Sunday, March 21, 2010

The woes of the lone tourist

My Washington D.C. trip that started last weekend in the manner described in my previous post came to an end today with me getting caught up in severe metro disruptions and missing my bus. Or should I say I hope it did? I am still in the bus (the next one) and it’s a long way to Newark. However, this post is about woes of a different kind.

Travelling alone, like everything else, has its pros and cons. While the pro side is a clear winner because I never have to worry about convincing others to go where I want to go or worry about others’ reactions before suddenly changing the day’s plans, the con side has one major point that deserves mention. It is something that I call the curse of the photographer - the curse to remain un-photographed.

And as I realized first-hand on this trip, having a more sophisticated camera does not make your chances better. On the contrary, the bigger your camera, the harder this curse hits you.

If you look closely at the photo here that was taken during my Niagara trip in 2008, you will see two people behind me who are grinning at their own cameras trying to capture themselves and the falls in a single frame. Now I usually find such antics extremely funny and I am yet to see an SLR-wielding person doing that, so this time when I desired to have my photo taken in front of something memorable, I approached others and requested them to do the job for me. With everyone owning a digital camera and photographing each moment of their life one would think that photography had become a skill that everyone has. Not so at all. Let’s take a look at some of the results that I obtained by handing over my camera to others.

Case 1: This one was taken in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. I requested a gentleman with an SLR to take my photo in front of the largest elephant that was ever mounted. He took a perfect shot of me – just there is no elephant to be seen in the frame. My bad, of course – I should have explained to him that I am not interested in knowing what I look like.

Case 2: I was at the base of the Washington Monument looking longingly at the Lincoln Memorial. Will somebody take my picture with that building in the background? I handed one gentleman the camera and explained very carefully what composition I wanted. “The Lincoln Memorial in the background and me at one side. Do you understand?” He nodded and took the photo. Isn’t the composition perfect? It is just a minor problem that I am completely out of focus.

Case 3: This time I was cautious. I wanted a photo with the US Capitol in the background and I wanted to make sure I was in focus too. So I put the lens at 18mm and stepped down the aperture to f/16.0 to ensure everything was in focus. If you are not familiar with this jargon, just understand that I put the camera at a setting where nothing could go wrong. Or so I thought until I asked this gentleman with a large DSLR and a National Geographic cap to take my picture. As I took my position, he started moving backwards with my camera and before I could realize whether he had taken a photo or not, he handed it back to me saying “Eight photos.” When I looked, there were indeed eight photos – some were blurry and some were sharp. Here’s one of the sharp ones. Can you see me?

Case 4: This one was taken on the first day itself in front of the Smithsonian castle. This is not too bad actually and can be salvaged if I work at it for some time, but I wonder if the person with the large Nikon DSLR who took this photo shoots all photos tilted like this.

Case 5: I would not let go of the elephant at the Smithsonian. I had first seen that elephant in the 1977 Guinness Book of World Records in our house in my childhood, and have wanted to see it ever since. So I went and posed in front of it again. This is the only shot in this post that was not ruined due to the photographer’s fault – the Asian lady took great pains to kneel down in front of me and click the photo. It was I who had left the flash popped up – I blame the curse for it. Whoever was at fault, the result was that I lost my face.

At times like this, I seem to grasp the full meaning of what Ansel Adams meant when he said, “The most important part of a camera is the 12 inches behind the viewfinder.


  1. Come on Sugata, you cannot expect everybody to be expert photographer like you.

    But as always, your post made me laugh. keep writing :)

  2. i too always thought ... having a DSLR or SLR can give a perfect shot !! .... but i am happy to know that it doesn't :)

    p.s. as always ur writing always tells a amazing story ... Keep it up !!!

  3. @Kuntala: C'mon, you don't need to be an expert photographer to take simple tourist photos. I usually asked only people with DSLRs to take my photos. Thanks for laughing though. :)

    @sharmila: Thanks a lot for visiting and commenting. As you can see, the most important factor is still the photographer, even with all these automatic cameras. :)

  4. heheh...makes much more sense after attending your session though..and i am never taking a photo of you :)

  5. @Sumana: I was counting on you to take a few photos of me sometime if we go somewhere around here. My teaching can't have been THAT bad? :(