I hate taking pictures for people. There, I said it. You know what I’m talmbout. You’re standing outside, minding your own business, and then out of the corner of your eye you see a group start to get in formation of some sort, a few hushed whispers begin and then somebody breaks formation looking for a person with nothing else to do in that moment to take their picture. That person is always me. I don’t know how it’s always me, either. I feel busy as fuck at almost all times.
But it never fails.
“Hey, can you take a picture of us?”
“Sure, no problem.”
This is where the heat turns up. See, I’m not bad at taking pictures of random shit I see on the side of the road or of that round of shots I just bought. I’m not even terrible at taking selfies. I cannot tell you how many attempts at an album cover I’ve shot with my iPhone. It’s nothing for me to drop my iPhone on the ground, set the timer and try to look menacing while I’m standing over it or attempting to art myself, like it’s the ’90s all over again.
But taking pictures for other people? Bruh.
“Can you use the ‘Portrait’ feature?”
No. I can’t. I can’t even use that bitch properly on my own time and now you want me to take the perfect picture for you with it? This shit keeps telling me to get closer, or I’m too far, or something. You want a “portrait” go call Kehinde Wiley, fam.
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“Yeah, hold on.”
It’s amazing how much work you can do in under 30 seconds. You have to take pictures with the phone horizontally, then vertically. You want me to get 14 people in frame with their shoes in the picture even though this is not a Samsung Galaxy, which I mythically believe takes better, wider pictures even though I truly have no idea because when somebody hands me an Android phone, I spend more time trying to understand how the fuck you snap a picture than altering any of the angles. I am not geometry, angles be damned.
“Here you go. I hope you got some good ones, I took a lot!”
What I mean is that I took 10 of the exact same picture over and over because, again, Android or apparently there wasn’t enough light for the “portrait” feature or something. I don’t know; I write for a living.
I always study the faces of people as they look at the pictures on their phone. You can tell when you’ve taken a few that are awesome. They tell you.
“Oh! This is a good one. Thank you so much!” Then they scamper or scurry away still looking at the phone. It’s like a weight has been lifted.
But that’s not usually what happens. I usually get the other outcome.
“Thanks.” Then silence. I took 47 damn pictures. Not one gives you the jollies?
Nope. No jollies. You know how you know? They all stand there, silently, scrolling through. I worked with what I had dammit. The lighting wasn’t great but I tried to catch that sunbeam over yonder. I never catch the sunbeams.
It’s always worse when they just walk away while I stay standing there waiting to see if I need to take others. Once, a group walked to another person in front of me and asked them to take some pictures. Luckily I have high self-esteem or that might have hurt. I also didn’t feel bad because I was on a busy street corner in New York City, and of the maybe 50 people they could chose from, they picked me. The odds failed them.
It also just made me annoyed that I agreed to take the pictures in the first place. I know my limitations and that I don’t enjoy that pressure. I just want to keep it pushing. But no, here I am, attempting to capture a moment of depth that I can’t even fathom.
Now, most people just take the pictures and keep it pushing. They just need the proof of the moment, the art or perfection isn’t that high on the priority list. I appreciate those people. I am those people.
But the folks who have that perfect picture in mind and are disappointed that you were unable to turn into Gordon Parks, well, they give me the redass. It’s too much pressure. I was just trying to walk into this store I can’t afford anything in and window shop without looking like I can’t afford anything in there.
I’m sure I’ll take more pictures for people and for those brief moments I’ll be worried that I’ve failed the entire picture-taking community. It’s hard to say no sometimes to people who want nothing more than to capture their family standing next to a Sbarro.
Just know that I hope it comes out well too, dammit.