Thursday, October 9, 2014

Travelling with a DSLR Is a Bad Idea

This will probably be a bit controversial, but the purpose of this website is not to pat people on the back. Nor is it to comfort you and tell you the things you need to hear to justify a purchase. You might disagree, and that's OK - after all, we are all different and we have different priorities.

Today's topic:
Travelling with a DSLR is a bad idea.

Let me rephrase that:
Travelling with a DSLR on a family/personal vacation is a bad idea.

Travelling can be for a variety of reasons. You might be on a business trip to Tokyo, paid fully by your company. You might be on a photographic expedition to Brazilian rain-forests. Or, you might be on a 1-week beach holiday with your girlfriend/boyfriend. All these are very different kinds of travel, and they involve different kinds of photography dynamics. Obviously enough, if you travel somewhere with the sole purpose of taking photos, you are outside the scope of this article. This might also be the case if you're travelling solo to Tokyo for 2 days, and the only free time you'll have will be 2-3 hours in one evening to visit Shibuya. You might as well throw the camera and a 24-70 zoom into the bag, right?

Taken with a mobile phone camera. Not a masterpiece; it wouldn't have
been even if I had a DSLR with me. I was focused on enjoying having cocktails
with the one I love, not on taking photos.
But things are different when you're on a personal/family vacation. Consider this scenario: You're working or studying much of the year, and you plan to have this lovely 1-week vacation with the people you care about. You'll be going some place warn and nice, with lovely beaches. You plan to get some nice suntan, enjoy the water, enjoy the company of your loved ones.

Where does photography fit in that?

Read again my article on photographing amusement parks, and try to put yourself in the following situation:
Nice tropical evening at the hotel. Your significant other suggests you go for a stroll along the shore, then end up in one of those lovely beach bars. You are instead anxious to take your new Nikon D750, your Sigma Art 50mm f/1.4, and maybe couple of flashes and go grab some portraits of locals. What do you do?

  1. You say "Sorry honey, I wanna go grab some portrait shots. I'll meet you later. Take care, love you" and go take photos instead.
  2. You are torn (and frustrated) and go for that stroll, dragging also the camera and the lens (hmm...can I also fit the flash in the pocket?). You spend the rest of the evening looking around to grab some photos. You fail both in enjoying the evening with your significant other, as well as grabbing any interesting photos.
  3. You are torn (and frustrated) and go for that stroll leaving the camera behind. You spend the rest of the evening wishing you'd had taken it with you, because you see so many interesting faces in the crowd. You spend the rest of the evening sulking.
  4. You go for a stroll and you're happy spending time with the one you love in this magical place. The camera stays in the hotel, and you're thinking it wasn't worth taking along in the first place.

This is an oversimplified list perhaps, but you get the idea. You might be tempted to think that one doesn't have to exclude the other, but trust me, it does. Here is Amateur Nikon's travelling photography formula:
Vp= 1/Ve
Where Vp is the Value of the Photos you are likely to take and Ve is the Value of Experience you are having.

In other words, you either gonna have a good time or take good photos (none is assured of course, but they are disproportionally related; the more time you spend on taking photos, the better they will likely be and the worse your travelling experience will likely be)

Grabbed with a mobile phone camera.
I was busy enjoying the Spanish countryside, I didn't
care about photos.
So, to repeat myself: If your idea is to be able to go to a place with company (friends, loved one, family), enjoy yourself with them, and take masterpiece images, I guarantee you it can't happen. You will have to compromise somewhere. Spare yourself the frustration with missing one (or all) of the above, and accept the fact that, perhaps counter-intuitively, travelling to a new place with company isn't the best occasion to take great photos - unless if you travel with company sharing the same goal. In that case, if you and your husband/wife share the passion of photography and travel some place primarily to take photos, good luck and enjoy.

So, if not a DSLR, what then?
The first element you need to accept is what I said above: Let go of the need to capture masterpieces while you're on vacation. Accept the fact that you must choose and, hopefully for most of us, spending good time and experiences with our loved ones will always be a higher priority. So, once you let go of the need to "capture the perfect photo", you can then realize that dragging a DSLR and its lenses is a lot of weight. Needless weight. If you simply wanna take some snapshots to remember the lovely moments you had together, the smaller/lighter the better. Personally, I don't take any cameras with me; I just use my phone camera. I seriously suggest you do the same, but if you want a slightly more flexible suggestion (with a penalty in weight/size), consider a small mirrorless with a single pancake wide-angle lens. 

And again, the most important factor of them all: Forget about taking photos; focus on experiencing and on sharing the experience with the ones you care about (including your own self). 

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