has a bayonet mount for those lenses. I have multiple camera apps that save in uncompressed tif format and that allow for full manual exposure.

I still hate shooting with a phone.

Especially when I want to lose myself in a complex environment. I hate doing it on a screen, unsteady, at arms length, where I have to remove my glasses to even see what’s there, and where I can’t make out anything on the screen if it’s halfway bright outside. I hate losing compositional control. And I hate losing the post processing control that I’m used to with raw files.

There’s a great sense of command when you are immersed in the frame and nothing else, and you’re perceiving the exact point of view of the camera, and you can note every subtle change of position and direction and the event unfolding in the theatre of the eye. That is what a single lens reflex camera offers. That is what, in my stupidity, I don’t have.

Still, I make the best of it, and I still gain that lovely sensation of losing myself in the place, seeing it, paying attention to it. This is where a camera does its magic. It mediates and magnifies the moment. It takes work to build fluency to get to that point, of course. And there are moments best felt without an intermediary, particularly if the technology puts up a wall between yourself and the experience. In that case, put the damn thing down. Take the moment in. But sometimes, the camera makes it deeper and clearer than it could be any other way.

Even a dumb camera phone.

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