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.

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62 Comments

Daniel Mendiola's picture

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!

Dusty Wooddell's picture

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!

Mr Hogwallop's picture

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

Ryan Davis's picture

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.

Matthew Saville's picture

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

Matthew Saville's picture

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...

Dusty Wooddell's picture

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.

Matthew Saville's picture

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.

Kevin Manguiob's picture

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.

Matthew Saville's picture

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...

Jozef Povazan's picture

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...

Wasim Ahmad's picture

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.

Noah Tom's picture

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.

Alex Armitage's picture

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.

David Pavlich's picture

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.

Rick Pappas's picture

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?

Jon Kellett's picture

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

Cristian Perotti's picture

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!

Jon Kellett's picture

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.

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