6 Aug 2010

The camera you don’t leave at home is the best one

The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much. Annie Leibovitz

One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind. Dorothea Lange

I’ve had several conversations recently about the various attributes of camera models and the individual criteria for choosing a new one etc. and where the concept that the camera with you is worth a thousand times more than the one you’ve left at home, has cropped up.

There’s little point in buying some mutts’ nuts camera model if it’s so large that you’re reluctant to carry it or find it tedious to use, or needs too much thought to be spontaneous. Much better to have something you’ll enjoy keeping with you and will use readily and enjoy doing so.

Over the years I’ve accumulated several cameras which fulfill different functions – and the trick is to use the right tool for the job. There are some occasions where only my DSLR, appropriately set up and with the right lens, can secure a shot – where only a DSLR has the right functionality – perhaps needing the speed of reaction time to capture something fleeting, or it’s low light abilities. Both of the photographs below would have been difficult with something less.

Please click any of the photographs for a larger view.

I blogged last month about these swallows feeding their young and how incredibly fast the whole process was.

The Annie Leibovitz quote above especially resonated with me in respect of live music photography – when I’m working in the pit, the world around me vanishes and I’m totally in the zone. There are few things I get the same buzz from. I worked as an official photographer at the Isle of Wight festival in 2005 when REM headlined – one of the very best days of my life.

But the camera that I perhaps take most photographs on is what I think of as my middle camera – it has some of the reach and functionality of my DSLR in regard of focal length options, from its 380mm equivalent maximum focal length at 10x zoom to the 25mm (1″) minimum focus distance of its super-macro mode – a focal range now becoming more commonplace in many inexpensive compact cameras. So as a camera to stick in my rucksack, it’s the lightest option giving the widest range of features.

It’s also the one I use for my jewellery photographs as the small sensor gives me a greater depth of field for the available light I have and the minimum focus distances in macro and super-macro mode allow me to work close to the subject in the confined space I have available.

During a walk one spring evening, we came out of an area of deep shadow under trees and saw these lovely shafts of evening sunshine through the trees and over the bluebells.

But there are some days when that’s even too bulky to carry – the days when I go out for my lunchtime walk and just want to pop something in my coat pocket. So I have a compact camera too – it has limited zoom range at 3x, but excellent low light capability, so it makes a great social camera and just lives in my handbag. It too has served me well for several years. I was even able to take some street photos of a mugging that the Police put into evidence.

We were parking up outside a restaurant to meet with family and this scene adjacent in the evening light made me glad I’d put my little camera in my bag.

But pondering this concept of choosing a camera that you will always keep with you, set me thinking about the various photographs over the years that I’ve just snatched when an opportunity arose and I was glad I had popped a camera in my pocket, or had it in my handbag as we went out shopping.

All of these photographs were such opportune images, just moments that make you chuckle and you were glad you were able to record, if only because no one would have believed you otherwise.

This was an especially surreal moment, we were travelling over Kirkstone Pass in the English Lake District and I did a double take, I got the most fleeting of glances of the Tardis in a gap in the dry stone wall. I made my husband reverse back to try and see it again, he clearly thought I was bonkers. And there it was on the moor. It was actually a smaller model and two men with camera gear and tripods were either filming it or photographing it, but I was very glad I had my small camera in my handbag. Who on earth would have believed me.

You might need to click for the larger image to read the writing. I guffawed loudly when I saw this – I know what they meant, but it was still funny – had the staff been sampling the wares? I was trying to very discreetly take the photograph without being seen by staff, but an elderly couple wanted to know what I was doing and just didn’t get it at all and went off loudly discussing about how odd I was taking photographs of cat food. By the following week the sign has been replaced with a printed one ‘excluding’ that particular variety. Shame.

This scene in Kendal has always made us chuckle – everything you could possibly need for a wet afternoon’s entertainment in one place. Go and buy a monkey at Cheeky Monkey’s, get it drunk at Dickie Doodles then take it to get tattooed. If he’s enraged by his treatment, he can then visit his MP to complain.

How small are the people who live here – and not much of a view.

This black and white image still makes my tummy do funny things. My husband was critically ill in November 2005 and spent a couple of weeks on a life support machine, literally fighting for his life. During that time, they’d had to cut his wedding ring off. When we’d married we each put our rings on during the ceremony and neither of us had ever taken them off since – mine still hasn’t been off my finger since 1982. With a solid then 23 years of marriage under our belts, we were superstitious about such things and the removal of his ring was quite emotionally significant for both of us – it upset our son too, as he fully comprehended its symbolic relevance.

It was a long time after he returned home and was recuperating that we felt like addressing it. I knew if I left it some time, an idea of how to deal with it would present itself and so it came to me one day in the shower – to bridge the gap in the ring where it was cut off (or rather chewed off and left in a terrible mess) with something even stronger, to make the bond again but even stronger than before. This was going to need a diamond in the gap. So the jeweller that made my engagement ring was visited with the idea and she did an amazing job of sourcing a diamond to match mine and used the same style of setting.

I took that photograph late in the evening of the day we collected it, hence it’s all shiny and new looking after its restoration. He was just absent-mindedly watching TV after dinner, with his hand at rest and I liked the way the low level of the side light was catching it, so I reached gently into my handbag for my little camera – I didn’t want him to see what I was doing as he’d move and the moment would simply be gone.

So photographs like these are as much about the moment and the memory as they are the image itself – the quality doesn’t matter so much, although I love how this came out after I’d worked the monochrome version. But it’s the emotion it evokes that matters and almost 5 years on, my stomach still does a somersault when I see it.

3 thoughts on “The camera you don’t leave at home is the best one

  1. I won’t be leaving my new camera at home this week. I’ll be off to Yorkshire with it!
    BTW I got married in 1982 as well!

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