Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Amateur Photography

I love to take pictures. Sometimes I obsess over it. I'm dangerous with a camera in my paws. I will look at every angle, look at the light source, and toil over the proper composition and balance. But, as much as I incorporate these elements into my photos, the most important part is this: making sure the focus stays on the subject.

Probably 95% of the time, I am the one pointing and shooting the camera in our family. That's because I know how to take a good picture. I know what I want in the photo. My wife, Amy, also knows how to take a good photo, but her hands shake too much (she'll tell you that). So, I'm the photographer in the family.

Obviously, there are times when we want to capture a moment on film (or on a memory card) of our entire family. That means I have to give up the camera, and pray someone else can take a decent photo.

Most of the time, here is what happens: the person taking the photo has the four of us in the middle of the frame, from our heads to the soles of our shoes. Everything around us is also in the photo - that kid with ice cream all over his face, the mom scolding the same child, the cell phone tower in the distance, and the hot dog cart on the street corner. I only wanted the four of us in the frame, but instead the photographer crammed in everything without thinking about what matters most.

Many of us do the same thing with our time. We don't think about what matters most, so we just cram in everything, and hope the "main thing" is part of the picture. As Tony Morgan would say, the "cockroaches" of our lives take precedent, and cause us to chase down things that are not worth our time, effort, or money. It's when the telephone pole is clearly in view, but I can't make out whose faces are in the photo.

In a really good photo, we have people facing the light, not away from it. When we have people in the shot, we go from shoulder to shoulder across the frame, whether there's one person or ten. You check that a tree trunk does not appear to be coming out of the top of someone's head. When you are indoors, almost always use a flash (unless you have a tripod and can set the aperture to a higher setting to allow more light to filter in). And, always make sure your subject is in focus.

It takes intentionality to take a great photo. And, it's no different when it comes to protecting our schedules, and putting the most important people in our lives at the top.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Perhaps you are a Twittering Text-a-holic, or an Emailing Facebookie. You spend hours each day updating your status, twittering away for your followers, texting to your heart’s content, and addicted to your email – more than likely delivered to your mobile device. You have 1,532 facebook friends, 891 twits who follow you, and your unlimited texting plan is what you live for. You just can’t get enough. You’re more connected than ever.

Or, are you?

For those of us 30 and older, we can still remember what it’s like to have a conversation with someone. But, those days are seemingly coming to a crashing halt. Technology, along with mismanaged time and an overextended schedule, has led to this connected-disconnected dichotomy.

I heard someone say recently that people don’t read email anymore, only texts. Really? Or, have we just allowed the cell phone providers talk us into believing that?

A mother recently told me that when she calls her teenage daughter while she is out with friends, the daughter refuses to answer the phone. “It’s too embarrassing to talk to your mom in front of friends,” she said. So, her mom now texts her daughter, “that way, no one knows she’s communicating with her mom.”

I heard a dad talk about taking his teenage daughter and her friend to a baseball game recently. He looked over at her during the game, and she was texting away. He asked her who she was texting, and she said, “Her,” and motioned to her friend sitting in the seat right beside her!

It’s reported that facebook now has more than 300 million users. That number would form the fourth largest country in the world! I also read that between 5,000-10,000 new Twitter accounts are opened each day! But, what you don’t hear is that 60% of twits close their account within the first month, rarely - if ever - post, and don’t follow anyone. And, I think I know why.

With Twitter, it’s a one monologue. It’s one-sided. There’s no conversation. It doesn’t fill a void (unless it’s a need to feel needed).

Facebook, on the other hand, is a conversation…but it’s still relatively passive. I can chat, exchange comments, send notes and invitations…but it requires little effort or interpersonal skills. And, if you want to know my true opinion, it’s a way for insecure people to feel affirmed and validated. I mean, who DOESN’T love for people to comment when you post “Going to bed. Night night.” on your wall?

At the end of the day, I believe that technology has given us a false sense of connection. Yes, in sheer numbers, we are connected like never before. As last count, I had 450+ facebook friends. But, I probably would only consider 15-20 of those people REAL friends. The rest are acquaintances, co-workers, family, and friends of friends. And, I get an inflated ego by having more and more friends. It makes me feel and appear important. But, I’m really not investing relationally with anyone by sending them an invite to join the latest cause, or to join the next cool group, or to compare tastes in movies, or what Disney character is most like me.

Am I against texting, email, facebook, or Twitter? No. But, when we spend hours on end on these sites, and communicate with people 160 characters at a time through a text, and never engage with people face-to-face, we actually end up becoming withdrawn, isolated, and lonely.

We all know that we can be surrounded by hundreds of people, and still feel lonely. I urge you to continue to invest in people’s lives, build relationships, and connect – not just from your phone or your computer – but in person.