A couple of years ago, I broke an important rule I made for myself: never take my camera on family outings. We were going to visit the zoo with extended family, and my grandmother said, "You should bring your camera! I bet you could get some great photos of the animals." The whole thing was very innocuous and she was well intentioned, but the results were exactly what I had decided I wanted to avoid, and a good reminder of why I made that rule for myself in the first place. If you find yourself doing the same thing I do, then perhaps this is a good rule for you to adopt.
I shoot with a Canon 5D Mk III, which is a fairly heavy camera body. My favorite lens is the 70-200 2.8L because I love compression. The animals are also far enough away that the longer range of the lens makes it perfect for capturing the animals so that they look like they're in a more natural environment. If you've ever seen the 70-200, you'll know that it is a big, heavy sucker. Needless to say, lugging that combination around all day in the hot sun, with several children running about, isn't an ideal way to enjoy a family outing.
Cramping shoulder muscles after eight hours at the zoo aside, there is something else that makes bringing my camera along on family outings a bad idea. Photography is my job, and I'm a creative person, so when the camera comes up and my eye locks into place behind the lens, a switch gets flipped in my brain. I'm no longer a mother who is enjoying watching the awe on her children's faces as they experience incredible creatures they won't be able to see anywhere else, I'm a photographer who has no attention to spare for anything other than "getting the shot."
I've discovered that family outings become less about family, and more about photos anytime I bring my camera. I think this has something to do with the way my brain relates to this specific camera body because I don't feel this way about the camera in my cell phone, which has become, for all intents and purposes, my walk-around camera. My cell phone is the way I document our lives, and I can stuff it comfortably in my pocket or my bag without the additional weight that makes my shoulders hurt after a full day. The 5D is for my work, the cell camera is for my life.
I suppose you've probably guessed that I spent almost all of my time at the zoo with my face glued to the viewfinder. My family even walked off without me a few times because I was patiently waiting for a meerkat to turn toward me with a sparkle in its eyes. I should have been hanging with my grandparents, laughing with them as their great-grandkids ran around like small animals, sharing ice-cream cones in the hot sun, and talking about life with my cousins. I should have been experiencing, but I was working.
I know this might not be the experience for everyone who takes their cameras out with them on trips, but it may be happening to enough of you that this little revelation helps you set some of your own rules about how and when you bring your camera with you. I'm not interested in taking highly styled photos of my family vacations so that everyone on social media can see how cool my family is. I don't want to create false versions of my real life. I also don't want to be so distracted by the desire to get great photos that I fail to enjoy what is happening right in front of me.
For me, bringing my camera is a rule best left unbroken, so I can experience and enjoy, rather than capture and not experience. It's also a fantastic excuse to hire a fellow photographer to capture everything so that you can fully experience the joy of the moment with no pressure to "get the shot."
Images used with permission of June Bug Photography.