Could Lost Photo Opportunities Actually Be Good For You?

Could Lost Photo Opportunities Actually Be Good For You?

I took a two-week trip to Hawaii last month with the intentions of not bringing along a bunch of camera gear. That was a fine thought in and of itself, but now I’m wondering if I could have mustered the courage to take an extended trip to a picturesque location without bringing a real camera at all?

I brought only my Fujifilm X100T and relegated my trusty Think Tank Retrospective to holding mostly bottled water and snacks for the family. But this post isn’t about traveling light or selling you on how easy it is to tote around an X100 model (duh, it's easy). It's me asking us as a group: are we diminishing our own experiences by always making them into photo opportunities?

It can be pretty tricky for me to shut off the part of my brain that operates as a professional photographer. That seems fair, considering how many hours every year I dedicate to being focused on just that. The catch is that I don’t always want to be in “pro mode” when I’m taking in a pleasant experience with my family. The aching desire to turn a quick snapshot into an Instagram favorite can be daunting, especially when the fam is waiting around the corner of a mountain pass or halfway down a secluded beach for you to pick up the pace.

This desire can present a difficult balancing act, can it not? Firstly, it's not as if I dislike my job. I rather enjoy making photos, as a matter of fact. So, having a desire to not take my shooting so seriously isn’t completely born out of exhaustion. Thus, even if I do resign myself to leaving the big cameras at home, it's hard not to pressure myself into producing shareable “pro” work. It's an internal struggle, but a real one.

Secondly, there is the expectation of being your family’s memory keeper, and a good one at that. I have no qualms with taking tons of photos of my kids. It would just be odd (and potentially ill-received) for me to go on vacation and declare to Mrs. Sparkes that she is now the primary picture-taker. Even if I’m going the X100T-only route, I can’t help but let the fun little camera suck me into the trappings of the aforementioned “pro mode.”

Lastly, there is one further layer of hypothetical fear that I’m combating: regret. What if I decide to just rely on my iPhone and play tourist dad during my tropical sabbatical, but soon find myself yearning to sneak away and take photos at sunrise, or take my kids down to the beach for an impromptu (and likely protested) mini session? Will I forgive myself for not adding the flexibility of, at the very least, my mirrorless camera to my carry-on?

Who knows? There’s a great possibility that I’m just overthinking this. However, there are times that over-pontification of a thought is best left to a little groupthink. Let me know how often and how long you can/want to go without playing the role of photographer? If you do it, how does it benefit you?

Adam Sparkes's picture

Adam is the Assistant Director of Photography at Central Michigan University. He has been pushing a button for a living since 2009 and for that entire time constantly finds himself correcting people who pronounce it "fur-tographer".

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I make a point of leaving my camera at home sometimes - not often, maybe once or twice per season. I think it's important not to always see the world through a lens - look at it with your actual eyes, experience it with your other senses as well. See it for yourself, instead of for other people. Yes, you might miss a stunning shot, but it helps me, at least, remember why these things are important - it helps me to see the magic that I am trying to communicate to other people when I do take a picture.

I just went to the Bahamas with family, I planned a TFP model shoot with a local while I was there, never been to the "turqoise" water part of the world before...leave my camera home? I'd probably have had a meltdown and been looking for a camera That said, after a while you can only take so many pics of white sand, funny colored blue water and palm trees...there were moments where I just sat with my camera beside me and listened to the waves and felt my toes in the sand, it's about balance I guess. I do agree though...don't "miss" the moments trying to 'capture' the moments.

Hell yeah it's good! I missed so many shots. It gives you something to achieve or to get better. I have a 12 day road trip here soon through the Pacific Northwest and I know I am going to miss shots. Mostly due to timing and not knowing the area. Gives me something to come back to later.

You bring up some valid points, like "Should I skip the sunrises and sunsets?" I'm sure that Hawaii has stunning sunrises and sunsets and it would be a shame to miss out on those.
I reckon the primary question would be "Is this a once in a lifetime trip?"
For me, photography is a creative release; I am not a professional photographer, but I am in a creative position developing computer applications for work, and for myself.
My wife understands my needs for photography and plan trips with her and photography in mind. We were near the Washington DC area for a dog show and prior to the trip, I suggested a trip to the Air & Space Museum to photograph Space Shuttle Discovery. She had planned a day off from the specialty and said "Okay, you get us into DC." I said "I don't have to; it's by Dulles airport." She took her point-and-shoot; I took my A-1 with handle-mount flash (which I used sparingly) and got different photos. She doesn't know to turn off flash when shooting against glass.
I don't know how I would approach a two week trip to Hawaii. I would probably bring two 35mm cameras, one film and one digital.

This was something I had to work on with my (sadly, although for unrelated reasons, now) ex-girlfriend. She wasn't against my photography; was in many ways my biggest supporter ... but she also wanted to be able to go on holiday without excessive and lengthy stopping; and to be able to enjoy a sunset with me rather than on her own as I was photographing it.

We found one fixed lens to be a good compromise. With a 40mm pancake I had enough camera and lens for some nice photos of her and the places we went, but without too much gear to get bogged down in, multiple focal lengths to try, filters to attach or detach, tripods to set up ... if I couldn't make the shot work pretty quickly from where we were, I learned to let it go and accept that a holiday shot from a winter break in Salamanca was unlikely to be make or break in terms of my photography.

I got some great pictures, and even happier memories from our trips once we learned to find photography's place in our travels ... for me it's an important part of traveling, and that was important to her, but I had to remember it wasn't the only reason WE were traveling.

Sometimes you have to turn off. I recently went to LA for a few days with no camera. As soon as I got there I regretted it because I love shooting street. I ended up shooting with my crap phone. I got some solid shots but overall I would have liked to have brought at least one camera. That said not walking about with a camera around my neck all day was a nice change of pace.

The question is simpler ... wouldn't you have wanted a photo(s) of that event that happened 14 years ago instead of relying on your memory... would you have wanted a print? or at least the negatives available.

I REGRET NOT buying those disposable cameras at the drugstore prior to the event many times before i decide getting into photography full time.

I also thinks it's important to leave your camera at home sometimes and just take it in. We did that ion our recent trip to NH. Half of it was at home, the other was just around my shoulder, observing, letting one shot go by over and over, until I wanted to take one.

I seem to always have a camera on me recently, usually my Olympus Trip 35. With barely anything to adjust on the camera and no way of reviewing the shot straight away I take a quick snap and carry on, allowing me to soak up whatever event/trip/place I'm in. If I always carried my XT10 (which I usually do on big trips) there would be the constant drain of trying to get the shot, of which I am guilty.

A truly valid struggle, one that I deal with as well! I think it's a balance between how "once in a lifetime" the trip is, who you're going with, what you plan to accomplish, etc. The real question you have to ask first is why you're going on the trip - is it purely a family vaca to relax? Or are you making a photography trip fun by planning a few side activities? As far as gear, I think the XT-1 or similar is a perfect balance of capability and convenience. Lugging around a full setup is going to make you lean more toward photographic opportunities. A smaller camera will lend better to actually enjoying the moments with company while being able to capture those moments. Understand and accept you won't be getting any magazine cover shots, but instead high fidelity personal moments to remember (which will also look great on Instagram)