FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
I was bitten by the camera bug when I was about 12. The idea that something as small as a camera could be so powerful was absolutely amazing. This wasn’t a passing childhood whim—the fascination with capturing images became a major part of my life and ultimately played a part in becoming editor of this magazine. Along the way, photography taught me some important life lessons.
Technology is only part of it: When I was a kid, the 35 mm SLR (single lens reflex) was a hot new item. It was a huge step up from the basic box camera. Plus, if you had an SLR, you had the badge of a pro. I started working part-time when I was 14 and, by the time I was 16, I’d saved enough to buy my first real camera, a Fujica ST 701. I even paid $25 extra to get the all black “professional” finish to tell the world I was serious. I just knew that camera would transport me into the world of the pros.
However, equipment alone doesn’t make it happen. No matter how much I fiddled with the camera settings, I had to learn to see. Technology can’t make up for basic skills that must be learned. But once you’ve mastered those critical basics, good technology can improve your results.
The value of perspective: Being able to change lenses is a real boon to getting good photos, largely because you can alter perspective. By changing focal length, you can choose to take in more information with a wide angle or focus attention on a particular aspect of a scene with a telephoto. You can even use a macro lens to get really close and fill the frame with a small flower or insect.
Life works this way also. You can choose to look at the big picture and consider all available information or you can concentrate on a single aspect, ignoring virtually everything else. And, as with the macro lens, there are times when you need to really get in close and examine things in detail to make sure you understand what you’re dealing with. The truth of this lesson in perspective wasn’t lost on me when I took on supervisory and management responsibilities. It proved beneficial many times as I went through the mental exercise of looking at the overall situation, then up-close and, when appropriate, at the fine print.
Filters: Lens filters alter the way your final image looks. A “cross-star” filter changes points of light into stars and a “polarizer” knocks down glare while deepening blue skies. It’s noteworthy that the original scene is the same. It’s the resulting image that’s altered because of the filter.
Life experiences create the equivalent of filters on people, causing them to see situations differently than someone who doesn’t share those filters. Example: A person raised in a poor, crime-ridden part of the city by a working single parent might see the world one way. A person raised in affluence and security will likely see the same world differently. As the saying goes, “walk a mile in my shoes …”
I call it the filter effect, and remembering it has proven incredibly valuable to me. When people react strongly to something, understanding where they’re coming from is helpful. More importantly, it’s been my experience that unless a person is totally irrational, understanding the filters of their experience frequently makes it possible to come to a negotiated position acceptable to both sides.
The relationship of time and depth: In photography, there’s a direct relationship between the area in focus (depth of field) and the amount of time that the shutter is open. To get greater depth of field, you have to use a smaller aperture. This requires a slower shutter speed to allow enough light.
Here’s the life parallel: To get a task done properly requires a degree of focus. When you take on multiple tasks and have to extend your area of focus, there’s only one way to do it—slow down. If you don’t, you’ll be operating in the dark and your resulting decisions won’t be sound.
To recap: 1) practice your craft until you’ve mastered the fundamentals and then leverage technology to make the best of your skills; 2) consider the perspectives required by the situation—a general overview vs. a focused and detailed review; 3) consider the perspective and life experience of the people with whom you interact; 4) good work requires focus, and sometimes this means slowing down even as things get busy.
Follow these lessons and you’ll be a better person—and a better cop.