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Portrait Of The Photographer As A (Very) Young Man Tweet This   Forward This

11 July 2013

We took a long walk Sunday from the Marina to the Ferry Building, stopping to rest a bit at Aquatic Park. There's a retaining wall to hold the grassy hill back from sidewalk that follows the sea wall that's just the right height for a stool.

Palace of Fine Arts. Always an inspiration, the fog had burned off by the time we passed by Sunday. A polarizer on our zoom, our battle to get the shot had only just begun. We used Adobe Camera Raw 8.1 with a lens correction applied but had to finish correcting distortion in Photoshop CC.

We'd passed a portly gent, to use the nautical term, in a Yosemite sweatshirt, a recent Canon dSLR hung from his neck with a long zoom lens on it. The gear obscured the wisp of a boy at his feet, pestering him with questions.

No, they didn't look anything like Andy Griffith and Opie but we wondered if they weren't the modern equivalent.

The old man by the sea wall had just shown the spry boy the view through his big lens and the boy was excited. "Can I hold it?" he asked.

"No," came the quick answer. "It's too heavy for you."

"Can I hold the little one?" he asked. Little one? Maybe a PowerShot G12, we guessed, tucked into the big camera bag on the old man's shoulder.

"No, not that one either," the man said gruffly, as if he'd been down this road before with the boy. "It's expensive. Not you or your Dad can afford to buy another one if you drop it."

"I won't drop it."

"Yes, you will. You almost dropped it before, over at the dock, when I let you take a picture with it. You were lucky to catch it before it hit the ground."

The boy didn't have an argument against how lucky he was.

We walked past them to a seat on the wall. A few minutes later, they passed us on their way back from where they had come.

"That's a good picture!" the boy beamed, pointing at the old Balclutha square-rigger docked inside the breakwater. It must have looked like a pirate ship to him.

"Yes, it is," the old man agreed without looking up or lifting the big Canon.

Unphased, the boy tried again a few steps later. "How does a zoom work?"

"There are ways," the old man said wearily, out of his depths.

What a great question, we thought. Perhaps the same question Carl Zeiss had once asked his grandfather. Who knows? But isn't that how it starts? This love of photography, this fascination with optics, this game of science and art with unending levels to play.

We thought of how we might have answered. Picking something familiar like a magnifying glass. Or binoculars. Or a telescope. Things a boy would have known about, would have understood. But quickly, we too were out of our depth.

As they walked out of earshot, we heard the little voice try once more, this time with more patience than we had imagined he possessed.

"Grandpa, I think I need a camera for Christmas."

No question about it.

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