On the Fear of Taking Other Families' Holiday Photos

By Reader Alan Hill on at

So I'm on holiday, enjoying a leisurely sunset stroll with my family, still feeling bloated from forcing one too many ribs down in that lovely restaurant by the beach. My bliss is shattered however by a faltering, almost apologetic chap approaching me holding out a camera, pointing at his nervously-waiting family by the water's edge. Oh heck, I feel like a midwife charged with delivering his first born; this man has handed me the responsibility of capturing his one and only holiday photo that has the whole family in it.

I assume that the responsibility has been passed to me since my wife has decided that the tacky souvenir shop behind her suddenly contains the latest in Milan fashions. Considering the generally tech-savvy readership of Giz, I'm assuming that more than one of you has become the IT help desk for family and friends. I've discovered that this also extends to strangers' photo-taking responsibilities.

The language barrier is the next hurdle, if the other family members speak the same language then great, it's just a quick "would you mind, here you go, just press the big silver button". If they speak another language then you are left with usually "please", "por favor" or something together with the universal "please take a photo" gesture -- two hands raised, making a C shape and its mirror, with one finger giving an exaggerated downward "click" on the imaginary big silver button.

The other decision is of course to refuse to take a photo, but what kind of soulless animal are you? I suspect that no-one in human history has ever refused to take that photo.

So there I am, finding myself in possession of this chap's holiday camera.

That's where the quandaries start. If it's a full DSLR, well I don't own one of those -- is it point and click, should I start turning the lens thingy so that it looks like I know what I'm doing? Does he expect me to use the neck strap; do I commit to fully putting it over my head? I certainly don't fancy dropping £1,000 worth of someone else's pride and joy. How awkward would that conversation be? So I dutifully pop the strap over my head, in for a penny in for a pound, I tell myself. He's now thinking, wait a sec, this guy's going to run off with my camera!

The alternative, of course, is that he has a tiny compact camera, the size of a pack of fags and made from that shiny metal that my still-greasy-from-a-full-rack-of-ribs hands are trying to grab frantically at, before my hands fumble and the camera pops high into the air and over the sea wall.

Now the convention on actually taking the photo. He arranges his troops, all with that fixed photo smile (blimey does no one do reportage style holiday photos these days?) I make sure it's switched on, press the shutter; all seems OK. Now, how many to take, definitely not just one, that would be an amateur mistake -- in the days of digital photography, who takes only one photo of anything? I better get a few, even though the subjects, frame, hardware, and climate are all exactly the same -- just in case, I tell myself. In case what, the laws of physics suddenly change in those two seconds, causing you to capture an alternative reality?

So one is out, two is a bit lazy. Three seems anecdotally the right mixture of eagerness to not disappoint, while still avoiding being adopted by the family.

So, I relax, stand up straight, hand over the camera with the kind of look that a dog might give you wondering if it did good in retrieving your slippers/newspaper etc.

The chap turns the camera around, takes a cursory glance and responds with a quick series of nods and gratitude in some language or other. I know however that he's not had nearly enough time to fully check each picture; he hasn't even zoomed in on one of them. He now won't discover until he gets home that the most important photo taken on his holiday is any good or not. That leaves a knot in my stomach.

Now the inevitable next step -- he points to my family, and does the universal photo gesture. Oh god, he's offering to take one of us.

If he was rocking the full DSLR I immediately feel somewhat lacking in the CMOS department as I pull out my little Argos £50 special. He takes it, finds the big silver button, excellent, he knows his stuff. Wait though, the wrist strap man, dear God the wrist strap! I cringe as he waves my untethered camera around, dangerously close to an appointment with Davy Jones's locker.

Oh well, heart palpitations aside I get my family in order, with a nice backdrop as long as he frames the picture right. I might have a CMOS the size of a grasshopper's toenail, but I know you shouldn't block the lovely sunset with the smiling silhouette of the family intended to be the subjects.

He seems to know his stuff; shouts some smile-inducing phrase then presses the big silver button. He then motions to give the camera back to me, complete with self-satisfied grin. Wait, what? Only one -- haven't we've been through this? What can I say, "sorry amigo that's not enough, frame it back up and keep clicking". I'm too British to do anything like that. So, time to give it the cursory glance and nod my approval, knowing full well that as soon as I am out of sight of him I'll get zooming in on that single photo to check it thoroughly, before finding that either my little one is cropped out, two of us are blinking or the whole thing is blurred because that exaggerated pressing of the silver button is actually how he takes all his photos; only his £1,000 model can compensate for this using its "earthquake" mode.

He disappears around a corner, so having already deleted that photo I decide to look out for someone else to take another attempt. Should be easy, right? Everyone is on holiday, so there are loads of willing volunteers. That's not the problem though -- what if the original family decide to head back into town for a gelato, and they then turn the corner to find you posing in front of someone else's camera, smiling at the IT helpdesk of another family. Betrayal! What's going on, the look in his face says. Was it me, was it something I said? The spot in front of the sunset is still warm, and already you've found someone else. All I can do is give a sympathetic look -- it wasn't you, it was me, I'm too fussy, I didn't want you to see me like this.

My look goes unreturned as he and the family walk on by; I'm sure I can even detect a disgusted look in the face of his baby in the pram.

Alan is an IT consultant and freelancer, as well as being an artist and keen hobbyist woodworker. Add him on LinkedIn here.

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Image Credit: Family photo from Dalboz17