Way, way, waaaaay back in the days of film photography, I had a camera that took some really amazing pictures under difficult circumstances, such as in dimly lit museums where no flash was allowed and through glass or wire mesh fences. This made me think I knew how to take good pictures. My first digital camera, a gift, was apparently a decent quality camera, as well. So I happily transitioned into the world of digital photography and continued to believe that I was a good photographer.
Unfortunately, modern technology products do not last long. Even if you manage to resist the planned obsolescence built into every one, its physical life is short. My lovely digital camera only lasted a few years. I optimistically viewed this as an opportunity to acquire a new camera with a lot of fancy-schmancy features that my old one didn’t have. I particularly wanted one with more zoom since I planned on going to a Chris Isaak concert and was hoping to get some really nice close-up shots. I also wanted one that was small and easy to use. At the time, these did not seem like unreasonably high standards.
After much research, I selected a snazzy new camera and trotted off to my first Chris Isaak concert. But things did not work out the way I hoped, and the zoom did not compensate for my distance from the stage. Further experimentation with the camera in a variety of other places led to the identification of more shortcomings. In other words, I blamed the camera for all my bad pictures. So I did more research and bought another new camera with an even bigger zoom and even more exotic features.
I was confident I had made the right choice this time—until I started taking pictures with it. Well, actually, my initial efforts were fine. But then I started fiddling with all the extra settings. The quality of my shots rapidly plummeted, descending to a level that I’ve never reached before. This is one of the picture I took of Chris Isaak at my second concert. Trust me, it really is him. The good news is that I did get some nice pictures to go with all my bad ones.
But it was at the Portland Japanese Garden where I hit rock bottom and took substantially more bad pictures than good ones. I unknowingly stumbled upon a camera setting that created picture after picture like this. And that’s one of the better ones of all the bad pictures I took there.
Now here’s where the delusion that I’m a good photographer becomes dangerous. Once again, I blamed the camera, not the idiot holding it. To do so, I did have to ignore all the good pictures I took, but somehow I convinced myself that another new camera would make all the difference. I felt I had learned so much from all my mistakes, I was sure to make a better choice if I tried again. Besides that, the third time’s a charm, right?
To prove just how serious I was about making this new one be “the perfect camera,” I took the unusual step of actually reading the manual before going to my third Chris Isaak concert. As a result, I did take some pretty good pictures. But I also had to sort through a whole bunch of bad shots to get to the good ones. Here’s a classic. Not only was the photo blurry, but I cut off most of his head.
Then there’s this one which is in focus. Too bad there’s no one to focus on.
And here’s a fascinating pair of pictures. How did I manage to get a completely black shot AND a completely white shot?
Now that takes creativity.
I also had a fantastic aisle seat at the concert. So I was able to get some pictures like this one of Chris coming up the aisle. Ten seconds later, I could have gotten a clear shot of him. Wouldn’t that have been a great picture!
Instead, I waited until he was much, much closer. Oops again!
But that’s okay because with the practice I got, I was all ready to get the perfect close-up shot of the lead guitarist, Hershel Yatovitz, when he came up the aisle later on during the concert. So how the heck did I manage to focus on the tiny sliver of the bass player, Roly Salley, in the background, instead of on Hershel? That’s the sort of photographic trick you can’t pull off when you’re trying to do it.
I have learned a lot from these myriad experiences. Reading the manual really does help because digital cameras are so much more complicated nowadays. You don’t have to use all those wonderful capabilities, but you do need to know what not to do. Taking multiple shots of everything increases the odds of getting a decent picture. It doesn’t cost anything, and it’s easy to delete all the ones you don’t want when you’re viewing them on your computer. Of course, that does mean you need to carry an extra memory card and camera battery for all the triplicate pictures you’ll be taking. However, the most important thing I’ve learned is it’s NOT the camera. Although no camera takes perfect pictures every time, the real problem is me. I’m just a bad photographer who’s still clinging to a dangerous delusion of competence.