It is often wise to pack up one’s photo gear only well after leaving the scene of a shoot, as one never knows when a decisive moment will present itself. I have had too many instances where some photo-worthy moment was unfurling right before my eyes only meters away, with my gear all packed up in my bag, and I either had no time to draw out a camera in time or think about doing so. An example of this occurred a month ago when I was on my way to Day 1 of the Remenyik tournament at Northwestern University (photos from which are nearly complete for unveiling within a few days now). While on the CTA Purple Line train, a drunken belligerent hipster was picking fights with people on the train and eventually with a rather large man who knocked him down right in front of me. So close was I to this that the drunk actually used my knee and then my head to prop himself back up; in complete disbelieve, shock, and awe, I just sat there frozen hoping that he was like a T-Rex from Jurassic Park and would not see me if I remained motionless. I had both of my cameras with me in my bag, with cards and batteries loaded ready to shoot at the flick of the power switch, along with an iPhone, and yet I did nothing to document this moment.
I have not learned my lesson completely since then, unfortunately, and as apparent by tonight, but I am getting better at least. I had a photo shoot at a Regional Youth Circuit fencing tournament at Windy City Fencing today, and when I left, I had my gear stowed away in my bag, though with a fresh memory card in one of the cameras, just in case. (I usually remove and collect any and all cards with images from the session and carry them in a small case on my body after a shoot for safe keeping.) I stopped by Starbucks for a Peppermint Mocha before hopping on the Red Line at North and Clybourne back down to the Loop. Both of my hands were occupied, one with the mocha, and the other with a large book I brought with me. Only after the doors to the car closed and the train departed the station did I notice that a man with a fedora and one sparkly silver glove was hanging off the handrails upside down with Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” playing in the background. I hesitated for a moment. With both hands occupied, I tucked my book under my mocha-holding limb and attempted to grab one of my cameras out from my bag but just could not articulate myself in a way to do so. Frustrated, I dealt down to one knee, threw my book onto the empty seat in front of me, set my mocha to the ground, swung my bag around, grabbed the loaded camera, nearly tore off the plastic lens hood that was on its backwards stowing position, flung the power switch to on, and just started shooting. Fortunately, I still had the camera set for fencing, so I did not need to fumble around with my exposure settings. I missed the Jackson impersonator hanging upside down, but at least I got some images of him dancing and singing.
In retrospect, it would have been a lot faster to just draw out my iPhone to take the shot just like everyone else on the train. That said, if I were to be in the same situation again, I still probably would choose my camera even if stowed in a bag than use my iPhone. I know doing so will cost me precious time and would lead me to miss that decisive moment, but the fact that everyone else was using a mobile phone to capture this, and coupled with my need to be different from the pack, compelled me to use a different instrument available. If everyone else was using a DSLR or Leica to photograph the impersonator, I probably would have used my iPhone just to be different. It makes no logical sense what so ever, I admit, but I thrive on thinking differently and going against the grain. Of course, I can also look at it like this: if one were to bring a gun to a knife fight but left the gun in the car, definitely run back to the car.