Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Reviews of photography products that enhance the enjoyment of taking pictures. Published frequently but irregularly.

A First Communion Tweet This   Forward This

13 May 2013

It wasn't an assignment but Giovanna's First Communion this weekend was an interesting excursion all the same. First we had to decide on which gear to use, then we had a few interesting conversations about photographs and photography.

So which gear?


We didn't want to pack a camera bag, a decision which really limits (well, eliminates) the options. But it wasn't going to be feasible to shoot with off-camera flash or, in lieu of that, to swap the kit zoom for a fast prime lens for indoor shots. This was mostly a social occasion for us.

Details. We had a little help pointing out some of the more important details of the day.

We knew the church where the ceremony would be held and the home where the celebration would continue so we knew light would be an issue. But high ISO performance is pretty good on our gear so we were able to limit ourselves to what we could carry in one hand. Which meant a compact mirrorless camera with its kit lens and nothing else.

That, it turned out, is extravagant by modern standards.

At the church we saw almost nothing but smart phones and tablets taking stills and video. The official photographer had a tripod-mounted strobe in one hand and a Nikon dSLR in the other as he marched up the aisle for the group shot after -- but his was the only dSLR we saw there.

We suspect this reveals more about modern life than it does about technology. Smart phones are standard equipment these days but digicams have become optional.

We didn't see many tablets, just a handful. But that handful was unabashedly photographing, too.

Sometimes good enough is, well, good enough.

But we were glad we used the little mirrorless. It's sensitivity range was important going from outdoors to indoors and it handled the tough stuff indoors well at high ISO. There's no substitute for an optical zoom, either, although we saw a few tablets being digitally zoomed to get closer to the action in church. We knew we had enough head room in our full resolution images to crop our optically zoomed shots for a closer look.

So the usual benefits of using a camera still apply. But maybe those smart phones and tablets were a welcome site to one guy. The official photographer may have made a few more sales because of them. It is nice to have one formal image to remember the day.

Backyard Portrait. The professional studio shot was endangered from the start.

Which brought up a funny story.

The party included Giovanna's grandfather and his older sister. His sister remembered having her formal portrait done for her own First Commmunion. Their grandmother had paid for it. But she couldn't remember her little brother's formal portrait.

In fact, he never had a formal portrait done. His First Communion photo was taken in the back yard. Why, she wondered?

"I took the money," he explained.


We had some help taking our shots. One of the mothers had corralled four of the girls, including Giovanna for a group shot. We snuck in behind her to get in on the group shot but she graciously held the girls for us.

"Did you get it?" she asked after we took a shot.

The right answer to that is always, "No." It never hurts to get one more. We zoomed in for a tighter shot of the smiling faces and took our bonus shot.

When we rejoined our group one of the ladies observed that the girls were all wearing heels, not the white princess flats we'd seen online. We hadn't noticed but it made a fun shot on the playground asphalt.

Giovanna herself was more than helpful in the church turning to face us from her spot at the end of the pew and even posing with her candle for us.

It's a given that at events like this you'll be shooting mostly candids rather than carefully posed scenes. But when you get a little help, don't be shy about taking it.


Giovanna's older grandmother and that grandmother's younger sister were there, too. This was the first time we'd seen the younger sister since we'd restored a print for her birthday, so she made a point to thank us for it. But she had a question.

"What do people do these days with all the photos they take?"

Living With It. Some images should just be put on the wall so they can speak to you now and then when you go by.

She was puzzled because at her house she has a very long hallway which she has decorated with framed photos of her and her late husband's family. It isn't well lit, being a long hallway, but there's sufficient light to see the images as you make your daily commutes from the kitchen to the living room or the bedroom to the bathroom.

Having the photos on display, she observed, is important. You remember the people. You remember things that happened. Different stories come to mind all the time. And in no small way, you continue to live with people you have loved who are otherwise no longer with you.

Kids have always decorated their rooms with posters of some fictional hero they admire or the current heart-throb. But as time takes its toll, some cherished image is framed and set apart from all the rest. It's what a frame's job is, after all. To set apart. To provide a window to the past you want to be able to see as long as you live.

"It's a tragedy of modern technology," we answered her. Many of those photos just stay on the phones where they get a brief peek and are forever forgotten. Or they're sent to someone who laughs at it and deletes it. Or end up in some Camera Roll album that becomes unnavigable until the phone is abandoned for the latest model.

The smart phone shot does not end up in the hallway.


Silver halide photography certainly had its buried treasures, too.

Winding down the party, we were chatting with our cousin Rob about his family's photo collection. His father only shot slides. You paid for the processing, just like negatives, but you didn't have to pay for prints. So there's hardly a print of their childhood to be seen in their homes.

Another Special Day. A slide freed from the tray of the day our cousins acquired a little brother.

But, oh, Rob could remember the sound of that projector! The fan at high revs trying vainly to prevent the slide film from overheating in front of the incandescent bulb and suddenly popping out of focus! You had to keep the show moving to avoid overheating the film.

And when you kept the show moving, you'd hear the mechanical shuffle of one slide being pulled from in front of the bulb and another being pushed in. If the images didn't put you to sleep, the sound of the mechanical shuffle would.

Where are those images now?

Still in their trays. But the projector is inoperable. You'll never find a bulb, the gears are probably frozen, some rubber piece deteriorated beyond hope. Even if you could restore the projector (and our cousins have restored everything from pre-war Vespas to entire fleets of collectible cars), you wouldn't want to subject 50 year old film to that abuse.

The solution, of course, is to scan the slides. Pick a few you'd put up in the hallway (if you had one) and do those. Give them away as gifts to other family members. And don't worry about completing the set.

An image or two will do. Just as with the formal portrait.


We said our good-byes shortly after and backed the old battleship out of the driveway onto the country road. As the temperature cracked 80 and kept rising, we opened the sun roof and rolled the windows down for a rolling and winding ride on the back roads to the freeway.

Our shots of the day were on a memory card. Nobody had seen them yet. Which put them a lap behind those old slides.

Would there be one of them good enough to make someone's hallway, we wondered?

We'd only know after going through them, cropping them, optimizing the tonality and color, minimizing the noise of the high ISO shots and uploading them to the Web where we could share the URL with the participants.

But we looked forward to that. It's not work so much as a chance to relive the day. And that's something you can enjoy even with a smart phone or tablet for your camera.

BackBack to Photo Corners