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16 July 2014

The Photographer's Hat

ASMP Portrait taken at the
Strictly Business 3 Conference in
Chicago, April 2011.
Copyright 2011 Shawn Henry
The other day, I’d posted a new FaceBook profile picture of myself taken by a fellow photographer, Shawn Henry. It was a ¾ portrait taken in front of a white background and rendered into a black and white. The series was taken a few years back, but I asked and got permission to use the images for inclusion on things like my bio page on this blog and my website. FaceBook came later.

When my various friends saw the image for the first time (and it was the first time I used that particular image), I got the usual likes and positive comments. One stuck out: My friend and advanced amateur photographer from South Dakota, Jon “Fiskr” Larsen, mentioned that all I needed to be a photographer was a cool hat. (It is a nice looking hat, even if I say so myself.) There was the usual banter back and forth about how adding a hat instantly made a photographer and such. However, the comment got me to thinking about how much my broad brim hats are part of my photography kit.

When I started, film cameras were what we had. I had a basic SLR in my trusty Pentax K100. It was fully manual, and a work horse if there ever was such a camera. One of the foibles of pentaprism viewfinders, common in optical viewfinders like my K100, is that light can intrude from eyepiece and skew the exposure meter, making the meter read more light than there actually was coming in the lens. One simple trick to counter this is to wear a wide brim hat to eclipse the light coming in from behind you. So hats become part of my kit.

As the years rolled on, I also worked for the US National Park Service, with their famous “Smokey Bear” campaign hats. That cemented my liking for broad brim hats. I never liked the ever-present ball cap, common in the US, as they never fit my oblong head shape. Also, I didn’t like how ball caps allow my ears and the back of my neck to get sunburned. So, I was in constant search for broad brim hats that were durable, good looking and still functional to keep the sun, rain and light in control around my head.

A self-portrait while photographing in the "field,"
Olbrich Gardens in Madison, WI.
Copyright 2012 W. Clinton Hotaling
The hat pictured is one I got from Duluth Trading Company. It’s their “Albert’s Hat.” The hat is made from oiled cotton and has a fleece liner, so it’s a good winter hat for all but the most severe conditions. I have a variety of hats for summer months, but none of them are waterproof. However, they still fill the need for shade and blocking light.

My current digital cameras don’t have an optical viewfinder. They both use a two and a half or three inch LCD view screen, depending on the camera, for that purpose. The hat helps me see what on the screen in full sun. Without shade it’s almost impossible to read, something many smartphone users are finding out.

So, between the practical functions and stylish elegance, I wear hats and enjoy it. They are a permanent feature of my identity as a photographer.