Upgrade Your Art With Money, Not Talent

I know a good camera doesn’t make a good photographer, but I just want to be mediocre. That’s why Mom got me a camera over Black Friday: to satisfy my aspirations toward the average with the cheapest expensive option.


I wanted to try out an actual camera not embedded in a smartphone for our winter break trip to Florida and Cuba. Just for fun, I wanted to up the photography ante. I’ve been trigger-happy on past trips (and in general.) So I figured, at some point, if I’m going to have too many photos anyway, they might as well be good.

(For context, below are pictures I took the summer of last year in Alaska, one from a cruise ship. Some more gems like these can be found in that post, I Can’t Believe I’m Not a Master Photographer Yet)

According to a fellow cruiser I met in Havana, Cuba, a sweet old man who launched into a lecture on photography framing and proceeded to show me the most pixelated photo of his wife I’d ever seen—though I guess to be fair it was the only picture of his wife I’d seen—cameras are good enough nowadays that any bozo can take a thousand pictures and have several turn out great.

I’d planned on employing the technique of taking shots from wildly random angles so that, statistically, at least one would be artistic. Then I found out Mom hadn’t bought a memory card manufactured within the last decade so I had only 300 photos to use wisely.

I knew exactly what I’d spend my storage on.

In Key West, FL, our first stop, one of the main attractions is the Hemingway House. Ernest Hemingway was a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer-winning American writer famous for his economical prose, and he wrote around 70 percent of his works during the decade he lived in his Key West residence.

The Hemingway House was perfect. I always tell people I love reading and writing, a passion exemplified by my toxic relationship with Hemingway’s novel A Sun Also Rises. By which I mean I keep starting the book, reaching the middle, getting too busy, coming back, forgetting where I was, starting over, repeat. I’ve read the beginning at least three times and thus think I understand it but really don’t.

Imagine being a fake fan of even your own self-professed interests.

If I’m being honest with myself, beyond my admiration of his concision, the part of Hemingway’s legacy I was mostly there for was the six-toed cats. Hemingway famously owned a polydactyl cat, Snowball, and now ~60 such cats (and who knows how many toes) freely roam his estate.

Earlier I mentioned my limited storage of around 300 photos. This meant every photo I took would need to be arranged for and taken with care. Obviously, I planned to use all 300 on high-quality cat photos.

At entrance to Hemingway House

Mom: Is it really worth the $14 entry fee just to see a bunch of cats?

Me: *clutching camera* This is important to me.


Walking in… there were cats. Everywhere. Perched on fences. Peeking through shrubbery. Languoring on trash cans. Collectively they took a look at me and looked away, unimpressed.

It was the most beautiful thing I’d seen.

The cats were great photographic subjects on account of how they didn’t acknowledge me as a living being and stood still as I hovered around them in 360 degrees. They did have a knack for turning their heads away from the lens, but my persistence won out. Looking through pictures intermittently and observing the differences, I adjusted my approach.

Pleased with myself, I briefly considered a career as a cat photographer as I exited the grounds. I mean, I revel in my work and my work is unappreciated, especially by my subjects, which is what I imagine makes a true artist. Beyond logistical issues of signing releases with six toes, it’d be perfect.

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Last post: Making Your Holiday Gifts “Better”

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