I often carry my Nikon D80 digital SLR camera when I visit downtown Washington DC. Professional photographers usually refer to that model as a ‘prosumer’ camera, a consumer-grade camera with many features found on professional cameras. But often the average person who sees me adjusting the zoom lens while looking through the viewfinder thinks I am a pro. So I am frequently asked to take pictures of tourists with their pocket cameras because “you look like you know what’s you’re doing.” Who am I to argue with their assessment?
During my camera-and-people adventure in DC Sunday, while walking up the hill toward the Washington Monument, a couple walking down the hill stopped me and asked me to take their picture looking the other direction with the Lincoln Memorial in the background. I took two shots, one like they asked, then one a little closer so their faces filled the frame. That’s something a pro would often suggest. I framed it with the Lincoln Memorial between their faces; I know they’ll like it.
My friend who helped me break through my writer’s block suggested that during my photo adventure I should strike up a conversation with a total stranger, so I chatted up this couple for a minute.
In less than sixty seconds, I learned they are from Chicago (and after hearing me speak, they thought maybe I was also from the Midwest; not so, but maybe I sound like it). They were here for a wedding in nearby Virginia, this is their first visit to DC and they realized quickly that there was so much to see that they plan to visit again for at least a week. I pointed out the direction of five other nearby landmarks and the one that got their attention the most was the Vietnam War Memorial. We wished each other well and walked off in opposite directions.
I like to guess things about people by observing their actions, mannerism, clothing and appearance. So here is the rest of what I believe about them, purely from non-verbal cues. They guy is 55-62 years old, so the Viet Nam war era means something to him, even if he isn’t a veteran. He is physically fit and well-groomed, probably has a good white collar job, is a bit traditional and is a take-charge guy. His female companion is probably his wife, slightly younger than he is, not as fit, maybe more of a traditional wife. They didn’t mention kids and none were with them, so I think they might be empty nesters with kids in college or beyond. They might even be young grandparents. She might be his second wife. That is plenty to guess, but that generation tends to be more predictable so there is a good chance I’ve nailed the details.
Something I re-learned about myself during my DC day is that I am somewhat timid walking up to total strangers. I have no problem talking with people I don’t know, but my usual conversation starter involves a shared situation, like standing next to a total stranger who just missed the same subway car I did or standing next to someone in an unreasonably long line at a concession stand. Maybe next time I try this, I’ll specifically seek out strangers with no logical connection and attempt to make one. What have I got to lose?
And next time someone asks me to take their picture with their camera I’m going to ask them if I can take one of them with mine.