Friday, December 12, 2008

Every picture tells a story:

Devastation, drama ... and the decision

In early 2003, I bought my first single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, a Canon Rebel 35mm. I chose Canon because I had remembered the beautiful, quality images a friend of mine would get, time after time, with his Canon AE-1 back in the 1980s.

I used the Rebel extensively at family events and would get prints made from the local CVS drugstore. But the back-and-forth soon got tedious, and it wasn't long before I was thinking seriously about taking the technological leap to digital. The big obstacle was expense: My film Rebel had cost me a modest $200, but you couldn't buy even an entry-level digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) for under $1,000. Quite the disparity. But the more I kept going back and forth to CVS, the greater digital appealed to me -- its ability to load jepgs onto my computer and work with them at home at my leisure.

I capped my days as a film user in a blaze of professional satisfaction. On Sunday, May 30, 2004, tornadoes swept through Central Indiana, and one of them touched down in my neighborhood, its path sweeping a mere four blocks from my house. Fortunately, there were no human casualties in our neighborhood, but there was plenty of destruction. The next day, I grabbed my film Rebel and shot two rolls, documenting the devastation that had come so close to home. I immediately got prints made, using the one-hour service, scanned them into high-resolution jpegs and sent them via e-mail to The Indianapolis Star, offering them for publication.

The Star published one of the images, five columns wide, on the jump page of the lead storm story in the A section of its main editions. Five columns wide. The published image (below) showed the length of a desolate-looking Troy Avenue, one telephone pole snapped in half and another tilting from the wind savagery, utility cables supporting debris snagged from the indiscriminate gusts, and helter-skelter rubble. Seeing that photo in print gave me a career rush I hadn't had in ages. And it wasn't just because they decided to use one of my frames, or only because they chose to play it that prominently. What jump-started my adrenaline the most, I think, was that out of 48 images I'd submitted to experts in the field of documentary photography, The Star editors and I concurred -- without having had any discussion -- on which frame was the best. A few days later, the newspaper selected several other photos from my shoot and published them in tandem with follow-up stories in a smaller-circulated zoned edition that covered my area of the city.

All this clinched my inkling to go digital. I wanted to rekindle that artistic joy I experienced back in college and on the weekly newspaper I worked on shortly out of college. And to learn more.

At the time, Canon's first-generation, entry-level Digital Rebel, the 300D, had been on the market for about six months. I looked at Canon because I was familiar with the Rebel film body and owned the EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 telephoto lens, which I knew I also could use with any EOS digital body I might acquire. So I researched the Canon digital line, compared the specs and read as many reviews that I could find. The 20D, which was in the next level up of Canon bodies, also was on the market (or would soon be), as were the professional-level, full-frame Marks, which many of the newspaper photographers used.

I decided to put my trust in Canon, and on June 12, 2004, I took the plunge ... and went the entry-level route. I became the owner of a Canon Digital Rebel 300D.

To see a full gallery of photos from the tornado damage shoot, visit

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