Portrait mode

I love my son’s camera.

My 14-year-old takes the most amazing pictures with his phone. He flips through filters and adjusts this and that, slaps on a lens, pokes the shutter button, and, hey-whaddya-know, he can make anything look like a work of art.


The ceramic frog on the back deck.

Dead fish.

A fly’s eyeball.

Our menagerie of cats and dog are frequent models for his photography sessions, and he’s snagged some seriously awww-inspiring photos of Cute Kitten Mavis. The even more fun pics, though, are the ones he creates by turning everyday this-and-thats, by the magic of his camera’s eye, into something beautiful.

The secret?

Portrait mode.

Oh, man. Portrait mode is the best.

In portrait mode, the camera figures out what part of the picture is important, makes that bit nice and sharp, and then blurs the rest into an artsy, soothing backdrop.

With everything behind dropping away, in view but stripped of its importance, what’s left becomes surprising and lovely.

What’s left, with all else faded, is the elegant beauty of a wilted flower, the intricacy and dignity of a single seed in the sunlight.

I love me some portrait mode.

Recently, I had to turn in a picture of myself for something at work.


I fully realize the irony of someone who takes pictures of people for a living complaining about having her picture taken — but, jeezaloo, it’s awful.

Do I want to look at pictures of myself? No, I do not. It’s bad enough catching glimpses in the mirror of that stranger whose body I occupy. I hardly recognize that woman, the one with lines around her eyes and a few more gray hairs every day, the one who startles me in the medicine cabinet mirror each morning.

But, I had to give my boss a picture.

Enter, portrait mode.

Kind enough to not grumble about the weirdness of taking pictures of his mom, my youngest — always happy to play with the Camera of Awesomeness — obliged, snapping a few dozen shots in hopes that one of them would suffice.


My smile was weird, my eyes were squinched, those gray hairs looked grayer and hairier than ever.

But, there were a few — not a lot, but a few — that were … not bad.

Actually, there was one I really liked.

OK, in that particular picture, I was holding Mavis, and kittens can make anything look good.

But, what really made the difference was portrait mode.

The strident colors behind me softened and mellowed, and the camera magic did its thing, and, somehow, the person in the picture looked like someone I might be able to like.

I’m not one who can effortlessly quote Bible verses. But there’s one I think of often.

Samuel has been told to go find the man God has picked to be the next king. Seven tall, strong men, all very king-like, parade past Samuel, but of each God says, “Nope, not that one.”

Eventually, along comes David — a good-looking kid, but still, the baby of the family, grubby from watching the sheep.

“That one,” God told Samuel. “That little dusty one. I choose him.”

“The LORD does not look at the things people look at,” God says to his prophet in 1 Samuel. “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Now, on the surface of it, that is terrifying.

Humans, they can only see my outsides. Those may not be perfect, but at least they hide the mess inside that I’d rather not be on public display.

Not so with my Creator. He sees the inside stuff.


But then I remember.

God uses portrait mode.

When He looks at His children, the background blurs. Accomplishments, failures, pasts and presents and labels and messes all fade away and become irrelevant.

In the lens of One who sees only the human persons He created, we are each startlingly lovely — not because of our triumphs or trophies, but because a Savior has taken away the need for them.

I’m no runway model, nor a human of much significance, in the grand scheme of things. That’s OK. I get to look at myself the way God does — with all the extra stuff of life faded into the background, an everyday this-and-that that’s actually kinda beautiful.

And then, remembering that I’m a photographer as well,I can adjust my own lens and see the people around me in portrait mode, too.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.


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