“Nice camera!”

I like people a lot, and I shoot almost nothing but portraits and candids, mostly at events like parties and nightclubs. People often come up to me and say “Nice camera!”

I used to think they were actually talking about the camera, and I’d smile and say “Thanks! I like it,” or if I was REALLY drunk I’d tell them the total cost of the body, lens, haze filter, flash, and memory card, and that would end the conversation without much reason for either of us to like the other.

Now, when I hear “Nice camera!”, I take it as:

1. a vaguely well-meaning compliment
2. an expression of interest: in photography, in being photographed, or in me personally

So I thank them for the compliment and sometimes that’s that. But if I’m interested in continuing the conversation, I reply with a question. Some examples:

“Thank you! Are you into photography?”

Sometimes they are; sometimes not. What’s really gratifying is talking to the people who love to take snapshots and are looking for just a little bit of permission from an “expert” to begin thinking of themselves as photographers. For those folks who next ask “What kind of camera should I buy?”, sometimes I go through the whole conversation: what do you have now? what do you want to do with it? are you likely to carry a big camera around? But what I often say now is:

“Buy the newest Canon Rebel you can afford and a 50mm f1.8 lens. Set it to “A”, set the aperture to f/2, and take pictures of your friends without flash. Put the good pictures on Facebook or Flickr. If you haven’t used it after 6 months, sell it.”

In any case, asking about their interest in photography is a chance to get them talking about themselves, which is a good way to make friends.

“Thank you! Can I take your picture?”

Sometimes that’s all they wanted in the first place; in that case I do it and then tell them to find me on Facebook (*cough* http://facebook.com/benjyfeen *cough*). I’ve met a lot of people that way. A variation on that response is “Thank you! Hey, that’s a cute (tattoo | dog | ironic T-shirt | bunch of friends). Can I take a picture of it?” This is different from just asking to take their picture; it’s a compliment on their taste, rather than their looks, and it’s an opportunity to have a more general conversation.

I enjoy connecting with most people, so it’s nice that photography offers me that opportunity. When I’m not in the mood to connect with someone, I like knowing how to bow out gracefully. And hey—sometimes they just think it’s a nice camera.