Sometimes it's the simplest advice that is the most useful.
I experienced such a moment 36 years ago. It wasn't a life-changing experience; nothing really profound about it, for that matter.
It had to do with photography.
I was a regular customer of the Card and Camera Corral on the corner of Leroux Street and Santa Fe Avenue in Flagstaff. The owner was Art Berger, who died last week at the age of 95.
In a lot of ways, I spent the last three decades following Art around. As I said before, I was a regular in his old Flagstaff shop. It was the era of film photography and he was my No. 1 source for advice, film, photo paper, chemicals and all the other darkroom ingredients that combined to make the magic of photography.
Later, Art would move to Cottonwood and I would soon follow in 1985. In the Verde Valley, for years he owned the Art's Shutterbug and so my continued fascination with photography made me still a regular customer.
I bought four cameras from Art over the years. The first was a 35-mm Yashica TL-Electro that you can still buy today on ebay for $60. Later, I bought a used battle-axe also known as the Nikon F1 that I used for 15 years. Before the era of film gave way to the digital age, I purchased two Nikon N-2000s from Art. One was always loaded with 400-speed black and white film. The other was ready to go with 200-speed color slide film. I also bought countless lenses, flashes and other photo accessories from Art.
The first camera, the Yashica TL-Electro, used screw-mount lenses, as did the old Pentax 35-mm models. One day while in the Card and Camera Corral, I noticed Art had a used 135-mm, f/2.8 Pentax lens. I knew it would fit my Yashica, so I asked if I could see it.
I mounted the lens, pulled it up to my eye and as I began to focus, Art abruptly stopped me and took the camera from me.
I was all elbows, he told me. "You look like a bird flapping in the wind."
And that's when he gave me the best advice I ever received about photography. It's advice I've repeated countless times over the years to young photographers and reporters when I've seen them looking like a bird flapping in the wind. Further, it's advice that still holds true today in this digital age of photography.
No. 1: You hold the base of the camera flat against the palm of your left hand and use those fingers to focus and set the lens aperture.
No. 2: You pull your left elbow in firmly against the side of your body. This allows your body and palm to serve as a tripod for the camera.
No. 3: Your right hand does nothing but deftly click the shutter button.
Again, there is nothing profound about this advice. Nothing about it was life-changing. But, for whatever reasons, it always stuck with me. Further, I really can't think of many other examples of advice given to me over the years that I so totally bought into, or even remembered.
But I've always been a stickler for proper form when taking photographs.
So, Art, thanks for always taking the time to talk with me when I came into your store.
Thanks for always being a gentleman.
Thanks for always prodding me to serve my community and go to church.
Mostly though, thanks for teaching me how to properly hold a camera.