I’ve Had The Time Of My Life or I’ve Had The Photo Of My Life

This tropical beach was amazing. However lugging my DSLR around I didn't get the chance to dive in and enjoy the surf and sand.

I love taking photos.  I’m not a professional so it’s not work for me.  I feel I’m an artistic person, born without artistic talent.  Without the ability to draw or paint I took up photography and learned to love it.  My favorite photographic moments are when I get to capture some memory in time.  I get the chance to be creative yet make something useful that others can enjoy years or generations from now.  As I’ve worked on my photographic skills I’ve become the “official” family photographer.  The title is an honor, but one that brings some responsibility with it.  There in lies one of the hardest things I have to balance as a photographer.  I want to take photos of important occasions, but it’s difficult to participate in the festivities and document them at the same time.  It’s tough having to make the choice between having a good time at a party or lugging around my camera gear to get the best shots of what’s going on.

It’s hard doing things with camera gear that costs more than you would like to admit dangling around your neck.  I once spilled an entire plate of chips and salsa at a birthday party while trying to manage both the plate and my camera.  Hiking a few miles up a mountain with a camera swinging from your neck and a bag full of gear on your back makes things a lot tougher.  I never felt comfortable enough to take my DSLR with me while paddling in a kayak.  I love my camera (more than I probably should), but there are just times I don’t want to carry it around.  When I get in that kind of mood I try to go light and just slap on my 50 f/1.4 lens.  It’s versatile enough to get me most of the shots I want and is lightweight without extending very far.  Then there are times I just want to enjoy the celebration.  As much fun as standing in a corner and taking pictures is I want to be a part of the fun.  I want to join in on the touch football game in the backyard or get out on the dance floor with everyone else.  I went to an Indian Holi celebration this past spring and was torn by what to do.  For those of you who don’t know (which was me until my wife explained it’s wonders), the Holi Festival celebrates the coming of spring and to show their enthusiasm everyone throws colored powder on everyone else.  They have a massive countdown and the air is instantly filled with every color imaginable.  It’s like choking on unicorn breath.  It was my first time attending and I was really excited to get covered in every color of the rainbow, but at the same time I wanted so badly to take photos of this unique event.  There were some brave souls there who wrapped their fancy DSLR’s in plastic and shot away, but I couldn’t do that.  Instead of a camera in my hand I had a bag of purple chalk.  My desire to document is just outweighed at times by my desire to be a part of what’s being recorded.  It’s a tough balance to strike at times and one of the hardest parts of my favorite hobby.

I'm lucky to have a photographer wife who was able to get this shot of me. It's nice to get in the occasional great photo myself 🙂

Of course the greatest dilemma faced by photographers the world over is never being in the picture.  Ever since the first cavemen painted a cave wall with a picture of his family without him in it this problem has existed.  There’s the old tried and true method of the tripod and timer setting followed by the quick 10 second sprint.  Not always the most fun and some wise guy always makes a “Run Forrest Run!” remark.  This of course is pretty impossible to do for candids and is not the most practical solution to the problem.  You can just always hand off your camera to a random stranger that looks like they run slow in case they try to take off with your camera.  I don’t like doing that though, not necessarily because they’ll bolt with my gear, but random strangers take horrible pictures.  They have no idea what they’re doing and even if you hand the camera over with all the settings ready they don’t know the first thing about composition.  I cringe in fear every time I have to do it.  I’ve got a few shots from various trips of my wife and I taken by strangers and they frustrate me to no end.  Humbly I believe that if I had been on the other end of the lens I would have done something much better and in the end I’m stuck with an OK shot that could be improved.  I’m definitely a firm believer in if you want something done right you have to do it yourself.  But it’s not easy.  I do have one shot of the wife and I that I set up at the Grand Canyon.  It was a wonderful evening spent watching the sun set over one of the most majestic places I’ve ever visited.  I had my wife pose while I set everything up so that all I had to do was run in the short time of 10 seconds a distance of 40 feet with shear drops of 1,000 feet ready to engulf me with any misstep.  That was an exciting photo 🙂

Death defying photo at the Grand Canyon. I had 10 seconds to get in position and not fall to my death.

In the end though my great compromise usually winds up being my little point and shoot.  I used to work at a national electronic retailer and started out in the camera department.  I had no idea what I was doing, but that experience actually led to me finally deciding on getting a camera and trying to figure this stuff out.  We were trained to try and sell along with every DSLR purchase a point and shoot as well.  I used to think this was ridiculous and wondered why anyone with such a nice camera would take a step back with a pocket sized camera.  When I bought my DSLR I didn’t have a small point and shoot camera and never thought I would need one.  I had a DSLR with control over all the dials and settings I could ever dream of.  Then I got tickets to see my favorite band in concert and I was faced with a predicament.  The types of concerts I prefer to attend do not afford the luxury of using nice, big, fancy cameras.  They’d get smashed to pieces by the end of the night, covered in a strange blend of sweat, face paint, and ‘the metal’.  I finally broke down and got a little Canon Elph for the show and I was hooked.  No longer did I have to choose between taking memories or making memories.  Just today I carried around my Elph in my pocket at an amusement park and was able to capture fun moments on rides.  One of my favorite photos all time of my wife and I is when we had just finished riding a Superman roller coaster and were waiting for the car to pull up to the unloading dock.  I pulled out my camera from my pocket had our friend next to us take a photo of us with wind swept hair and the giant coaster loop in the background.  The point and shoot camera’s of today are pretty tough, compact and you can even get some that are water and drop proof now for a very reasonable price.  The small size just opens up so many opportunities and let’s me live without fear of destroying my beloved DSLR.

My Canon Elph survived this concert and let me get shots of some water drums getting me and my camera wet in the process.

As great as my Canon Elph is it’s not the same as my Canon Rebel.  The photo quality just can’t compare and the laws of physics make it impossible to get those nice blurry backgrounds with such a tiny camera.  The Elph is not as sharp, has more noise and there are just times when it drives me crazy that I can’t manually set the camera settings I want.  I know there are point and shoots that can do those things, but they cost twice as much and aren’t as compact pretty much defeating the purpose of having a tiny pocket camera with you all the time.  Photography has taught me that there are no perfect situations.  Photography is all about compromise and finding the best solution with the least amount of compromises.  At times the Elph compromise is worth it, but then there are times when it doesn’t let me get the best shot available.

Sometimes I'm more than happy to just sit back and observe.

This is my continuing great dilemma, to shoot or not to shoot.  I don’t know if I’ve found the perfect balance yet between documenting and participating.  Inotice some photographers and it seems much more natural for them as it does for me.  Maybe I need to practice more, especially with event photography.  That is one field where I definitely lack experience and it’s never really come naturally to me either.  On the one hand I want the amazing photo of people living it up at a festival or event while on the other I want to be that person living it up.  Perhaps one day I’ll find that well balanced compromise, but until then I am still torn between the both.

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~ by Rick The Stick on June 27, 2010.

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