I read a lot of advice when I first started photography all those years ago. There was, of course, a lot of advice about settings and composition and exposure and all those things. There was plenty of advice about kit too – lenses, camera brands, accessories and so on. But I always found the best bits of advice were the simplest, even if they weren’t always the easiest to follow. ‘Take your camera wherever you go’ was one of those pieces of advice. Here’s why I’m still very much on the fence about it, years later.
In support of taking your camera wherever you go…
Let’s talk about the pros of this piece of advice first because, of course, its basis is well meant and has a valid point.
The advice suggested that you should carry your camera with you everywhere you went. This came from the theory that moments and images would present themselves to you everywhere, and without warning. Because of things like light and the unpredictability of subjects, there wouldn’t be time to run home to grab your camera. But if you already had it with you…
Now this, in itself, is great advice for those very reasons. Especially if you want to shoot subjects that are fast-paced and ever changing, like street photography. But, as a beginner, I don’t know many who launch straight into street photography. As a genre, it takes a certain amount of courage and confidence that beginners don’t usually have.
That said, having your camera to hand helps you think like a photographer, looking for images as you go about your day. In which case, it’s a great concept.
Going against the advice…
When you’re starting out with photography, the likelihood is that you’re a hobbyist. You do this on your days off, in your downtime and around other commitments. You’ve got a job, or you’re at school, or you’re a parent – hell, you’re doing all three! In which case, that free time is limited and precious. Even if you are happy to use up all that spare time on learning photography, is it worth carrying your camera around and not taking any photographs?
We need to be realistic here.
When I first started, I was working 12-hour shifts. Days, lates, nights, and usually for four days in a row. On those days, my routine was simple – wake up, eat, go to work, come home, eat and go to bed. There would be zero time for capturing images and my work environment was not very inspiring.
Remaining days would be taken up with studying or chores, for the most part. So carrying a hefty camera and lens around was usually far from my thoughts.
Of course, this also assumes that you’re shooting with something like an SLR or dSLR. If your tool is something smaller like a point-and-shoot then this may not be such an issue for you.
So, fence-balancer, what’s the alternative?
Yep, I was very much on the fence about this advice. It sounds quite good but has impracticalities when putting it into practise. So I did what I always do – I adapted it. I took it apart and I used the bits that worked for me and threw out all the rest.
Here are my suggestions, going forward.
Instead of taking your camera EVERYWHERE, why don’t you set dedicated times for it?
I must admit, this is a favourite of mine. If I know I’m visiting a new place or area, for example, or my husband suggests going for a walk, then I’ll take the camera and that will be my thing (while he goes off geocaching!).
These times where it’s about me and my camera, I’ll set myself little challenges. So I might only take one lens with me (which is usually a prime – zooms are cheating at this challenge!). Or I’ll shoot only in black and white. Or I’ll work on shooting in harsh light, or low light, or improve my flare technique.
So set that time aside. Figure out exactly how you’re going to challenge yourself with your camera!
DON’T use your fancy camera!
A few times now, I’ve either gone out with nothing more than my phone camera as my tool of choice or have had to use it. Last year, in Malta, my parents took me to a city I hadn’t visited before. I was so excited to capture images as the light was beautiful. I got there, switched on my camera and then remembered I hadn’t put a memory card in! I pouted like a sullen teenager. But after a few minutes, I decided to try and make the best of it and use the only other thing I could… the camera on my phone.
This is a challenge in itself. It forces you to look at things in a different way or to figure out how you can capture an image with limited settings. It encourages you to spend more time looking at composition. And it allows you to do away with perfection and capture the images as you see them.
DON’T take any photographs!
Ok, this one is a little bit out there and may have you scratching your head, but bear with me for a moment…
Photography is about seeing certain things – scenery; moments; colours; compositions; LIGHT. The thing is, we are so engrossed in looking at life through screens. Sometimes it’s hard to notice those things until you move the camera away from your face and look at what’s in front of you.
Some of the best images I’ve ever taken are the ones that I have no physical record of. They’re the ones I have in my head. In most cases, I’ll then take a photograph of it. But it will never be exactly the same as the thing I saw through my own eyes and that is ok. Being a photographer is as much about knowing when not to take a photograph as when to click that shutter.
What I’m trying to say is, try to find that balance. Don’t be the person that lets photography take over their whole life. Especially at the detriment of actually seeing, experiencing and enjoying it for yourself. Take a moment to soak in the scene in front of you. Take that mental image and then raise your camera and get the shot – or not, it doesn’t matter.