FAQ (Frequently Annoying Questions)

December 2, 2009 

Work in any job long enough and your pet peeves are bound to multiply into a menagerie, often cross-breeding with other annoyances to create unforeseen mutants that make you question your will to live.

I've covered a number of these already. Things like being spotted by a subject you wanted to photograph candidly and dealing with overzealous officials who make my job difficult, or post-shoot gripes of head-scratching praise and unforseen complaints.

But as the Hallmarks of the world remind us, it's really the little things that make up our lives, and most of the smoothing of my molars can be attributed to the dumb little questions and comments I hear all the time.

Some of the most common involve confusion between video and still cameras.

"What channel is this on?"

"What time will this be on TV?"

Or the annoyingly sing-song, "Can I be on TV?" often delivered by a chorus of smiling little faces.

Evidently, TV reporters sometimes get asked what page their report will be on tomorrow. Learning this twisted my brain into a pretzel convoluted enough to blow M.C. Escher's mind. I suppose I could illustrate the differences by showing you a photo of Charter Communications’ Lloyd Swain and KEPR's Ruth Johnson at a press conference:

next to one that photo editor Bob Brawdy shot for a house ad we ran to promote our high school graduation photo galleries:

but that would be embarrassing because I'm acting a fool with a nonsensical lens setup.

Another grimace-inducing query comes up during portrait shoots. Sometimes the question comes from somebody who is used to being in control, sometimes it comes from somebody who doesn't trust me, sometimes because they're accustomed to basic snaps where everybody smiles standing shoulder to shoulder and sometimes the person just wants to be helpful, but it almost always starts the same way:

Are you sure...?

Or its more insulting cousin:

Wouldn't it be better if...?

Perhaps my youthful appearance is to blame — a definite possibility since I've been carded for an "R" movie in recent memory (I'm 26) — but shouldn't the fact that a company is willing to employ me full-time with benefits to make photographs be reassuring enough? Truthfully, it’s really not that bad if the person checks in once. Usually, a serious "yes" is enough to nip this line of questioning in the bud, but it's tough to remain cordial when being second-guessed for the fifth time.

Gear questions are still the most frequent, however. I don't mind talking about my setup with photo enthusiasts as long as I'm not busy. What irks me is usually not the question, but the follow-up conclusion, "I bet you can take some really great photos with that camera." Certainly, better tools make the job easier, but I resent the marginalization of everything else that goes into making a great photo — anticipation, timing, building rapport and knowing how to utilize both artificial and natural light.

There is one comment and question that I hear nearly every time I cover sports, which usually requires our relatively beefy 300mm f/2.8 and 200mm f/1.8.

"Trade ya!"

"Are you sure that lens is big enough?"

Sure, both are harmless and funny enough in an awkward-small-talk sort of way, but with each successive experience, I let out a longer sigh. At some point, I'm sure I'll reach critical mass, exhaling to the point of unconsciousness. The worst part is that I have yet to come up with an appropriately sassy or funny retort, but even if I did, repeating that response would quickly become just as vapid.

Actually, I lied. The worst part came during a dreadful game on July 31, 2009, when Salem-Keizer scored 8 runs in the third inning en route to a 16-1 rout over the Dust Devils. The hot, humid night was competing with the exceptionally boring game in draining the life out of me.

Then came the aforementioned "You sure that lens is big enough?"

I did my best to see what the top of my eye sockets look like before looking back through the viewfinder. A few minutes later I heard the same voice yell out, "Mine’s bigger!" before his self-satisfied chuckle drifted away, pulling even more of my soul with it.

This wouldn’t be so terrible if it wasn't followed by the dumbest. question. ever.

'Can you even see anything through that camera?"

This assault on common sense and decency came from a nearby spectator while I was actively shooting photos of whatever awful play was unfolding. I assume he was asking how I could see what was going on through such a long lens, but my patience had been melted thin and I could only stew in annoyance.

"Yep," I said shortly, fearing that if I actually looked at him, I might fulfill my twisted fantasy of fighting somebody with the 6 pound chunk of metal and glass affixed to the end of my camera. Thankfully, Herald employee Kati Toms, who happened to be at the game that night, dropped by with a cold bottle of water. That simple gesture was enough to bring me back from the edge, which was doubly fortunate because this boring shot of Salem-Keizer's Evan Crawford sliding safely into second was the best photo I grabbed to illustrate Tri-City's loss:

Obviously, these types of annoyances aren’t unique to photojournalism. Every job that involves interpersonal dealings carries its own blend of gripes that can make you surprisingly livid, only to keep your blood pressure high after you’ve gone home and explained how terrible your day was because it never really sounds that bad when you talk about it.

Sadly, unlike poverty and know-it-all twentysomething sociology majors, this plague will never be cured. But like these insurmountable problems, there is something you can do. The next time you see somebody doing their job and a marginally funny joke pops into your head faster than your wit generally allows, reconsider blurting it out. You might not make somebody's day, but at least you won't ruin it either.


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