As Lord Cornwallis ordered his men over the ridge, I couldn't help but watch the Nascar Dad with the itchy trigger finger. He was no more than five feet from me, hunched over a garage sale camcorder and squinting in pain. Every time the distant cannons barked, he all but dropped his battered camcorder and I yearned to snatch it out of his hands. Instead, I rocked back from foot to foot as my nine year old squealed in delight as an army of out of shape Redcoats ran past. I should have enjoyed the show, but I just couldn’t keep my eyes off the backyard cinematographer to my left. With his twitchy digits, total lack of a tripod and zoom button addiction, he was making me more nervous than the gaggle of armed tax accountants and milkmen who were struggling to take the hill ever could.
But that’s the life of an off-duty photog. No matter where I take the kids on a Saturday afternoon, I’m more enamored of the camera cluster than the spectacle at hand. And in the past couple of years, I’ve had an awful lot to look at. Shiny Sure-Shots, tricked-out digitals, cell phones sporting tiny lenses. It’s enough to make this veteran videographer high-tail it back to the 80’s, when lens-caps still swung on stringy pendulums and the finest in consumer camcorders were still very much toys. These days the average citizen packs fancier gear than I worked with during my first five years in television. That’s cool by me - I just wish they’d learn to use them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for Joe Six-Pack gettin’ his Scorsese on. But the total lack of camera acumen seems to have held strong, even as the cameras have shrunk and features extrapolated. Tiny lenses are now everywhere, and they’re coming to even more unlikely gadgets near you. But until Dad or Mom stop fat-fingering the controls, Junior’s birthday party footage is still gonna trigger spasms in two or out three family members - even if they did use the new Crock-Pot to shoot it. But I digress. I came here to talk about the rampant outbreak of First Degree Lens Abuse I witnessed at this weekend’s Revolutionary War re-enactment. Before the first fast guy in old clothes dropped from imaginary musket fire, all vestiges of proper camera-handling fell victim.
Record. Pan. Zoom. Check Shot. Pan some more. Stop Recording. I swear those instructions must come with every consumer cam these days. I watched one father of three simply hold his tiny camera over his head, swaying back and forth with it as the Redcoats and Continentals pretended to kill each other. Between the herk and the jerk, I wasn’t sure if he was trying to document the battle or deep in the throes of a Whitesnake concert flashback. He wasn’t alone. A few feet away, a little weasely guy leaned on his tripod with a camcorder jammed to his face, trying desperately to follow the action a quarter of a mile away. Past him, a Soccer Mom frowned at her darkened screen as the still-secured lens cap thwarted the best of her intentions. I wanted to reach out and pluck the tiny round shield off her lens, but I didn’t dare break the Prime Directive of Parenting: When gathered en masse, start no riot that could endanger your children. So I just stood there, biding my time while the t-shirted citizenry desecrated the very foundation of viewfinder virtuosity. Then I saw him.
Or it, rather. Above the crowd, a heavy lens panned slowly across the crowd. I wiggled out of the pack to get a better look at what colleague had pulled the weekend duty short straw and was shocked to see a sweat-suited Dad at the controls. With a sniper’s aim he peered upward into his eye-piece, never noticing the bearded guy running his eyes over his rig. Professional tripod, big battery, honest-to-God glass in the lens. The man himself looked pretty unkempt, which meant he could very well be a real photog. He may as well, as his equipment package bested that of a few stringers I know. As I stared at his camera, I felt a couple of eyeballs looking back. When I met his gaze, I got the overwhelming sensation I was weirding him out. “Are you shooting this for somebody,” I sputtered, “or are you just takin’ pictures?” “I’m just takin’ pictures.” He said as he glanced derisively at the undersized digital in my grip. “Oh...okay.” With nothing less to say, I slunk back to my spot in the crowd, feeling a little less of a man than before. I hate camera snobs.