The party could be described as standard, the guest-list repetitive, and the food expensive. The room was beautiful, with a view of the ocean at high tide. I’d been to countless others just like it. Some attendees enjoyed the loud noises, vapid discourse, and rare delicacies. But this man was different, and I could tell.
I did it. I finally did it. I’ve been afraid for some time now by the prospect of approaching strangers and asking to photograph them. I prefer to make portraits with people I know or stealthily capture the visage of complete strangers. But this time was different, and I could tell.
It’s an odd thing, using someone else’s photography equipment. I’m a rather big advocate of “getting to know your gear.” I believe that the path towards taking better images starts with a photographer’s decision to learn his or her gear, and I mean really learn the gear. The lens I had on my camera was brand new to me; I’d never even held it before. But this lens was different, and I could tell.
Perhaps it is my deep love for complex storytelling, or perhaps my mind is bored with linear narratives, or perhaps it is because I saw “Dunkirk” last night. Regardless, all three of those initial paragraphs detail simultaneous thoughts that collided in my consciousness at precisely the same moment the other evening.
The 50mm (75mm equivalent) Fujifilm f/2 lens wasn’t mine, it was my father’s, and honestly I never thought I’d use one. Having recently sold my 56mm f/1.2 lens, and suddenly confronted with a job where I would be needing a tighter focal length, I turned to my dad for help. And thus the Fuji 50mm and I crossed paths.
I could write all about the job and how I used the lens to great effect. I could write about how crisp and sharp the lens is wide open at f/2 or how smooth the autofocus is. Instead, I want to briefly describe my experience of photographing this man.
With every item crossed off of my shot-list, I meandered around the party, people watching – one of my favorite things to do – and I happened to spot this fellow. He glowed with joy, and I am well aware of how bold of a claim that is. His eye’s twinkled and he looked very much at peace. I found myself drawn in by the evident positivity radiating from his face.
It slipped out of my mouth before I had much of a chance to think it through. I asked him for a photograph and he graciously obliged. I lifted my camera to my eye and the Fuji 50mm f/2 just so happened to be the lens attached. I manually focused and set the aperture ring quickly to f/2.
This photo reminds me of three things. The first is, never jump to conclusions about a photographic opportunity. Even though I had been to many parties like that one, I’d never met this gentleman and I’d never taken this portrait. Second is, push yourself to approach strangers and ask to photograph them! Some will say no, many will feel awkward, and others will shy away from the opportunity. That’s okay, because eventually you’ll meet a man like this one, with a pipe in his mouth and a smile to share. The third and final thing this photograph reminds me of is, never judge a lens by its specs. At first glance, I thought the Fuji 50mm f/2 would never be a piece of glass I’d want to use… but after this experience, it will always have a place in my camera bag!