A digital camera, a little know-how and a lot of luck

I recently returned from a once-in-a-lifetime Mediterranean cruise with stops in Spain, France, Monaco and Italy. It was a photo-hobbyist’s dream, and I took all the obligatory vacation photos, including the one where my wife appears to be pushing the Leaning Tower of Pisa back up where it should be. Of course, the photos are great – especially the ones from the towering hills overlooking Monaco – but you probably wouldn’t expect any of them to win a photography award.

But then again maybe, just maybe, I am wrong about that. After all, if you were to combine location, opportunity, composition, timing and a very smart digital camera, you might get that exceptional photograph that actually stands a chance at winning an award. In fact, I believe that is exactly what happened to me.

I wanted to make sure I had a high-quality, reliable, easy-to-carry camera for our trip so before we left I did a little research and ended up buying a Sony Lumix DMC-ZS6. I consider myself a semi-professional photographer, having been the chief staff photographer by my organization for the last 20-plus years, although that admittedly entails only a part of my job and I have very little professional photography training. Anyway, I picked this camera because it got great reviews for travel photography.

On the third day of our cruise, we stopped at Naples and my wife and I signed up for an excursion that included the beautiful cliffside city of Sorrento overlooking the Mediterranean. My wife loves shopping, so we ended up in a tourist-oriented shopping district in the center of town. While she was examining the leather purses, wallets and belts, I wandered a little on my own. I quickly spotted a beautiful historic-looking church-like building, with inviting open doors and decided to explore.

I took about three steps into the Sedil Dominova, which houses the Societa Operaia du Mutuo Soccorso – the Worker’s Mutual Aid Society – and immediately held up my camera and snapped a picture. One shot. That’s all I took. Here I had a digital camera with hundreds of free shots available, and I took one single shot. Automatic settings. I was in the building for probably less than a minute. I liked what I saw and I knew this had the potential to be a special picture, but for some reason I only snapped one picture. I walked back onto the busy shopping promenade and went back to taking standard tourist shots.

Later than night, back on the ship, I downloaded the day’s photos to my Mac. When I got to the Sedil Dominova picture, I was taken aback. The photo I shot in this storied community building was like a piece of fine art. Seven middle-aged Italian men sitting around tables engaged in conversation and a card game. The room was piece of art in itself – slightly faded but stunning 18th century frescoes – wall paintings – of pillars, mantles and even babies with wings reflecting the character of this historic and artistically rich country. Set amid that backdrop – with perfectly even lighting – the men in the foreground almost appear to timelessly meld into history. A well-prepared professional photographer with the best equipment and lighting could have spent hours in this room trying to capture this moment and never have achieved it. All I had was a small – but very advanced – digital camera and a little luck.

Yes, I give myself some credit for looking beyond the surface for a better picture, for spotting the photograph in front of me, and quickly identifying a unique angle. But this is a picture that owes a lot to the incredible technology of digital photography. The camera made all the tough technical decisions for me, allowing me to act quickly and capture the moment.

The composition, the light, the background, the colors, and even the gestures and expressions on the men’s faces capture a moment that simply could not be planned or artificially created.

One moment in time. A real moment. A genuine reflection of a place and a group of people who represent a generation, a history and a culture.

I don’t know whether I will ever actually enter this photograph in a contest. But to me, it is an award-winner because – more than any of the 300-plus photos I took on this trip – it provides a genuine, deep insight into this fascinating country that I was so fortunate to visit.

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One Comment on “A digital camera, a little know-how and a lot of luck”

  1. Christina Says:

    Bill,

    This photo is lovely. I fully expect to see it in an appropriate frame on your office wall soon, so we all can enjoy in detail!


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