A friend recently asked me about cameras. I’m no expert, but after I finished my master’s degree I worked at Ritz Camera for about a year. It wasn’t an ideal job, but I learned a lot. (Interestingly, I say that about most of the varied jobs I’ve held—janitor to editor.) The conversation led me to dig out my box of pre-digital photographic equipment so that I could familiarize myself with f-stops and shutter speeds. Handling my old Pentax K-1000, I reflected on how actual cameras (not that device in your pocket) transitioned from using actual film (which is superior for capturing images) to emulating that experience for the needs of digital photographers. Taking a stunning picture was more than just framing and lighting—it involved manual control. The modern digital camera will allow the photographer control over things like shutter speed, aperture, and film speed (even if in altered terminology).
At the camera store, as in much of retail, waiting was involved. Sometimes quite a lot of it. Between customers coming in—and you had to be ready for that at any time—you had to find ways to amuse yourself. Some would restlessly straighten up counter displays, restock the film (remember film?) bins, or find something that required putting away. Most (and this was a young adult’s job) found ways of goofing off. Immaturity takes a long time to settle into more reflective adulthood. I often used the opportunity to read through the photography books we sold. Well, in actual fact, I don’t remember ever actually selling one of those books. If you’ve looked at the pictures most people take that will be evident. That’s how I learned the little I know of photography.
We live in an era of disputing experts. We like to think that we know just as much as the next guy. Trump’s bull-headed tenure only made this fashionable. Photography, on the other hand, no matter whether digital or print, is an art where the truth is clearly evident. Gifted photographers take better photos. The rest of us can learn some tips, but we all know when we see a stunning photograph. We might even question if it’s real. Although cameras can be made to lie—all photographs are fragments of the past—photography is perhaps the most impartial form of art. Learning about it can improve results, but the camera is a revelatory device. In the hands of an expert it can change the way we see the world.