A recent trip to Disneyland had me stressing about the photos I’d capture. The experience taught me that leaving my professional cameras at home is possibly the only way I can truly enjoy myself.
As a professional photographer, the second I begin the thought process involved with capturing an image, a flip is switched in my mind and I go from a fun and lighthearted family man to a demanding and serious photographer. It isn’t something I’m proud of or have the best control over. However, over the last couple of years I have been learning that my personal photos and the photos I take for my clients are two different things entirely, as is the process required to capture each of them. Often, my favorite and most memorable personal photos are the imperfect captures that aren’t posed or rehearsed or controlled 100 percent by me.
I had planned on packing my Pelican 1520 case with a couple of camera bodies, a few lenses, and a speedlight for a trip to Disneyland with my wife and kids. About an hour prior to leaving, I made the decision to leave the case and camera equipment in my studio and simply rely on the iPhones my wife and I would both have on us. I’ll admit, I was worried that I’d crave my Nikons and feel stupid and somehow less of a photographer if I only had a phone on me at a place as magical as Disneyland. For some reason, snapping pictures of my kids with their favorite characters while bumping shoulders with other moms and dads doing the same thing with nearly the same tool (cell phones) just didn’t seem very appealing.
I’m going to make an ugly confession, perhaps you can relate. You see, as a professional photographer, I guess there is always some judgment and condescension that takes place when I see someone else snapping pictures. The kid in me starts looking for a way to identify what the other person is using to capture their image, and in my mind, I begin to point fingers and say, “Ha, I’m better than you,” and it’s all fueled by the knowledge that I usually have thousands of dollars in photographic equipment on me. For some reason I’m not proud of, I tend to scoff at other photographers knowing very well that it isn’t the camera the determines the impact an image will have on the viewer. Why do we (I) do this? Is it our (my) competitive nature showing its horns? I don’t know.
As the day and fun progressed at Disneyland, I found myself occasionally trying to pose an image as if I had my professional gear right there with me. I could feel my brain reaching for the pro-photog switch within as my mind began to frame the perfect image of my kids against something like a castle. The fun and smiles would gradually fade away as the moment would suddenly become serious and all about the pictures and less about the fun my family and I were supposed to be having. When this would happen I’d scan my surroundings, observing other parents photographing their kids and taking the whole process of taking a photograph far less serious. What I observed served as a reminder. Not to take better pictures, but to understand the trade off between professional quality photographs and snapshots taken with a phone.
This whole process helped me come to grips with something I hadn’t been able to before — that sometimes snapshots are just fine. In fact, in order to leave the pro-photog switch within in the off position, I must rely and trust that the impulsive and technically flawed images I can capture with my phone are enough to be able to keep a visual reminder of a specific special moment in time, and sometimes more importantly, a pleasant memory from when it was taken. Something that isn’t always the case when the aforementioned switch is flipped in the other direction.
Are you able to maintain a healthy balance of professional photography and personal photography? Are there any occasions that you’ll leave your gear behind to benefit the quality of time you have to spend? Share in the comments below.