Saturday, July 3, 2010

Teaching an Old Shutterbug New Tricks

I bought myself a present just before coming to Kansas, a Nikon digital SLR camera and a couple of lenses, plus a nice flash. I emptied the Domke camera bag that I’ve lugged around for 30 years of its battered Nikon film bodies, grabbed one of the old lenses that will work in manual mode with the digital, and am back taking photos with an SLR instead of a point-and-shoot digital.

What a relief. I never got used to using a camera that one peered into a LCD screen from several inches away, and then had to wait a few seconds before the image was captured with a fake click of the shutter. I’m used to cramming my left-eye glass lens into the viewfinder so often that eventually I have to buy new glasses because of lens scratches.

I’ve been a newspaper photographer off-and-on for 40 years, sometimes as a full-time job. I was never a particularly distinguished shooter but always somebody who expected something to happen when the button was pushed. I have made do with a decent digital point-and-shoot for several years until coming here, where I’m far more hands-on when it comes to taking photos that end up in the newspaper. So I watched for a sale, bought a lens on eBay and put together a new digital package to replace my old Nikon stuff and that annoying point-and-shoot. I consider this a fringe benefit of the job, by the way, because I love to take photos and write stories.

There is a learning curve to using this camera, which has more bells and whistles than I will ever need or use. Since arriving here in mid-May I have been wandering around taking photos and slowly, ever so slowly, learning how to use the camera. I keep the owner’s manual in the Domke bag and consult it regularly. A few weeks ago I shot photos down at the Smoky Hill River Festival in Salina and then headed home through the back roads, stopping outside of Enterprise to shoot photos of wheat.

I know; that’s original. Wheat is fascinating to a newcomer, a lovely color, a lot shorter plant than I expected. (Of course, that’s what people say about me as well.) So I was down on my haunches on the side of the highway, camera bag by my side, flipping through the owner’s manual because I couldn’t remember how to change the aperture without changing the ISO, which is what in the old days we called the film speed, or ASA.

That’s when the deputy sheriff showed up and scared the bejeebers out of me, mainly because I was so absorbed in what I was doing. I sensed someone watching me and finally turned around to a smiling man wearing sunglasses and a gun, leaning out of a squad car.

“Everything OK here, sir?” he asked.

“Oh sure,” I said. “Just taking photos of wheat,” I said, waving both the owner’s manual and camera in the air like an idiot. He waved back and left.

My peeps arrived a couple weeks ago for a nearly month-long visit. I bought a companion SLR for my beautiful mystery companion, who also has missed taking photographs, using chits saved up on an Amazon credit card to secure it pretty cheaply. It is a less expensive but creditable partner to my camera, so that we can swap lenses, flashes and such. Abbie, her 12-year-old daughter and the queen of all things electronic, immediately took control. She is smart, creative and quickly began tutoring me on both how her mom’s camera worked, and, by extension, how my camera functioned.

There is something that just works differently in the brain of those young ‘uns. I don’t want to sound old, though I am relatively middle-aged. But I am not a Luddite. I love technology, own an iPhone, am on Facebook (though don’t really know why), have my own Website ( and feel blessed to live in the midst of this amazing information revolution. My goodness. There is no question I can ask that I can’t find a reasonable answer to, except, possibly, if you’re so smart, how come you’re not rich? Google can’t handle that one.

But Abbie can figure out how to use my GPS, digital SLR — whatever device I buy — in nanoseconds, while I’m still bumbling along reading the directions, something men aren’t supposed to do. Moreover, she has an eye for composition, crazy angles, interesting juxtapositions. In short, she is both teaching and inspiring me as I re-enter the photographic world. I hope I am teaching her as well, to be patient, to not blindly fire away at everything to try to actually compose the image, to bide one’s time.

We’ll see. Literally.

Originally published in the Junction City (Kansas) Daily Union, July 3, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. We've got to get Abs a website. I'd love to see her photos!