My Lens Is Bigger Than Yours

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are rerunning a column from 2003. He's been using a camera a lot lately, but he hasn't improved very much beyond when he wrote this column.

I've always enjoyed photography, although I haven't always had the necessary equipment. When I took a photojournalism class in college, I fancied myself a younger, less depressing Ansel Adams, and thought I was just two-hundredths of a second away from shooting dramatic news photos for the Associated Press in foreign locales.

I had one serious problem though: my eyesight.

My eyesight, even with the latest and greatest optical correction technology, cannot be restored to perfect 20/20 vision. As a result, whenever I would take a picture, I focused to what looked good to me, rather than what was actually clear and sharp. As a result, my pictures were always slightly out of focus. Looks like the only photojournalism I would be doing is taking blurry pictures of aliens for the Weekly World News.

"What's this amorphous blob?" my instructor would ask.

"That's some of my teammates at soccer practice," I said.

"And what's this amorphous blob?"

"A firetruck racing to a fire."

"Then what are all these scattered and mangled blobs?"

"The firetruck took a wrong turn and ended up on the soccer field."

Of course, there was no pleasing this guy. No matter what photo anyone took, there was always something wrong with it. Always.

My friend, Joel, took the class a year later and managed to catch a picture of a huge house fire, which was published in the school paper. He also received a B for that photo because he didn't take any photos from a higher point of view, like from a firefighter's ladder. Never mind that he had to put himself in harm's way to get the photo. If he had lost some skin, he might have eked out an A-.

When the semester ended, my dreams of being a photojournalist died, killed by my poor eyesight and my instructor's advice to stick with writing. Also, I had to return my dad's camera.

But finally after 16 years of wondering "what if," my patience was rewarded with a brand-new 35 millimeter single-lens reflex camera for my birthday.

It's a macho, manly camera with interchangeable zoom lenses and detachable flash (each sold separately), unlike sissy cameras that have a fixed lens and built-in flash my wife uses for family photos.

But best of all, my camera is an auto-focus, so I don't take pictures of blobs anymore.

Me: Honey, look at all the great pictures I took at the beach from our vacation. See, no amorphous blobs!

My wife: Wonderful. The photos of all these bikini-clad women are in sharp focus.

I was recently at a family gathering where I had a chance to use my new camera. Unfortunately, there are certain members of my family who hate having their picture taken, regardless of the occasion.

"I hate having my picture taken!" they exclaim. "I look awful."

Of course, that's because the only way you can take their picture is to sneak up behind them, say their name, and snap it as soon as they turn around. And as you would expect, they look surprised, angry, and their mouth is hanging open like they've got brain damage. Every photo we take looks like this. I'll bet their driver's license photo looks this way too.

Police officer: "This photo looks nothing like you."

Family members: "Hold up a camera and startle me."

Police officer: "Okay, I see it now!"

I've never understood what all the fuss is about. We all know pictures can't steal a person's soul (not like video cameras). And the photos will never be seen except by other family members or visitors who make the mistake of asking if we have any photo albums.

I just don't worry about having my photo taken. They're a way of preserving memories. They bring our personal histories back to life. We can recall the smells and sounds from those all-too-brief moments, and remember what made them special enough to take the pictures in the first place.

And makes everyone think my family is just a bunch of angry, startled mouth breathers.

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