How many of you have struggled with the decision to bring your camera or leave it at home to enjoy life without it? Growing up with a mother who was a photographer, I remember always yelling at my mom to put the camera down. Whether it was on family vacation, or just in the backyard, she would always have her camera out to take photos of me and my sister. When she suddenly passed away 4 years ago, I found myself going through boxes and boxes of prints, as well as flash drives filled with digital images.
There were two things I noticed as I went down memory lane for the entire week that it took to get through the images. First, without the photos my mom took these memories would have been gone, most were times I didn’t remember at all. The second, she wasn’t in any of them.
She was always the one taking the photos and looking at these photos sparked an internal struggle. The struggle of how I wanted to parent as a photographer when the time came. Whether to start putting my camera down to enjoy life or enjoy it through my lens capturing as many moments as I can.
Putting The Camera Down
Just a couple years after her passing, I found myself preparing for the birth of my first child. I had convinced myself that I wanted to start putting my camera down or simply leave it at home to enjoy life, including the birth of my son. We live in a time where everyone has a smartphone out in front of their faces trying to photograph or film every single second of their lives – I didn’t want to be that person, and I thought that I needed to put my camera down to live in the moment and enjoy life.
As we packed our SUV to head to the hospital, I told my wife I wanted to leave the camera at home. She looked at me, being a photographer herself, and convinced me to at least bring one camera just in case. I left it in the bag while we waited in our room for the doctors to call us back, she was having a C-Section. I remember the nurse coming into the room and saying it was time, handed me my hair net and face mask, then asked if I had a camera. I told her no, at which point she looked across the room and saw it sitting on a chair in the corner of the room. She literally yelled at me and said grab your camera, don’t be an idiot! I listened and brought it with me, although still telling myself not to use it.
As my son was delivered shortly after that, the doctor held him up and told me to grab my camera. This was the point that I caved, and as he placed my son onto a table to be cleaned, I became overcome with emotion and grabbed my camera to shoot a quick video. That video is the only thing I have now of that moment, and I have watched it well over 100 times, each time bringing tears to my eyes. That video changed my whole perspective on that struggle I had prior to that day.
Enjoying Life Through Your Lens
There is a great scene in the animated movie, Inside Out, where memories are portrayed as physical glass balls. As the little girl protagonist grows up, each memory ball that represents a specific childhood memory self-implodes and disappears. This is what I imagine happening in my head, just at a much quicker rate since my memory sucks. Without photographs, memories fade and disappear, that’s a simple fact of life. Going through the boxes of photos after my mom passed away brought back so many childhood memories that would have otherwise been gone forever.
Now that my son is almost two years old, I no longer struggle with the idea of putting my camera down. I’m a photographer, and I find joy in photographing life, whether it be important moments or just casual everyday life. I’m sure my son will yell at me one day to stop taking photos just as I did, but I am going to do two things differently
I’m sure my son will yell at me one day to stop taking photos just as I did, but I am going to do two things differently than my mom: I am not going interrupt moments to ask my son or wife to look at the camera and smile, I’m just going to capture them photo journalistically as they happen. I’m also going to make it a point to let my wife be the photographer so that I am in some of the photos. I have very few photos of my mom, and just wish she had handed the camera off a little more than she did.
As photographers, our cameras are usually extensions of our body. Yes, there are times when you will want to put the camera down, but we’re photographers, and there’s nothing wrong with having it with you as much as possible. If you’re a photographer and a parent, your kids come first, but capturing memories of them, for them, is extremely important. Enjoy life, bottom line, and if you find joy in having a camera with you throughout most of it, do it. Do whatever makes you happy and don’t worry about whether or not to leave your camera at home, just bring it with you.
Just one final tip: when handing your camera off to someone else to take your photo, make sure they know how to focus. The image above was captured by my very talented father.
I’ve spent a lot of time speaking with other professional photographers about this very topic, and I’m not alone. Here are a few others that have also struggled with this same issue, but ultimately decided the same as I did, to continue snapping away.
CS: When I was consumed with photographing everything, I noticed 2 things were often missing; My physical presence in the image and mental presence in the moment. I would be concerned with composition, settings & light while REAL LIFE was happening around me. I was working. Not living.
Just as Jay did, I decided to put my camera down and felt it was time to start living life without it. It didn’t take long for me to realize I wasn’t happy with that. I had become a spectator in my own life – but not documenting life when it’s what I do for others, felt equally wrong. I decided to make a change but a couple things needed to happen: One, I couldn’t miss life, and second it couldn’t feel like work.
I decided to start using my iPhone more and made a separate Instagram account that was personal only. From this account, I use an app called Chatbooks, which prints these spontaneously photographed memories (some of the most special) taken with my iPhone. I also bought a Fuji XT10. While the quality is killer, and even good enough for some parts of the wedding day, I try to limit it to personal use only and this feels more personal and fun. Just like Jay, I started handing my camera off and asking people if they would snap a few with me, sometimes this seems hard to do but it’s really easy and the reward is definitely worth the trouble.
VD: As a father first and a photographer second, it’s not often that I would rather have the camera to my eye than play with Madison. The goal, though, is to capture shots that are in the moment, nothing contrived – just real. For us to look back on these special times in our lives, years from now, isn’t that why we chase moments? To freeze them forever, to cherish forever.
CG: I love capturing photos of my kids just playing in my home where they can be themselves, nothing posed. I feel like their personalities show more when they’re in a comfortable surrounding. There are times I put my camera down, but capturing these moments is something I do for them as much as myself. I look forward to the day we can sit down together and look through them to smile and laugh. My camera is part of who I am, and I don’t ever feel like I’m not enjoying a moment because I have it.