I’ve always been the crazy picture lady. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Every family has one. My relatives know my camera is always nearby, usually tucked into the front pocket of my jeans. They let me snap away, giving me grief every chance they get, but shamelessly enjoying the batches of pictures that later show up on their computer screens.
I recently made my graduating son a ‘life book’, and had to dig through the 26 boxes of print photos I took before we broke down and bought a digital camera. Until I was forced to wade through those thousands of pictures, I had kind of assumed that I only really got out of hand, with the volume of pictures I took, the moment I finished reading the instruction manual for my first digital camera. Once I figured out I basically had free, unlimited film to work with, there was no stopping me. No more pausing to decide if a shot was ‘film worthy’. Before digital, there were only 24 chances to catch the right moment, and every click of the camera would cost me twice, once in film, and once in developing. Suddenly I could click all I wanted and not pay a dime more.
Even more exciting than the idea of never again having to throw those little yellow (expensive) boxes of film into the shopping cart, I became addicted to the preview feature of my digital camera. I could see, immediately, if I got the picture I was hoping for. Was the lighting right? Were my son’s eyes closed (again)? Did I actually catch my kid, mid stride, in his race, or was he just a colorful blur?
Right away I knew. I could delete on the spot, and make another attempt. Then, once I was home, and saw the pictures on the bigger screen of my computer, I could edit even more. I taught myself to take three shots for every one I desired. My own ‘rules of threes’ has rarely let me down.
It’s why the relatives think I’m a good photographer. They see my batch of pictures from the family picnic, and marvel at how I ended up with so many great shots. I try to tell them, “Look, I took 200 pictures that day. I only sent you the 40 best.”
My recent trip back to those thousands of print pictures in my rows of photo boxes reminded me that I used basically the same philosophy when I had a standard camera. I definitely ‘over shot’ each event. For fifteen years of parenting we had only a film camera. I never wanted to miss a moment, so I took, and had developed, a lot of prints. It’s left me with a daunting task in the near future, of scanning them into digital format.
And as I sort through them I see the reality. I took a lot of crappy pictures through the years. It’s actually somewhat encouraging. By the time I weed out the bad shots, I’ll only really have something like 18 boxes to scan. Every few thousand makes a difference.
I have a lot of pictures full of blurs. There are many backs-of-heads shots. I’m finding more and more batches of double prints, that weren’t good enough to justify postage to send to far away grandparents. It made me see just how digital photography has made me a better photographer.
Trapped somewhere inside my tiny little square friend is a built in photography instructor. He navigates me through the dummy friendly menus that scroll across my screen. He lets me play with features, snapping a shot in this mode, then in that one, and then never judges when I delete all but the one I was happy with. He just makes those bad ones go away, never to be seen again. Never to sit in a dusty photo box and be unearthed decades later.
I don’t have a fancy camera. Some day I’d love to own an SLR version, but for today, I’m perfectly content with my (second) Sony Cybershot. It allows me to be the crazy picture lady, without turning into the crazy bankrupt lady. And it’s taught me, by instant feedback and a finger friendly delete button, how to take really good pictures.
Judy Berna is the amputee wife of an archaeologist, the mother of four children, ages 13-22, and the author of her first book, "Just One Foot: How Amputation Cured My Disability." After living in NH, MO, D.C., UT and NY, she and her family have finally settled in a mountain town in Colorado.