The Fifteen Second Rule

The camera hates me.

Why? Because the instant a camera points at me, I freeze faster than ice cream laced with liquid nitrogen (think Dippin’ Dots). This is why I love digital cameras and DON’T miss the old days of “point-shoot-develop.” Horrible images can NOW vanish with the click of a button.

You know the kinds of pictures I’m talking about.

  • Where you’re caught taking a huge bite of a messy burger.
  • Or talking, with hand gestures in full force.
  • Or making a horrible face as you describe the sugar, fat and gluten free brownies you hoped would be your diet savior.

History has shown me that my best photos happen when I’m relaxed, thinking “happy thoughts” and then flash a squint-eyed, tooth-filled smile.

On a recent trip to Gettysburg, while trudging the sidewalks in near triple digit temperatures, we stumbled into the photography antique photo studios of Rob Gibson and agreed to have a family photo taken.

Mr. Gibson motioned to his antique 1860’s camera and held up piece of flat, rectangular metal. “You’ll need to stand still for fifteen seconds so the picture doesn’t blur. I’ll take the photo on a tin plate and then apply chemical, which I mix myself, to get the picture to appear.”

Fifteen seconds. My entire family agreed…we could stand still that long.

For a nano-second, I considered my relationship with today’s cameras then shoved aside any worries since my family was pretty excited. The photographer’s wife found me a civil war period gown that would rival the wardrobe of Scarlett O’Hara. I tossed my fears out the window and raced my daughter to the dressing room.

The photographer posed us in a stance reminiscent of another era; my husband dressed as a Union officer, my daughter and I in our gowns.

As I was about to utter, all breathy, “I do declare, I think Rhett Butler entered the party,” The photographer caught my eye and said “Only a little smile.”

I did my best to imitate the Mona Lisa, all the while considering every bad photo from my past where I didn’t go full-front smile.

“Perfect.” He lifted the dark cloth in front of a vintage camera.

Thus began the longest click of a camera I’ve ever stood still for in my entire life.

About three seconds into it, I felt the ‘freeze-frame’ tenseness of my muscles. Like when I’m waiting for my husband to take a picture and he’s adjusting the dials. Wild thoughts raced through my head. How’s my hair? Did I move from the pose? Do clothes from the nineteenth century make me look fat?

Are you wondering how the picture came out?

My inner-angst magnified under the camera’s eye. In other words, take my usual stiff “on-camera” expression of this century and multiply it by the fifteen seconds.

Let’s leave it at this statement…I love owning a picture of what my family would’ve looked like à la 1860. But I’m quite thankful to live in a time when there’s no fifteen second rule for taking pictures.

Below is how I FELT getting my picture taken. You’ll never see how I actually looked. Sorry.

Anybody other camera-phobics out there?

Scarlett O'Hara

How I “felt” during my 1860 photo session.


19 responses to “The Fifteen Second Rule

  1. Yeah, fifteen seconds is a LONG time when you are posing and all the self-consciousness creeps in. I think that’s why people from that era always look like someone just told them their barn burned down. I was a camera-phobe when I was a braces wearing teenager. But I also had a determined group of friends and relatives and discovered they would take pictures of me whether I wanted them to or not. Trying to hide was futile, and I always wound up looking awful or ridiculous in the pics. So I just gave in and smiled whenever anyone pointed a camera at me. To my happy surprise, I found that if you just don’t care about the pics anymore, you look a lot better in them.

    I want to hear more about Gettysburg. That’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit.

  2. OMG! I hate having my picture taken, hence no pictures on my website, blog etc. I guess someday I’ll have to get over the phobia, but I don’t see it happening any time soon 🙂 Great post, Sharon and I’d love to see the picture!!

  3. My husband and I probably had our photo taken at the same Gettysburg shop. In fact, we like the result so much we swapped the old-timey photo for our formal wedding portrait. Our daughter has it hanging in her house too.

    • He does beautiful work, Betsy. Glad to hear yours was so nice. In fact, my daughter looked beautiful! Seems no matter what century I’m destined to live, the camera and I will never be friends. Thanks for posting, Betsy.

  4. I take horrific pictures and my daughter invariably likes to snap me asleep watching t.v. at night with my mouth wide open! Grrr… I like the new technology where I can instantly delete those awful photos.

    • Hi Patti. Bet your daughter thinks she’s pretty funny, too. Yes, thank god for delete! My daughters have done it when I’m talking. When I see the pictures, I’m privy to my hand-flying, over exaggerated facial expressions. Good think we love these kids, huh? 🙂 Thanks for posting!

  5. Thanks for sharing Sharon. I don’t think too many people are crazy about having their picture taken. But as your friend commented, you can be surprised sometimes that a picture taken will come out o.k. if you do relax and not worry to much about the process. We went to Gettysburg many years ago and it is quite an experience to be there and feel the presence of the history that took place there many years ago.

    • Hi Pat, You’re right. Gettysburg really does leave you feeling a presence of the history that took place there. This was our second trip and I’ll bet we make a third. Thanks for posting!

  6. My father was a professional photographer, so there was no way I could not have my picture taken! He took pictures of everything! Sorry you had such a stressful experience. I wish your photo had come out better! I love Gettysburg — did you visit the Jenny Wade House? That was a cool place to visit, along with all its ghostly photos in the basement.

    • Hi Betty. Maybe the good thing about your father’s occupation is that you grew up more relaxed around a camera then me. Gettysburg is amazing! While I didn’t go into the Jenny Wade house, we saw it and learned her story. In fact, her story fascinated me so much, I found myself curious about the civilians in the midst of the Gettysburg battle and bought a book on the topic. Maybe a little research for a future work of romantic fiction?
      Perhaps :-)…Thanks for posting!

  7. LOL! Great post, Sharon – I had one of those pictures done with my husband (then boyfriend) about 17 years ago. You’ve inspired me to go find it – you show me yours, I’ll show you mine! 😉

    And i’m super jealous you’ve been to Gettysburg!

    Rachel x

    • Hi Rachel. Glad I inspired you to find yours! Well, it seems the only times I’ve been inspired to show the photograph, I’ve had a glass of wine in my hands. Guess you’ll have to join me a drink in order to get a peek 🙂
      Maybe when you come to the states to visit Gettysburg? Thanks for posting!

  8. No fair, Sharon – you teased us the whole blog – we wanna see that photo!!!!

    • Hi Laura. Yes, I came real close to the big reveal . But there are limits to how much I can put out there for the public a writer. That horrible photo was my limit 🙂 Thanks for posting!

  9. I have the same discrepancy between what I feel like when the camera is pointed at me and what appears on the photo:)

    Great post!

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