Whether you consider yourself a traveller or a tourist (and there’s a topic for another post), would you - could you - take a trip entirely without a camera? My camera (sometimes more than one) is with me on all my trips. Taking pictures and reliving the adventures through them afterwards gives me lots of pleasure, as does sharing my best shots on my blog, Facebook, in slideshows or even prints. I’m hardly Robinson Crusoe there.
But are reasons to leave the camera at home?
Duplication of effort:
|Round and round and round...|
Too much effort:
|Crater camp on Kilimanjaro: a long way to drag a camera.|
Photography not allowed:
You might be happily snapping away, recording your holiday memories, only to find that the interior of a special place is out of bounds to photography. Many churches, art galleries and museums do allow non-flash photographs, but certainly not all. How does that make you feel? I usually go through the gamut of momentary annoyance and maybe disappointment, to resignation, to actually enjoying the experience of a visit which doesn’t focus (excuse the pun) on lining up a great shot, or waiting for tourists to get out of my way. If the place is really special (think the Villa Borghese in Rome, as just one example), buy a book or a few postcards. A related situation: your camera breaks, or you forgot the charger, or the memory card is full or battery run down. Chill.
Photography could get you into trouble:
There are places you shouldn’t photograph: military installations are high on that list, and some parliament buildings. Put the camera away when you see one of those, or anything possibly related, such barbed wire and sandbag bunkers, or vague white domes in the desert, or an airport where there is no commercial airport. Yes, you might grab a Pulitzer winning clandestine picture, but you might also get arrested. Or shot. There are also culturally sensitive sites where photography might be inappropriate. (Aside: I would suggest that the elders of Uluru place that sign saying “no photographs” of certain sacred sites at the Rock a little more prominently - sorry!)
|Uluru: Photography allowed from this viewpoint|
What happens afterwards?
|Get creative with your photos|
The experiential approach
How many times have you seen - or been one of - a group of sightseers alighting from a bus at a viewpoint and hurriedly scattering en masse to take photographs? Now, as you can tell from my views above, I’m not averse to this. Photography gives a lot of people a lot of pleasure. But consider what the alternative experience might be like. I once sat next to a fellow traveller on a bus out to Yosemite National Park. The day was glorious, the waterfalls were in full spate, around every corner was a picture-postcard view. My companion simply got off the bus and gazed interestedly around him. No camera. In conversation, I learnt that he was taking a one year trip through various countries, learning languages and staying with local families. He had decided: no camera, and no souvenirs. There was no space in a backpack for souvenirs, and a year’s worth of photos was too daunting a prospect. With this philosophy, he was free to quietly absorb the places he visited, and fix them in his memory as experiences rather than carefully composed visual take-homes.
|Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite. Too beautiful not to snap....|
A few tips for those of us who still want to take a camera:
- Carry a small compact which fits in your pocket for those times when a big SLR would be intrusive or crass, or when you’ll be walking for hours and don’t want to carry a load, or when you think you would like to go out without a camera but are still just a little too addicted to go cold turkey.
- Seriously good photographs sometimes happen through luck; but more usually they do mean carrying good (heavy) gear, and getting up early to catch the best light. And having patience and the willingness to sacrifice most of your holiday to photography.
- It is absolutely true that you should ask permission before sticking a camera lens in someone’s face. You might think that you are far enough away and they won’t notice...but you really don’t want an angry Maasai warrior dancing around in front of your African safari vehicle because someone inside it took a photo that shouldn’t have been taken (yep, actually happened to me). Also, it is just not civilised.
- Do use long lenses to capture ‘people scenes’ without being obtrusive. And you will not - repeat, not - get any decent wildlife pictures with out some kind of telephoto. You will not get great ones with out the right equipment for the job. The same applies to itty-bitty subjects, such as insects, low-light situations and capturing movement. And as for trying to photograph inside an arena or theatre or cathedral with the little flash on your compact: it only lights up a few metres in front of you, you know. (I can’t believe that still needs to be said).
- Do cull, discard, select when you get home. And do use editing software to at least straighten your wonky horizons and remove dust smudges. The diehards will work long and hard on their ‘post-production’, but even a happy-snapper has no excuse to show really bad photos now that digital is here.
- If you take a camera on your trip, take it with you wherever you go, and use it. This may seem obvious, but cameras left in the hotel room are responsible for a lot of great missed shots.
|Photo credit: Mike Holihan|
Your blogger with long lens at the ready....
|...for this shot.|
And a final thought...
There are other ways to record and relive your trip. Try writing some stories, sketching, or making a scrapbook of ticket stubs, postcards and memorabilia. A camera isn’t compulsory. Enjoy!
Here are a few travel photographer blogs with some lovely shots: clearly these guys never leave their cameras behind!
The Travel Photographer
Mitchell K Photos