Luck Trumps Skill

I grew up watching my dad take pictures. On vacation he’d “wear” his Leica for black & white, his Exacta for color slides, and in his camera bag he’d also have his Keystone or Bolex movie projector and his Polaroid instant camera. Among our family values: Never object to pulling off the road for a picture. Pose with a smile, not a smirk. Wear something red. Admire sunsets.

Back home my mother curated the slide collection, and curated was the word. They belonged to a camera club that set intriguing monthly topics: “birds,” “Wordsworth,” or “lavender,” and everyone delved into their extensive slide collections, each bringing 20 slides for a fun evening.

My sister is now curating those slides, more power to her, and we both continue the family tradition of snapping early and often. I don’t have a fancy SLR, and I’m not “technical,” but I have a pretty good eye.

So last summer, when we took our eldest granddaughter on a Tauck “Bridges” family tour to Italy, I planned to enter Tauck’s photo contest. In my father’s tradition, I took two cameras, a small point-and-shoot Fiji good for low light cathedrals, and a slightly more pretentious Canon, also point-and-shoot but with a fold-out viewfinder. (A shout-out to Lou and Brian Asack of New York Camera for helping me figure out what cameras I wanted and teaching me how to use them.)

I went through Rome and Florence trying to take a prize-winning shot with the fancier Canon, setting up the dramatic compositions, bracketing exposures. I thought I had some good ones. Then we got to Venice. On the last day, for our gondola ride, I stepped into the boat with my little Fiji on the wrist of one hand and held onto the boat with the other hand.

No sooner had I sat down than our friends sitting in the “lovers’ seat” started clowning around — smooching. Their son and my granddaughter thought it was hilarious.

Quickly and without thinking I snapped their photo, to give them as a souvenir.

That was my prize winning photo, because that was the moment that the couple’s seven year old daughter, overcome with embarrassment, buried her face in her hands. I didn’t know that when I took it. Only later did I realize I had a Contender for the Contest. Sure enough, it won first prize, a $2,000 certificate for our next Tauck trip.

The only downside to my delight was that the terrific photo resulted from pure dumb luck, not by skill or planning. (I like the uncropped version even better, available here.)

Now it’s one of four feature photos on the front page of and I’m planning to use up the certificate with our next trip when, once again, I’ll have two cameras, one for fancy, one for quick.

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