Why I Stopped Taking My Camera

Why I Stopped Taking My Camera

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.

image by June Bug Photography

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.

Image by June Bug Photography

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. 

Image by June Bug Photography

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.

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58 Comments

Mr Hogwallop's picture

I recently cleaned out a ;lot of boxes of photo from my dad's house. There were tons of vacation photos covering 30 years. Sadly about 90% were shots of animals at the zoo, sunsets and light houses, old stuff in museums etc...The pix of the family and us as kids at family reunions with long dead grandparents were only about 10% but those are the ones that we care about at the end of the day.

i have a nice P&S, good enough to satisfy the photographer side of me but limited to keep my head in the family experience not the job.

Jacob Colmenero's picture

I shoot primarily on a Leica film rangefinder so I take it everywhere with a 35mm lens on, its so small and light it hardly can tell its even around my shoulder. I find it SO important to take pictures of the people you love in your life, and to me its more important to capture these memories on film since film is bound to outlast digital. I work at a photo lab and we get people coming in bringing on negatives that are 50+ years old. I guarantee no one will come in 50 years from now with an sd card from 2017 hahaha

I stopped carrying my camera for similar reasons, I have thought of buying a small walkabout camera such as the Fuji X100 series for those times I want something small to carry with me but yet to make the jump. There's something that's satisfying about enjoying the journey without recording it. The ephemeral nature of your memory forces you to 'see' and appreciate what's important and a photograph will subtly distort your memory of a place in time without the fuzzy glow of memory fade

I've seen many things that I could have captured on film or RAW that could have made for outstanding imagery but I consciously chose not to. Why? Simple it takes greater control not to capture everything and it focuses your perspective on what is important.

Non-photographers think I'm crazy for not always having a camera with me, but after 20 years I'm burned out. I've shot professionally and semi-pro for press and magazines amongst the usual mom and pop gigs, I learned a long time ago there's a time and a place for photography and when you turn up with pro gear (or perceived pro gear) then people will react differently to you and start to make 'demands' on your abilities.

William Albert Allard once said the pictures you DON'T take are as important as the ones you do. ;)

They say Miles Davis said the notes you don't play are as important as the ones you do. But I don't believe it 😎

Robert Nurse's picture

I suppose after years of photography, you'd be burnt out. Me, I'm sort of, just getting started. I've dabbled in it over the past 30 years. But, I've reached the point where I have more time and tools (learning materials) to really immerse myself in photography and I now consider myself a novice of sorts. But, I do make it a habit of when shooting, I take the time to put the camera down and take in and ruminate on what the scene offers.

I have to say I appreciate your intention to be more present for your family, but I disagree with your decision. I don't think it has to all be this black and white.

I always carry around a camera with me - mind you my personal camera (an X100F) is not the same as my pro gear - because I want to be sure I have something reliable that will help me capture a moment in a way that will make it as memorable as the moment itself. In doing so, I can easily admit my best and favorite images are personal ones that have never been published, or sold, or even shared anywhere outside of my personal circle of friends and family, and I'm so grateful to have a beautiful memory of it (it would certainly not have been possible with a phone).

Of course, the skills I've developed shooting professionally will always kick in and dictate how I approach my subject whenever I bring the camera up to my eye, but it doesn't mean that I need to be in a "business professional mindset" and bury myself behind the viewfinder. The images I capture of my personal life are not done so with the intention of furthering my career or my social media, but I shouldn't have to lower my standards or the quality of my work in order to be more present for my loved ones.

Now, it's also a matter of what you care about and don't. If you don't care about documenting your personal life on a regular basis, which many people don't, that's completely fine. If you do, however, then denying yourself the chance of taking memorable images because you don't want to bring a big DSLR with you, to me is not a smart solution. Get a smaller, but capable camera, and I'm sure you'll feel better already.

Nicole York's picture

Unfortunately for me, my gear is tied to image making. I'm a creative by nature, and the same thing happens if I start crafting something at home, painting or drawing or sculpting or whatever, I get completely involved and an entire day can pass without my realizing it. I have to be really intentional about when and how I use my gear to avoid that.
I appreciate the suggestion, and I do plan on getting myself a walk-around camera, likely a Sony mirrorless, but the cell does a good job in the meantime.

Sorry but what you just said doesn't add up. 1. Of course your gear is tied to image making, how else are you going to create images? That has nothing to do with any of your arguments. "image making" is not a synonym to switching on "pro photographer mode" and ignoring your family. 2. Most of us are also creative by nature, and again, still has nothing to do with your point. I have a Fine Arts degree in drawing and a musical background. I can spend a whole day in a darkroom or playing a guitar. That's OK, there's nothing wrong with taking time to do what you love, but again that has nothing to do with your dilemma. I feel like you're having a hard time distinguishing things apart, and being a photographer or a creative is NOT equal to "running a business". I'm sure most of us here would still be deeply involved in photography even if it wasn't a career. If you don't have that drive, then photography is simply a job for you, and a burden on your down time, and that is why you're in this dilemma in the first place.

Nicole York's picture

I probably should have been more clear with what I mean when I say "image making."
To me, there is a difference in mindset between taking and photograph and making a photograph. When I take snapshots of my family, I'm capturing or taking a photograph, recording what is happening at the time. It doesn't matter to me if these images are taken artistically, as they're almost purely documentary. I am not a documentary photographer.
When I'm working, I'm creating or making a photograph, and that is a different and more complex set of mental processes for me. The act of creation is different for me than the act of capturing. I get very caught up in the act of creation, very distracted and focused. It's not the same for me with the act of capturing. I have no passion for or interest in that, which is why I stopped shooting weddings and events, as much as I enjoyed the day.
You may have no difficulty with this, or they may be the same for you and, if that's the case, then I'm happy for you, and this article probably isn't for you.
Speaking to other photographers and reading the comments, it's clear to me that many other professionals struggle with the same issue and have found that a smaller camera is a great option for them, as you suggested. I plan on doing the same thing but, until then, my camera phone will do the job.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Aren't we a bit opinionated Vitor? Suggesting that someone who wants to enjoy the family rather than taking pictures, lacks drive or creativity is a bit insulting.

I too no longer take a DSLR with us on vacations because my wife's request was hugely logical. You want to hold hands, lick an ice cream and just enjoy the moment. Taking pictures can take away lots of those moments.

So that makes my "creative work" just a job? What does it have to do with my drive?

I use my cell phone and enjoy every moment of it.

And...At 55 I have more drive than most.

Cheers

None of what you implied is what I actually said Motti.

If you read what I first wrote I was clear that things should not be black and white and that Nicole's shouldn't have to feel like she can't bring a camera so that she can be more present for her family.

I also never take my pro DSLR out with family outings, it's cumbersome, obnoxious, and annoying. In fact, my solution was, like the vast majority of people here that had issue with this article, a very simple one: get yourself a small, but capable camera and you'll be fine, to which Nicole seems to agree.

But then her argument against that was using any camera gear is too interconnected with the image-making process and her creative passion gets the best of her, which is my mind is flawed logic for the reasons I pointed out.

I never said "creative work" is just a job, I only said creatives don't stop wanting to create once they've "clocked out".

Listen, I deliberately don't bring my camera with me sometimes (I usually kick myself for it later because Murphy's Law always bites me in the ass with a great photo opportunity but you can't win them all).

Sometimes I want to decompress from always being "the photographer" in any family or friend circle too. But if I DO want to bring a camera with me, it doesn't mean that it's going to dictate what I do and possibly ruin my family day, which in essence is what this article is about: "leave your camera at home and live a happier, more fulfilling life"

You do what you want, and that's fine by me, just don't preach it as a solution to modern day social challenges because in all honesty, phones are WAY worse to keep you away from holding hands and having that ice cream.

On that note can we all just go for ice cream? I need one

Motti Bembaron's picture

Fair enough.

When suggesting to my wife that maybe we should purchase a capable P&S she was reluctant and still is. For her it's not the hassle of carrying it, I do the carrying, but it is the fact that when taking photos it is not just snaps, I need to make sure the image is as I want it.

For example, we were in Dublin this April and went to see the famous Cliffs of Moher. I only had my phone and took some awesome photos. I realized that if I did carry my DSLR I would probably walk to the other side (south) and try to take a panoramic shot of the whole area. I saw people carrying tripods and heavy equipment going at that direction.

That would have taken about an hour of my day to take a really good photo, something I would not do with my cell phone.

As a professional, my perspective changes when I hold a capable DSLR camera in my hands. I feel that I owe it to...God knows who...to take the best photo that I can.

Instead, we walked slowly and met some really nice people. It was an amazing day.

As for ice cream, I would love some..but I would love it even more if it was warmer. Man, it's July and this is not the summer we were hoped for :-( Cheers.

Motti, I know the feeling, I live in Montreal too!! Summer has been one not-so-fun roller coaster. Maybe we should go for ice cream one of these days when it's nice out and talk shop ;)

Motti Bembaron's picture

Absolutely! That should be fun. You can find my contact info on my site photosbymotti.com. Let me know. Cheers

I'm not sure how this might change in the future (once we ditch the stroller), but as it stands now, we take a camera everywhere we go for an outing. BUT, it's ALWAYS "away" and we only pull it out to use for a short amount of time, and then it goes back away. For me, the process of taking it out, using it, and putting it away makes it just inconvenient enough that I tend to only take it out for something I feel might be special.
We live near Busch Gardens in Tampa and have season passes, so from October to May (+/-) we go fairly often. Sometimes the camera comes out a couple dozen times. Sometimes it doesn't see the light of day. Usually it's somewhere around 3-10 times. In total, out of a 6-8 hour day at BG, I take 20-30 pictures over 5 or so occasions spanning about 10 minutes of the day (including the kids on rides). 10 minutes out of 6-8 hours isn't bad.
Also, my kids are 2 and (almost) 5 and they LOVE to see pictures of themselves and things we've done. So usually, I'll post the pictures on FB for family to see and show the kids the post as well.
One thing that's been really cool with FB is the "memories" where it pops up what you posted on THAT day in prior years. They LOSE THEIR MINDS over pictures from years past. THEY LOVE IT.
So, not only do I not let the camera dictate my day, I do my best to only capture the best moments, and we get to relive them almost immediately at home and then again a year later, 2 years later, 3 years later... So our photos as a family are all about creating MORE family moments.

I think every professional photographer using larger cameras should have a small system for personal use, especially if they have kids.

An RX100 or similar 1" sensor cameras are a great solution. For me it's a m4/3 GM1 with tiny lenses giving me 24-200 equivalent and a couple tiny, fast primes.

Nicole York's picture

I've been planning on grabbing myself a Sony mirrorless and something suitably wide-angle. Colorado has so many gorgeous locations and I always find myself including the landscape when I take snapshots of my kids because, really, how can you not!?

Reginald Walton's picture

But umm, isn't that why you bring a camera in the first place, to capture those moments?

Nicole York's picture

It is, it's just for me I've realized that I can't bring THAT camera. I need something smaller that doesn't flip the "work" switch in my brain.

Mike Gillin's picture

I can totally relate to this, and there are times that I do eschew from carrying a camera with me. While I do love my Nikon and a good lens I do find that I too, get in that zone when shooting. However, I have found that carrying a Fuji x100s seems to leave me more engaged and not in shooter mode. The same for using a camera phone. I may still bust either out from time to time to capture a moment, but unless I'm in the mood, or looking to be shooting, the big gun stays at home.

Nicole York's picture

This is exactly my plan!

Kang Lee's picture

My solution is to bring a small mirrorless with one fixed wide lens. I still get to enjoy my day.

Maximilian Benner's picture

Thanks for the article, the topic really struck a chord with me.

Nicole York's picture

Absolutely!

It's funny how different people approach things differently. I'm the direct opposite. I take my X100 everywhere and shoot images of my kids, family events, outings, etc. It's my thing. I don't find that I get in the zone too much and I have years worth of ordinary moments to look back on. To each his/her own.

Nicole York's picture

I can't tell you how much I wish I was like you! I get completely absorbed when I bring my gear along.

Jay Jay's picture

I own the Mk3 and Mk 4, and also own the 70-200L lens. Yes they are heavy. Yes they take amazing shots. But i'm incredibly confused over your logic to not to bring a camera- i own a Fuji XT2 with zoom lens, for the purpose of taking a small, light, but very good camera with me to things such as outings with family and friends. Why can't you do the same, as others have mentioned on here? Nothing says you have to document your family's life just because you don't want to bring a large heavy pro camera with you,

And being completely realistic, you know nobody is going to actually hire or ask someone to tag along to a family event or trip and spend the entire day taking photos of them. If you're a photographer, then photography is in your blood, and you'll *want* to take photos, no matter what you use. But saying you don't because of a weight limitation on a camera seems to be a total cop out. Granted, you can certainly use your phone, with it's microscopic fixed lens (newer iPhones let you create fake bokeh, so you can pretend you're using a real dslr, so i guess there's that), but as anyone with kids know, they're not going to stay still long enough for you to turn log into your phone, turn on the camera app, center it on them, tap the screen until it locks focus, then tap another button to take the photo.You'll miss every one of those quick spur of the moment shots that you can only capture with a real camera. In other words, a cell is great for posed shots, but if you want to capture the candid moments, your phone is useless.

Nicole York's picture

I certainly can, and my plan is to replace my cell with a nice walk-around camera when I have the funds. Unfortunately for me, however, I'm the type of of person who gets completely involved when I bring my regular body out. That creates direct conflict with the intention of the outing, which is to enjoy time with my family.
I'm not sure which cell you have, but I've been catching fantastic candid moments of my family with my cell phone for quite a while. I have prints and albums with the photos I've taken with my iPhone. The difference for me is what happens in my head when I have the cell phone for documentation, as opposed to the larger camera body. I just don't seem to be able to shut 'photographer mode' off. You don't have to understand or agree with it, though, that's the great part about all of us getting to make our own choices.

Jay Jay's picture

I have an old iphone 6, but only use it for cell phone camera type quick shots. Even with a better one, say a Google Pixel, i still wont be getting the type of shots had i used a real camera (i.e. ISO sensitivity, zoom, etc). With the Xt2, i treat that more as a simple point and shoot that i can whip out to take a quick shot, then put it back in my bag. Because it's a tiny camera (compared to my mk4 with grip), i don't treat it as a mk4 mentally, and instead use it as a fun camera for simple shots. :)