Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Take pictures of signs and rosters

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Customers wait in a line at the Feedstore Bar-B-Que in Southlake on Saturday, October 11, 2003. The Lafavers family had run a feed and seed store at the site for about 30 years. As the community moved from a farming community to a bedroom community, the family adapted its business strategy.

Many of the photos we take are actually informational background shots. We photograph the outside of buildings and stadiums to know the proper name of the location. We photograph any signs near interesting items to have additional background information for cutlines. We photograph street signs to verify the intersection of accidents. We also photograph name tags to match faces with names and clothes.

When we arrive at sporting events, we go by the press box for team rosters. Typically, there are only two rosters available. The mom or dad elected to make the team announcements guards them with ferocity. We're frequently told we can write down the names, but we can't have the rosters.

Instead, we smile, hold up our cameras and say, "The original photo copy machine." We check the roster for clarity (most are hand written) and shoot a copy shot. We can then shoot the game and know we're covered.

The additional benefit is the archival intent of the info shots. In 10 years, the information is securely saved with the other negatives or digital files. There is no searching for a scrap of paper in a shoebox of old notepads and flyers. Anyone can pick up the negatives and write a meaningful cutline from the information held within the negatives.

This is also a good idea for vacationers. Instead of wondering when or where something occurred during a vacation. Turn off the camera's date stamp (many good images are ruined by the annoying orange numbers). Instead, photograph a watch or calendar to set the new date for the negatives. Any frame after the date frame should be from this date.

Likewise, when a family photo is taken in front of a waterfall or scenic outlook, find the historical society sign or the "Welcome to ____" sign to place the images.
For digital cameras, this habit is free. For film cameras, it costs about 10 cents per frame. It's money well spent when trying to organize negatives later.

If one wants to be very frugal with film, have a family member or friend stand next to the sign. Then the image is a two-for-one special. However, make sure to be close enough to read the text of the sign through the viewfinder. If the text can't be read through the viewfinder, it's unlikely to be clear in a print either.

Although the plan isn't to print these frames, sometimes the location or informational background shots get printed in the newspaper as a detail or inside shot (so make sure they are sharp and compensate +1 or +2 stops on manual cameras for white paper or signs).

I've seen similar images appear in friends' scrapbooks to let unacquainted viewers understand the context of the photos. This is faster, more secure and a space saver compared to keeping all programs or documentation presented at events (weddings, graduations, award presentations, recitals, little league championships, etc...).

Informational images aren't limited to text either. Rather than spending $100 to collect coins and bills from different countries. Spend the same $100 to get one of each bill and coin available per country. Photograph the currency and then spend it or exchange it for the next country's currency.

I have bills and coins from across Europe. They're more meaningful to me since the Euro conversion, but pictures honestly would have been fine. I could have shown more bills than I chose to bring home (it didn't make sense to invest $50 per country for mementos).

This same theory can be applied to other colorful items of interest in markets around the world. Yes, the red sombrero and coconut monkey are cute, but do you really want to drag them back home - through the airport customs? Get a nice image and make life simpler.

Make the camera work
If you want the items, make the camera work. Shop and shoot as you go, but don't buy yet. Digital cameras give you super leverage in large, open-air markets.

Shoot the items you want and negotiate prices along the way. Leave the vendor with a promised price, but without the merchandise. This keeps your hands free and saves the strain of carrying heavy bags all day. As you shop, show salespeople your digital images and compare prices. See if they want to sell for less. If they do, take a portrait of them with your family (three-for-one bonus since you'll save more than 10 cents) and enough information to find the shop again.

Over lunch, review your images and choose the best deals. Then, gather your bargains from the people with the best prices – you know where to find them from the photos.

This principle can also help get travelers back to their hotels after a few too many Margaritas. Again using a digital or an instant-image (Polaroid) camera, photograph each major landmark as you explore a strange city.

Start with a photo of the exterior of your hotel. This is probably the most critical image of your entire trip. As you wander further away, shoot major landmarks and buildings. When you are completely lost, you can backtrack via landmarks on the digital cameras.

You can always show an image of your hotel to a taxi driver to get home. If you are a really heavy party animal, pin an instant print or a postcard of your hotel to your shirt. When someone finds you asleep on the beach, they know where to send you.

Enough for now,

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