Is Leaving Your Pro Gear at Home a Mistake?

Is Leaving Your Pro Gear at Home a Mistake?

A recent trip to Disneyland had me stressing about the photos I’d capture. The experience taught me that leaving my professional cameras at home is possibly the only way I can truly enjoy myself.

As a professional photographer, the second I begin the thought process involved with capturing an image, a flip is switched in my mind and I go from a fun and lighthearted family man to a demanding and serious photographer. It isn’t something I’m proud of or have the best control over. However, over the last couple of years I have been learning that my personal photos and the photos I take for my clients are two different things entirely, as is the process required to capture each of them. Often, my favorite and most memorable personal photos are the imperfect captures that aren’t posed or rehearsed or controlled 100 percent by me.

I had planned on packing my Pelican 1520 case with a couple of camera bodies, a few lenses, and a speedlight for a trip to Disneyland with my wife and kids. About an hour prior to leaving, I made the decision to leave the case and camera equipment in my studio and simply rely on the iPhones my wife and I would both have on us. I’ll admit, I was worried that I’d crave my Nikons and feel stupid and somehow less of a photographer if I only had a phone on me at a place as magical as Disneyland. For some reason, snapping pictures of my kids with their favorite characters while bumping shoulders with other moms and dads doing the same thing with nearly the same tool (cell phones) just didn’t seem very appealing.

I’m going to make an ugly confession, perhaps you can relate. You see, as a professional photographer, I guess there is always some judgment and condescension that takes place when I see someone else snapping pictures. The kid in me starts looking for a way to identify what the other person is using to capture their image, and in my mind, I begin to point fingers and say, “Ha, I’m better than you,” and it’s all fueled by the knowledge that I usually have thousands of dollars in photographic equipment on me. For some reason I’m not proud of, I tend to scoff at other photographers knowing very well that it isn’t the camera the determines the impact an image will have on the viewer. Why do we (I) do this? Is it our (my) competitive nature showing its horns? I don’t know.

As the day and fun progressed at Disneyland, I found myself occasionally trying to pose an image as if I had my professional gear right there with me. I could feel my brain reaching for the pro-photog switch within as my mind began to frame the perfect image of my kids against something like a castle. The fun and smiles would gradually fade away as the moment would suddenly become serious and all about the pictures and less about the fun my family and I were supposed to be having. When this would happen I’d scan my surroundings, observing other parents photographing their kids and taking the whole process of taking a photograph far less serious. What I observed served as a reminder. Not to take better pictures, but to understand the trade off between professional quality photographs and snapshots taken with a phone.

This whole process helped me come to grips with something I hadn’t been able to before — that sometimes snapshots are just fine. In fact, in order to leave the pro-photog switch within in the off position, I must rely and trust that the impulsive and technically flawed images I can capture with my phone are enough to be able to keep a visual reminder of a specific special moment in time, and sometimes more importantly, a pleasant memory from when it was taken. Something that isn’t always the case when the aforementioned switch is flipped in the other direction.

Are you able to maintain a healthy balance of professional photography and personal photography? Are there any occasions that you’ll leave your gear behind to benefit the quality of time you have to spend? Share in the comments below.

Dusty Wooddell's picture

Dusty Wooddell is a professional photographer based in the Southwestern United States. Self-proclaimed thinker, opportunity seeker, picky eater, observer of things.

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Not a chance

I'm sorry... are you serious?! You considered bringing a COUPLE camera bodies, a FEW lenses AND a speed light on a family trip to Disneyland?! This seems completely ludacris to me. Personally, when I see photographers with that type of gear load on a family excursion the first thing I think is what a gear head rooky. They must be carrying all that gear to compensate for something. Possibly skill? Not sure. But come on bruh, loosen up. Your wife and kids will thank you!

Truthfully, two camera bodies, a couple of lenses, and a single speedlight was totally justifiable to me while I was packing, considering two photographers (three if you count my son) and four days in another state. Thanks for reading!

To be fair you said you were packing for a trip to Disneyland - not a 4 day vaycay....

I was all like, "yeah, that Dusty guy's an idiot!" until I remembered that, while packing for the family vacation to Portugal, I was standing over my camera bag holding my 300mm Meyer-Görlitz P6 Medium format lens, which weighs 2.18 kilos (almost 5 pounds) adapted to fit on my Canon, considering whether to take it or my regular canon 70-300, when my wife walked in, raised one eyebrow, and said "really?" So, uh, I guess glass houses or something.

As a former Park Passholder, I've lost count of how many parents with enormous pro cameras I've seen. I usually roll my eyes at them, since we're being honest. Do they really need that 5Dmk3 and Sigma 50 Art? (Both two of the heaviest options in their category, no less?)

Personally, as a full-time photographer I avoid bringing my "pro gear" with me on personal vacations. I avoid it like the plague. Even on my serious wilderness adventures, the 70-200 2.8 and 24-70 2.8 stay at home, and I opt for lighter weight options, or specialty options for what I'm shooting.

I must admit, though, I'm not the type of guy to completely "give up" and just bring an iPhone. Since I do a lot of travel photography in general, I also own a couple ultra-light cameras, and a few ultra-light lenses to go with it. A Nikon D5600 is quite a feature-packed little beginner DSLR, almost as small and light as an APS-C mirrorless camera actually, and a great lens like the ultra-compact 10-20 make for fantastic wide angle shots, plus a similarly lightweight & compact 35mm f/1.8 DX for if you really need a few snaps in low-light.

The whole thing can be on your shoulder all day long and you'll barely feel it, and the spare "tiny" prime can fit in a cargo pocket, should you decide to bring it. Yeah, I won't be going on Splash Mountain, but I wasn't going to do that anyways LOL, even if I had left all my electronics at home.

TLDR, don't be that guy. Gear doesn't matter, and in my experience, it can actually be FUN to pretend to be "the underdog", shooting with a beginner camera, yet knowing your images could still turn out more creative and impressive than that parent who was dumb enough to lug their 70-200 2.8 around all day. :-P

Canon's EF-S (and now EF-M too!) cameras have a killer little "pancake" lens that I love! Ultra-sharp, and weighs next to nothing...

Nikon's DX bodies, paired with a Tokina 11-16 or Nikon 10-20, are a fantastic ultra-light kit for those folks who love night photography and also bring along a small table-top tripod for a few night scenes here and there...

Nice shots. I spend so much time with a camera in hand that I'm actually growing to prefer the complete disconnect when I'm with family. Not to disregard my passion for photography, but to avoid going into work-mode when I'm not actually working.

I go completely sans-camera very often as well, including outings to beautiful places. However, certain events might be once-in-a-lifetime to some people, such as a trip to Disneyland, and I don't think a professional photographer should feel guilty about bringing along at least a compact camera. There's plenty of great options out there that weigh next to nothing, and/or offer near-full-frame image quality. I also had the good fortune to get to play with the Sony RX10 mk2 for a while, and that was a fantastic "little" camera that could do a whole lot and yet not take up much space or weight at all.

But, we all go through different phases, and arrive at different personal preferences.

These days, I bring my Sony A6000 and 18-250mm with me on trips because I want to capture those fleeting memories. Carrying around three lenses is overkill (and at theme parks, often not allowed).

At the same time, I have often simply used the smartphone or a point-and-shoot because that is all I had. Both can work -- and I have no problem with anyone's choices on this front.

I'm not a pro photographer, but my wife and I went on vacations, one to Alabama to visit her cousins with a side trip to Huntsville to visit the US Space & Rocket Center, and the other to Florida visiting Kennedy Space Center. I have two film SLRs which I left at home; I took my 5D III with the kit lens, the 24-105 f4L. I especially wanted to see Space Shuttle Atlantis for a third time; this time up close.
I want to capture images to remember the trip.
When we went to a practice round of The Masters, I took my F-1 with a 28mm lens for the scenic photos and the 5D III with the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L lens for the golfers.

I just bring my Fujix100t and call it a day. That and my Pixel 2 are more than sufficient to capture the memories. The way I see it, I'm not shooting for a client. Id rather just be present with my loved ones and have a basic tool to capture some memories.

That Fuji X100 series is a real winner when it comes to pocket / portable cameras. Great little number!

If I brought a bag like that to Disneyworld, my wife would make sure it got lost in transit, even if I was watching it every second...

What is a pro gear? It is not about cameras but how you use it for family trips specially! FujiX100t does the job really well, "pro" gear stays in studio :) no hesitation... People are getting ridiculous what they bring to family BBQ etc :) Happy shooting guys...

The struggle is real.

I don't quite bring as much gear as you have planned, but depending on what it is, it's not uncommon to have a 6D, 24-70, and an 85 in the bag with a flash clipped outside it for family outings.

If I must travel lighter, I usually bring a Panasonic GM1, which is the size of a deck of cards, and the 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens.

My X100F and my feet for zoom. Done.

It depends on where I'm going and/or who I'm going with.

I approach vacation photography much like street photography. Take something I can carry for 8 hours, keep it portable, and blend into the crowd like a street photographer. The Fuji systems or the new sony compact. That big bulky DSLR with a 70-200 lens feels like a risk to me. It would feel like I'm shooting a job instead of relaxing.

Just got back from a family trip to Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Nara, Japan. I carried way more gear than I needed. Specifically a 70-200 f2.8IS and a tripod that spent it's days in the hotel room. But I still wished I had a second body, changing lenses wasn't always convenient and I only brought 3 other lenses that I used regularly, a 24-105 f4IS, a 16-35 f2.8 and a 100 f2.8IS macro. For our one theme park day at Universal Osaka I brought a Sony RX-100IV and it was fine, and I wanted to ride the rides not worry about where my gear was. If it was my only thing we were doing as a family for the vacation, I would have brought more. So I say bring what you can carry, I got a workout walking 15-20K steps a day with 20-30 pounds of gear on my back, but I have the pictures to make it worth while.

I remember year ago walking up to a shot with no confidence because the people surrounding me were all equipped with L glass, expensive bodies, etc. Even if they weren't even close to a professional photographer, they certainly had the gear to back it up. It definitely effected me in ways I didn't want to admit.

After years of going to locations that tend to have other photographers, I have certainly gotten better at just focusing on my own material and not really caring about what people are using around me. On top of that, I've learned that I can gain knowledge from anyone, no matter their skill.

About the only type of "photographer" that annoys me is the guy/gal that has a selfie stick. Other than that, I don't pay much attention to what others use. My "professional" work is printing and selling my work with a once in a while pay shoot. I only have one camera, a 5DIV with a grip, so I guess I'm the one that some of you look at and roll your eyes which is fine. I really enjoy shooting with it and don't really care what others think.

You can take me out of the "we". It would never cross my mind to be judgmental about other photographers, their equipment or their abilities as I'm out shooting. I mean, what's up with that? People are all over now with small cameras, big cameras and cell phones creating memories that their families will enjoy for decades. What's even to judge about that?

Last "family" thing I did was at the local zoo. I started to chat to a photog there with a massive piece of glass, because I love to chat to photographers.

It turns out that he didn't want to talk to me, acted as if it was below him. Was it because I was there with kids, or the 70-200 lens instead of 500mm monster?

I've no time for people like that. Photography isn't a competition, it's an endeavor.

Yep, I know that too;

Family trips to those parks or even holidays:
First thought: 5D IV, 27-70 2.8 ii, 70-200 2.8 ii, 16-35 4.0, a 35 1.4 ART, a Speedlight, Rode Videomic Pro, and then filters, a small tripod and on and on. + Action Cam with small gimbal & a DJI mavic. In the beginning it was easier with stroller, but as the kids grew...meh, this stuff is getting heavy.

For gigs, always taking my A-gear.
For holidays like Mauritius, Maldives and stuff A-gear.
For nice family trips, 5D + 24-70 or just the 35mm ART

Then my then 4yo started to take pics with my very first DSLR, EOS 1000D. He was disappointed af, because of the AF :)

I bought a 70D with the 24mm 2.8. This is a fairly small combination and the IQ and AF ist pretty good.

For regular trips with the family we just take the 70D+24mm and I love it. No comparison to my 5D IV + 35mm ART (to stay at same focal lengths), but good enough for the playground , the zoo or the park.

Downside: My now 5yo son takes nowadays often his 70D and I get to carry my cam too xD

Downside?? That part is actually the best part! lol My 14-year-old daughter is taking up photography as well (i passed on to her my old T3i) and I absolutely love when she assists me at my shoots or when we both take pictures.

Kevin Manguiob we got the same exact gear.. I typically shoot with my x100t and with a pixel 2! Great combination!

I tend to always bring a fair bit of gear, but I think it through (or is that rationalise my drive).

When visiting a park with some relatives from overseas, I only took: dSLR with 24-105 F4, 1x flash and transceivers an A5 sized fold-flat softbox for the flash. Still weighed a bit.

The last "family" trip I did was to a zoo with my god-children from overseas. 24-105 F4 + 70-200 F2.8 + 105 F2.8 macro + 1 flash + transceivers + 1 litre of water. This was not a light kit.

I think that I made the right call because it allowed me to take more candid shots of everyone (the kids got over the size of the lens really quickly). Also, the kids were super-keen to take some shots with the "big lens" - See attachment.

Great article and one that mirrors my own recent self-revelation.

I always have my iPhone with and for family trips I'll often take a Nikon 1 which does a quite respectable job for it's size. Only if I know I'll be going for publishable shots and therefore have made a conscious decision to mix work and leisure do I take DSLR kit. Interestingly, I think I've published just as many iPhone and Nikon 1 stuff from those trips as DSLR.

my solution is the Yashica t4

Whilst I think I'd love having a photography business, I also think not being a pro is great - no busman's holidays for us!
For both my wife and I, photography is a major hobby and our days out and vacations are mostly around that now the kids have left the nest. Yes, I look like "a gear head rooky", no I don't care. :)
I'm reminded of the saying - The best camera is the one you have with you.

Since we're being completely honest, i'll go a step further. Why not leave all cameras aside and rely simply on good old-fashioned memories? Crazy,, huh?

Because some people find value in pictures. Because some people enjoy photography and taking photos. Because some people want to post their travel pics to their social media feeds. ...

Thanks for stating the blatantly obvious. I was merely suggesting an alternate view.

You asked.

How about not being so defensive in your response?

Anyhow, those memories captured on film and digital matter to people. Especially when you see aging parents who will no longer be around and children who will one day be grown adults living on their own. Especially when an aging parent is struggling with dementia and will soon no longer be able to remember their own name, much less yours. Especially when you are doing genealogy and want to trace back as far as you can, a mighty effort if you are Black and the descendant of enslaved Africans.

Not defensive, just real.

That would work if I were 40 again. But.... :-)

I can relate. It is very tough to leave gear that "might" be useful behind.

But, family vacations often have some kind underlying activity associated with them -- fishing, sightseeing, theme parks, etc. If state parks are on the agenda, then I'm bringing my fullframe gear with the 24-105L and the 100-400L. These are rare opportunities to capture images I can't get at home. For portions of these trips, photography is my vacation activity.

On the flip side, there are times when simple gear is more liberating for it eliminates the temptation to make the most of the bodies and lenses that you've been lugging with you on that hike.

On our last trip to Disney World, all I took was a Canon SX20 SuperZoom point-n-shoot. No RAW images, tiny sensor, but lots of zoom with video in one package. Plus, it looked and handled like an SLR, so I felt more at home using it. For that entire trip, i was thrilled with my decision to leave the "good camera" home and we are very pleased with the results. Some of them now grace are walls. Plus, we some fun video from it.

Still, my "good camera" back then was Canon XT. Since then, I've experienced the 7D, the 5D3 and the 1Dx. As pleased as I was with the SX20 for that trip, I just can't go back to point-n-shoot for another vacation. Focus response alone is too frustrating. The Canon SL2 with the 18-135 f3.5-5.6 USM lens has become my new "travel light" system. It's not as small as my phone, but its much smaller than the full frame alternatives with a respnsive focus sytem and great video.

I agree that having only an iPhone cam is not enough! My 'compromise' is 1 body (often my 2nd body so I don't worry too much!), a 17-35 lens, and a 100 Macro. Light compact 'kit' that covers 95% of my needs...

This is a very timely article. I often bring a long several lenses with me on vacation. However, when we leave the room to visit a park, etc. I usually just bring one maybe two lenses along with my camera. Now, should I bring the 50 1.8 or the larger, superior 50 1.2? Most times I opt for the 1.2 because that one makes me feel more comfortable. When it's time for a photo I have the best 50 that I own for the job. Another one: Do I bring say the much heavier 24-70 covering most ranges I will need -- or do I just bring the far lighter 35 f2? I wrestle with these options quite a bit.

Regarding bringing a log of equipment to a park (multiple cameras, lenses, etc) who the hell cares?!!?! You bring what makes you feel good, and as long as I am not carrying the other camera equipment not being used at the time - I don't care. Go have fun. My only, only issue I see here is that you get wrapped up with what lens to use, should I use a flash, etc. rather than enjoying the experience.

I'm coming at this as I pack for a trip to Europe. First decent vacation in about 5 years. Kids finally out of school (but coming with us), so no little ones to track. Recently (1 year ago) finally upgraded an old rebel xt to a d750. What am I bringing? The d750 and a tamron 28-300. Extra sd cards, extra batteries. No flash, no other lenses, no filters. There will be a few sureshots and the like for the rest of the family. Maybe a green tripod.
Why bring the big camera? Because I'm not a professional. I'm taking a vacation for fun. Taking pictures is what I do for fun. I'll keep it down to what I can carry easily, and I'll try not to obsess about what I could have gotten with more gear, more time, better light, but it is what is is.

Best thing I ever saw was some tool using a Hasselblad H5D to shoot snaps of his nippers at a Center Parcs complex in the UK. Dentist obviously.

We went to Anaheim last year on a 5-day trip with 3-day passes to Disneyland and California Adventure. I took my Sony a7II along with the 24-70, 35 f/2.8, and 70-200. I left the 70-200 in the hotel when we hit the parks. Even then, the 35 f/2.8 was the lens I used almost exclusively, so the 24-70 remained mostly neglected. The only day I used the 70-200 is when we visited Santa Monica Beach for some candid shots of my wife and kids.

During our visits to Disney, that "switch" would also go on in my head and I'd worry more about the photo instead of the moment, but I quickly snapped out of it and just rolled with the punches. On a separate note, I'm glad my babies had the time of their lives, but man--SO. MANY. PEOPLE.

That's totally recognizable!
I always took everything with me, everywhere. Then, two years ago, I decided to leave all my pro stuff at home for the holidays and just take the old Nikon F2 with a 35-70 2.8 on it and two rolls of film I still had lying around. 72 Pictures for the whole vacation! Of course, I knew I could also use my phone, but it just felt right to get into the rhythm of the moment, press that shutter button and be back in the moment. No chimping, just waiting for the prints after dropping the roll off at the store.

I interacted more with my family, I took pictures that are a lot more fun to look at and learned a bit about the tolerances of an ancient ISO400 roll of film...

i know this is different I just recently went to Poland Krakow and thought as a hobbyist i would take all my gear which isn't much. but i hardly used it and when I did i just wanted to use my phone for ease.

Im trying to fight that battle of always taking my gear on holiday. I should of left it at home and challenged myself to my phone.

When I travel, I bring two cameras and two lenses. One DSLR for all the exciting stuff, and a mirrorless for when we're walking around, shopping, or going to dinner. It's not that much to carry, and if I don't want to carry a big camera at any one point, I don't have to.

When I'm with family or friends, I usually only bring the mirrorless as I feel the DSLR is intrusive, bulky and obvious in that setting. I'd prefer to capture natural moments with them, rather than a serious pose.

Maybe this works for others, maybe it doesn't. All I suggest is choose with the understanding of what is important in that situation, and be happy with your choice. Not everything we do needs to be captured. Appreciation of a moment that you keep in your mind's eye is often more valuable.

At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I have started shooting 35 mm for this exact reason. When I've got all my Pro gear, memory cards, big lenses, Etc., I feel like I'm working. I know that I'll have to offload a ton of photos to my PC, cull, and edit before I even really get to enjoy sharing the images with my family. Lately I've been taking a Canon A2 (auto focus, but light SLR) and the Canon 40 mm pancake lens. I'll stick it in a very small camera bag like my Domke and take it with me. It's compact and simple for keeping nimble with the family.

But the main reason I do it is shooting film has helped me feel like it's for fun. Truly for fun not- for work. When I send the film off to get developed, I get super excited to get the images (and prints!) back. And because of the nuances of shooting film and being more particular about certain shots, I come away with a much better hit ratio of quality images. And the lab does all of the work for me so I don't have that nagging feeling of "oh geez. I know I have work on my PC to do today, but I also have to offload these vacation photos and cull and edit and upload them at some point before my 4 year old is a teenager."

I promise I'm not a hipster. I don't have an ironic mustache. But shooting 35mm for fun and digital for work makes the fun photography truly enjoyable.

I would never want to lug my DSLR to Disneyland, but I end up taking a shitload of iPhone photos every time I go—fine for social media, but sometimes you just want something better... I recently picked up a Fuji X-E3 and have been having fun building my "small kit" with super portable, fast to deploy stuff. I cant wait to bring it to Disneyland! So far, I've been blown away by it's low-light performance and sharp lenses.

That being said, my buddy had his 6D, 24-70 2.8 and a speedlite with him and got this amazing photo of someone flying past him in the other car (using the flash to freeze the motion)—WHILE RIDING THE RIDE. LOL

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