How To Take Better Photos: Leave Your Camera Behind

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To keep in the mood of this post, I’m not going to include a picture, as is DPS’s custom.  This post is about just that, not taking and posting photos.  I do it a lot, more than most probably realize (no thanks in part to the fact that I have a Photo Of The Day feature on my blog) and it’s something that I think makes me a better photographer.  Not better as in, “I’m better than you”, but better as in it’s a method I use to help myself improve.

In general I’m speaking about travel photos here, but it can apply to any photography.  When I’m out at some location far from home and everything is ohhh ahhh new sparkly shiny grand, I have impulses like a lot of you, to start snapping photos of everything. “Wow! Look at that family on a moped!” “Now that’s a cool archway!” “Oh, my daughter would love a picture of those cats!” Overwhelming at times, isn’t it?

Over the years I’ve learned, and am still learning, the art of doing nothing.  In this case, not photographing, but still observing.  On my last trip to Nepal in April I spent two days walking around Kathmandu, alone, without a camera.  Let me tell you, there was some cool stuff I saw.  Neat cool stuff.  Totally.  Lots of it.  So bizarre for someone from the USA.   But that’s about all you’ll hear about it, because I wasn’t shooting.  I purposely left my camera at my friend’s place so I could just observe and take it all in and get a better feel for my surroundings.

I do look differently at the world through the lens.  I’m trying to grab something; time, space, newness.  What I’m not doing is really experiencing my surroundings.  When I put a camera to my eye, even though I typically shoot with both eyes open, I get tunnel vision, bad.  Maybe you do too.  Hyper focus (har har har).  But it’s true.  The rest of the world falls away and although I keep enough wits about me to be cautious of danger, I’m not listening or smelling or feeling as much of the world around me.  I’m just curious about what I see through the lens.

So when I leave the camera behind, I’m able to get a better feel for a place.  You notice I use the word feel a bit in this post.  It’s because that is one aspect of travel that I love, just feeling the difference in a new place until it becomes commonplace, if I stay long enough for that to happen.  Once I get a better grasp of how a location feels, I have found I then take better pictures.  Maybe seeing the same merchant on different days gives me a better idea of who he is.  Let’s say on the first day he looks dour, but on the next three days he’s happy and chipper, even striking up a conversation.  While a photo on the first day would in fact be accurate of how he was that day, it’s not really how he is most of the time.  It’s the same with a location.  Horrible traffic one day could be easy sailing on other days.

There is no right or wrong way to take travel photos (except for completely over exposing everything into whiteness, I suppose).  I’ve found what works for me is taking a break from the myopic view behind the camera when I can’t see past the viewfinder.  Sure it’s not always possible, especially if you’re on a tour and only going to pass by the Eiffel Tower for a two hour break.  By all means, snap away.  But try setting the camera down some time and taking a walk through your new environment without it as a distraction.  Get a feel for your new location.

Then go back, grab the camera, and translate that feel into beautiful photographs.

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Costa Rica, Panama, Alaska, Seattle and Los Angeles. He is also the creator of 31 Days to Better Photography & 31 Days of Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

  • Anne

    I love the idea of leaving the camera behind sometimes. Many times, I go to shoot the grandchildren, and I miss the ability to interact with them. What’s more important? The interaction and development of the bond, for sure.

  • Michael

    Whilst understanding the thinking behind this post, I agree with Thomas and some others. If you are going to be a serious photographer you need to carry at least a decent compact with you always. Opportunity only strikes once! An unusual cloud pattern, a local character sitting in the main square, a flower in full bloom undisturbed by any wind, a once a week market day or a festival. Return next day with your camera and you’ve missed it!

  • Rajev Charudutta

    Peter I loved your article. It indeed broadens ones perspective.

  • I’m astounded by some of the stuff DPS publishes as advice, like a few weeks ago when an article was posted here saying that you should slightly underexpose digital photos to get more detail (that is the opposite of true).
    => When shooting RAW, you can regain much more detail by increasing the brightness than by decreasing it. There may be some exceptions, but with most cameras, pure white become pure gray, whereas pure black becomes detailed gray.

  • Cliff

    Very true words, I have spent the last 2 months cycling around remote farming areas of Denmark. I have seen some beautiful landscapes, fields and the like which change everyday. One day fields of bright yellow rape flowers, the next, mature fields of green seed bordered with bright red poppies which only survive the first gusts of wind.
    I have done as you say, taken in the scenery and smells and then returned to take the shots.
    The sunlight and weather does not always play along.
    The other day I decided to walk a route along a dirt road and down to a small lake, I was not expecting anything unusual, and had no camera. Suddenly there was a commotion in the long grass bordering the lake, a pheasant took off followed closely by a mature Fox who stood 10 meters in front of me staring after the lost prey. The moment lasted for about 15 seconds until the noise of the velcro as I reached for my cell phone startled the Fox and he darted into the undergrowth. The only image I have is the one burned into my mind.
    I always seen to be in the right place at the wrong time!!

  • Mr. Monday

    HE never said anything about leaving your camera at home. In fact, home is usually where your family, house, kids ect. are. He was referring to a trip, leaving the camera where he was staying, scouting the area, then returning. Thomas to use your own analogy, you can’t drive a new car without studying it first. I myself was in Las Vegas for the first time and was enthralled by the Bellagio light show. I have over two hundred pictures of one show of that fountain, and not one memory of it through my own eyes.

  • Venkat

    I am totally on board with Thomas. It is absolutely asinine to leave you camera back home out of reach when
    you are on a trip. Imagine you are on a vacation in Bora Bora in the pacific and you don’t have your camera. Why in the name of the good lord would you advise people to do that??

  • mr. monday

    Are you guys idiots? If you actually read the article, he never said anything that Thomas said he did. Read the last sentence of the whole thing.

  • Francesca

    Yeah when I go on holiday with my sister, she keeps telling me to stop so many photo’s so I’ve learned (most of the time) to not take that many photos and only bring it when I think I need it so I can still get a feeling for the place 🙂
    but also my camera doesn’t have a viewfinder so it’s not exactly the same.

  • Alan

    Hi I can understand you logic, but I have learned hard lessons from not having my camera with me, something always pops up that really needs a photograph! Me I ALWAYS have a camera with me even if just a point and shoot just in case.
    Regards
    Alan.

  • Sandy

    There is a great quote by DeGriff that hits on this topic: “There will be times when you will be in the field without a a camera. And, you will see the most glorious sunset or them most beautiful scene that you have ever witnessed. Don’t be bitter because you can’t record it. Sit down, drink it in, and enjoy it for what it is!” I have memorized specifically for those times when I am caught without my camera. It reminds me to keep breathing and create and capture the moment through words.

  • Suvajra

    Thanks Peter,

    “a suggestion to help improve your eye”… great advice.

    I’ve left my camera behind loads of times – accidentally – and I’ve kicked myself afterwards … but, then, so what .. “I missed a great shot!”. Life is full of ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ great shots – I see them everyday on photo-websites!!!

    I’ve left my camera behind loads of times – deliberately – just to be in the way you describe. If you’re going to do it, do it as a practice, a training. Go meditatively. Use your other faculties that don’t get such exercise with the camera. Smell…notice the smells, the variations and so on – then contemplate, how the heck would I convey this smell… that range of odurs….that fragrance? Let your intuition be exercised. Your sixth-sense (and seventh and eighth). Don’t waste your time thinking what you might miss by not having your camera – think what you can gain and reflect on how you might convey some of the extra richness that you’ve discovered.

    Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

  • Lala

    I agree with thomas… to get the feel of a place while travelling… id keep the camera in the case… but have it ready like a gun just in case (:

  • Norman

    I believe what Peter meant is to get the feel of your sorroundings and just don’t keep shooting pictures as you arrived to a place. Familiarize the sorroundings, enjoy the place , appreciate the place, it’s colors etc..and you will have better thoughts of how you should focus your lenses. So don’t take it very literal as leaving your cameras.

  • Doug

    This year I stopped in Northumberland intending to stay overnight and then continue upto the north coast of Scotland seeing a notice that advertised a 2hour walk led by a proffessional photographer I decided to stay an extra few days. He gave similar advice, before you get the camera out of its bag get a feel for the area what is it that catches your eye. If you could take only 1 photo to say I was here it was like this.
    Since then I have tried to get just 10 great pictures rather than 100 dissapointing ones each day.
    It has not quite worked but I am down to 50 bad ones.
    The practice of not carrying a camera and snapping away is easier at home but I do think about what I would shoot and what would make it into a good photo if I were a visitor light/shade, framing, viewpoint, lead in lines etc as I walk to the shops.

    In writing this Ive been thinking how could I show the area I live in. Its a rundown council estate in one of the New Towns that were built to house the Londoners whose homes were destroyed during the blitz. Unlike many of the nearby older towns and newer estates there are trees and open spaces, people walk to get where they are going. Most people are friendly and will talk to you, but fences are broken and over half the people in my block are unemployed….umm…an ideal photo is tricky ..needs more time.

    Last week I met up with my son in central Oxford near the Bodliean Library..My ideal photo would have to show the spires, the yellow sandstone, the bikes leaning against railings, several groups of tourist with tour guides pointing out various details, the mish-mash of different building styles, and of course some obvious academics ignoring everyone else and talking animatedly about something or other.

    Trafalgar square and I’m going on memory of the last time I had to drive through it…would have to show Nelsons column,admiralty arch and all those people, pigeons and cars,buses and taxis moving past ..So maybe a slow shutter speed to get the movement and focus on a tourist stopping to read a guidebook or sit
    and eat a sandwich…or do a panning shot of a suited buisness man walking through the crowd talking on a mobile phone.

    I think these word pictures give an idea of the observation skills you are trying to improve so you can get that 1 shot that says it all and like any great picture can be looked at for hours.
    Doug
    p.s. despite saying this I will probably still snap away and kick myself when I got home and reviewed the 1000’s of shots I took…..duh!

  • I’m sorry, I totally agree with Thomas! (third comment on July 14th)

    If I don’t have a camera, either my Nikon or just my Lumix, I always ALWAYS see something I regret not being able to photograph… Then I’m stuck with a cell phone pic! It’s a very bad feeling…

    Carry at all times, choose to balance your exploration of a place or event.

  • sirrain

    sorry, i find the article lame and amusing at best.. i do know that some are not able to enjoy the scenery or experience when they are also “capturing” it, but not me..

    i often can’t resist the urge to shoot when i am confronted by “something” that begs to be recorded, and i never “just click”..

    so i exert effort in ALWAYS bringing my camera EVERYTIME i explore.. that way, i DO get enjoy the travel at twice the fun, and i don’t have to come back just to record it..

  • Peter, this is amazing article.

    Two main challenges for me:
    1. Being mindful of customs when shooting abroad. I love to capture candid shots of the locals behaving as if I wasn’t there, but I do not want to offend anyone, or find myself in a hostile situation.
    2. Heading out to a location to capture scenes near dusk, only to find out that the neighborhood is not as peaceful and pleasant at night – especially when carrying thousands of dollars of gear on my back. This one is especially applicable in locations where I may not have a rented vehicle – where I am at the mercy of taxis or public transportation.

  • Neither side is right or wrong, these are simply two different approaches.

    I recently talked with a friend who used to be professional photojournalist back in the analogue days. While digital storage affords us the luxury of taking hundreds of snapshots for free (I recently went through 700-odd snaps for a blues band shoot), we take less time and patience to set up each individual one. If you just point your lens at whatever it is you want and make enough photos, it seems, you will end up with one great picture somewhere among the crap.

    I, too, am guilty of taking way too many photos. Leaving the camera at home once in awhile and training your eye may improve your skills a lot more than snapping away. The chances of you actually seeing something lost forever if you don’t capture it right now are so low, it probably won’t matter.

  • What a great great idea. I’ve never thought of just stopping and taking in the view, the scene the area before I put my camera to my eye and get that “tunnel vision”. It’s true, I often forget about the experience and merely focus on what would be a great picture!

Some Older Comments

  • Katie@How to take great photos April 17, 2011 08:19 am

    What a great great idea. I've never thought of just stopping and taking in the view, the scene the area before I put my camera to my eye and get that "tunnel vision". It's true, I often forget about the experience and merely focus on what would be a great picture!

  • Berthold August 16, 2010 09:29 pm

    Neither side is right or wrong, these are simply two different approaches.

    I recently talked with a friend who used to be professional photojournalist back in the analogue days. While digital storage affords us the luxury of taking hundreds of snapshots for free (I recently went through 700-odd snaps for a blues band shoot), we take less time and patience to set up each individual one. If you just point your lens at whatever it is you want and make enough photos, it seems, you will end up with one great picture somewhere among the crap.

    I, too, am guilty of taking way too many photos. Leaving the camera at home once in awhile and training your eye may improve your skills a lot more than snapping away. The chances of you actually seeing something lost forever if you don't capture it right now are so low, it probably won't matter.

  • Smokinphoto August 16, 2010 04:15 am

    Peter, this is amazing article.

    Two main challenges for me:
    1. Being mindful of customs when shooting abroad. I love to capture candid shots of the locals behaving as if I wasn’t there, but I do not want to offend anyone, or find myself in a hostile situation.
    2. Heading out to a location to capture scenes near dusk, only to find out that the neighborhood is not as peaceful and pleasant at night – especially when carrying thousands of dollars of gear on my back. This one is especially applicable in locations where I may not have a rented vehicle – where I am at the mercy of taxis or public transportation.

  • sirrain August 10, 2010 04:29 pm

    sorry, i find the article lame and amusing at best.. i do know that some are not able to enjoy the scenery or experience when they are also "capturing" it, but not me..

    i often can't resist the urge to shoot when i am confronted by "something" that begs to be recorded, and i never "just click"..

    so i exert effort in ALWAYS bringing my camera EVERYTIME i explore.. that way, i DO get enjoy the travel at twice the fun, and i don't have to come back just to record it..

  • karen August 9, 2010 08:44 pm

    I'm sorry, I totally agree with Thomas! (third comment on July 14th)

    If I don't have a camera, either my Nikon or just my Lumix, I always ALWAYS see something I regret not being able to photograph... Then I'm stuck with a cell phone pic! It's a very bad feeling...

    Carry at all times, choose to balance your exploration of a place or event.

  • Doug August 5, 2010 02:38 am

    This year I stopped in Northumberland intending to stay overnight and then continue upto the north coast of Scotland seeing a notice that advertised a 2hour walk led by a proffessional photographer I decided to stay an extra few days. He gave similar advice, before you get the camera out of its bag get a feel for the area what is it that catches your eye. If you could take only 1 photo to say I was here it was like this.
    Since then I have tried to get just 10 great pictures rather than 100 dissapointing ones each day.
    It has not quite worked but I am down to 50 bad ones.
    The practice of not carrying a camera and snapping away is easier at home but I do think about what I would shoot and what would make it into a good photo if I were a visitor light/shade, framing, viewpoint, lead in lines etc as I walk to the shops.

    In writing this Ive been thinking how could I show the area I live in. Its a rundown council estate in one of the New Towns that were built to house the Londoners whose homes were destroyed during the blitz. Unlike many of the nearby older towns and newer estates there are trees and open spaces, people walk to get where they are going. Most people are friendly and will talk to you, but fences are broken and over half the people in my block are unemployed....umm...an ideal photo is tricky ..needs more time.

    Last week I met up with my son in central Oxford near the Bodliean Library..My ideal photo would have to show the spires, the yellow sandstone, the bikes leaning against railings, several groups of tourist with tour guides pointing out various details, the mish-mash of different building styles, and of course some obvious academics ignoring everyone else and talking animatedly about something or other.

    Trafalgar square and I'm going on memory of the last time I had to drive through it...would have to show Nelsons column,admiralty arch and all those people, pigeons and cars,buses and taxis moving past ..So maybe a slow shutter speed to get the movement and focus on a tourist stopping to read a guidebook or sit
    and eat a sandwich...or do a panning shot of a suited buisness man walking through the crowd talking on a mobile phone.

    I think these word pictures give an idea of the observation skills you are trying to improve so you can get that 1 shot that says it all and like any great picture can be looked at for hours.
    Doug
    p.s. despite saying this I will probably still snap away and kick myself when I got home and reviewed the 1000's of shots I took.....duh!

  • Norman July 29, 2010 04:28 am

    I believe what Peter meant is to get the feel of your sorroundings and just don't keep shooting pictures as you arrived to a place. Familiarize the sorroundings, enjoy the place , appreciate the place, it's colors etc..and you will have better thoughts of how you should focus your lenses. So don't take it very literal as leaving your cameras.

  • Lala July 29, 2010 02:15 am

    I agree with thomas... to get the feel of a place while travelling... id keep the camera in the case... but have it ready like a gun just in case (:

  • Suvajra July 27, 2010 12:48 pm

    Thanks Peter,

    "a suggestion to help improve your eye"... great advice.

    I've left my camera behind loads of times - accidentally - and I've kicked myself afterwards ... but, then, so what .. "I missed a great shot!". Life is full of 'once-in-a-lifetime' great shots - I see them everyday on photo-websites!!!

    I've left my camera behind loads of times - deliberately - just to be in the way you describe. If you're going to do it, do it as a practice, a training. Go meditatively. Use your other faculties that don't get such exercise with the camera. Smell...notice the smells, the variations and so on - then contemplate, how the heck would I convey this smell... that range of odurs....that fragrance? Let your intuition be exercised. Your sixth-sense (and seventh and eighth). Don't waste your time thinking what you might miss by not having your camera - think what you can gain and reflect on how you might convey some of the extra richness that you've discovered.

    Don't knock it till you've tried it.

  • Sandy July 25, 2010 10:30 am

    There is a great quote by DeGriff that hits on this topic: "There will be times when you will be in the field without a a camera. And, you will see the most glorious sunset or them most beautiful scene that you have ever witnessed. Don't be bitter because you can't record it. Sit down, drink it in, and enjoy it for what it is!" I have memorized specifically for those times when I am caught without my camera. It reminds me to keep breathing and create and capture the moment through words.

  • Alan July 23, 2010 02:43 am

    Hi I can understand you logic, but I have learned hard lessons from not having my camera with me, something always pops up that really needs a photograph! Me I ALWAYS have a camera with me even if just a point and shoot just in case.
    Regards
    Alan.

  • Francesca July 22, 2010 04:53 pm

    Yeah when I go on holiday with my sister, she keeps telling me to stop so many photo's so I've learned (most of the time) to not take that many photos and only bring it when I think I need it so I can still get a feeling for the place :)
    but also my camera doesn't have a viewfinder so it's not exactly the same.

  • mr. monday July 21, 2010 01:27 am

    Are you guys idiots? If you actually read the article, he never said anything that Thomas said he did. Read the last sentence of the whole thing.

  • Venkat July 21, 2010 01:10 am

    I am totally on board with Thomas. It is absolutely asinine to leave you camera back home out of reach when
    you are on a trip. Imagine you are on a vacation in Bora Bora in the pacific and you don't have your camera. Why in the name of the good lord would you advise people to do that??

  • Mr. Monday July 19, 2010 09:32 am

    HE never said anything about leaving your camera at home. In fact, home is usually where your family, house, kids ect. are. He was referring to a trip, leaving the camera where he was staying, scouting the area, then returning. Thomas to use your own analogy, you can't drive a new car without studying it first. I myself was in Las Vegas for the first time and was enthralled by the Bellagio light show. I have over two hundred pictures of one show of that fountain, and not one memory of it through my own eyes.

  • Cliff July 19, 2010 04:59 am

    Very true words, I have spent the last 2 months cycling around remote farming areas of Denmark. I have seen some beautiful landscapes, fields and the like which change everyday. One day fields of bright yellow rape flowers, the next, mature fields of green seed bordered with bright red poppies which only survive the first gusts of wind.
    I have done as you say, taken in the scenery and smells and then returned to take the shots.
    The sunlight and weather does not always play along.
    The other day I decided to walk a route along a dirt road and down to a small lake, I was not expecting anything unusual, and had no camera. Suddenly there was a commotion in the long grass bordering the lake, a pheasant took off followed closely by a mature Fox who stood 10 meters in front of me staring after the lost prey. The moment lasted for about 15 seconds until the noise of the velcro as I reached for my cell phone startled the Fox and he darted into the undergrowth. The only image I have is the one burned into my mind.
    I always seen to be in the right place at the wrong time!!

  • Danferno July 18, 2010 09:15 pm

    I’m astounded by some of the stuff DPS publishes as advice, like a few weeks ago when an article was posted here saying that you should slightly underexpose digital photos to get more detail (that is the opposite of true).
    => When shooting RAW, you can regain much more detail by increasing the brightness than by decreasing it. There may be some exceptions, but with most cameras, pure white become pure gray, whereas pure black becomes detailed gray.

  • Rajev Charudutta July 18, 2010 03:05 pm

    Peter I loved your article. It indeed broadens ones perspective.

  • Michael July 18, 2010 05:09 am

    Whilst understanding the thinking behind this post, I agree with Thomas and some others. If you are going to be a serious photographer you need to carry at least a decent compact with you always. Opportunity only strikes once! An unusual cloud pattern, a local character sitting in the main square, a flower in full bloom undisturbed by any wind, a once a week market day or a festival. Return next day with your camera and you've missed it!

  • Anne July 17, 2010 02:36 am

    I love the idea of leaving the camera behind sometimes. Many times, I go to shoot the grandchildren, and I miss the ability to interact with them. What's more important? The interaction and development of the bond, for sure.

  • Shyam July 17, 2010 02:08 am

    Funny you are saying this. I am just 25 and I already feel I am missing something with camera in my hands all the time when I travel and am still a beginner with photography. No wonder you wanted to set your camera aside.

  • songbird July 16, 2010 01:38 pm

    Wow, can I relate to what you are saying...I do the exact same thing when I have a lens...

  • DavidOB July 16, 2010 12:57 pm

    A lot of this depends on the kind of photographs you take. If you like to make an image of every slightly new thing you encounter while traveling, then you better have a camera in your hand all the time. You'll probably miss half the trip, but I'll assume that is how you do things.

    If that PJ (Photo Journalist) approach is not yours and you are looking for unique images that may or may not be "travel" images, then leaving the camera outasight/outamind for a while can be both educational and liberating.

    If you are on a tour, you'll have the camera handy, if not in your hand, because you'll never be at any single spot again.

    Frankly, I suck at the PJ approach, but I do take tours. I took my 7D on the last trip. Never again! I'll be shooting something much more compact.

  • halmooney July 16, 2010 10:24 am

    I realized this very thing - I often don't SEE events. I capture them. But looking at the pictures later does NOT equal experiencing it as it happens.
    My youngest son played in his very last band concert recently, and of course my wife insisted on me being the videographer. THIS time I took along a tripod, set up, pushed the button, kicked back and enjoyed watching MY KID doing something he greatly enjoyed.
    The resulting movie didn't have any cool effects, or pans across the stage, which I would normally have done.. And nobody missed them. And I didn't miss the experience.
    When I work for others, I work so that they can experience the event - NOW and LATER. But when it's MY event, sometimes I have to remember to put the camera down and just enjoy the moment.

  • Ken Barber July 16, 2010 09:51 am

    I always take my camera with me. There may be a rare occasion that I return home without taking any photos, but to miss an opportunity, with the right light, the right place etc and not have my camera would bother me.

  • andreas July 16, 2010 08:13 am

    Very true. A friend of mine used to go diving and shooting a lot, sometimes with sharks and other "big fish". He told me that he stopped shooting underwater because he felt like he'd miss out on so many things surrounding him by only looking through that "tunnel vision" lens.

  • Nando Tampubolon July 16, 2010 08:10 am

    Agree with you, sometimes when we did a traveling we should enjoy the moments for a while. Feelt the environment, feel the people, etc. Off course we can take pictures, hence we bring the camera,,but I think we have to balance it between taking pictures and enjoyed the moment. Once I had traveled with my friends who really love photography so much, the fact was he did buy a new camera on that day,,so he acted like 'its my new camera, i think i'm going to snap all things i met',,things getting worst when he started play on his own world just snap here and snap there meanwhile me and others really wanted to play around and felt the journey,,So, i think people should know which time to snap pictures and which time to enjoy the traveling it self..

  • Manuel Perez July 16, 2010 07:43 am

    I haven't travel enough as I would have liked.But in no way I'll be leaving my camera behind when I do travel. When I look at photos taken of my vacations I recall my vacation as if I would be living to moment again.They take me back in time . That to me merits taking my camera with me on my vacations.

  • Heath July 16, 2010 06:42 am

    I was telling my son on the 4th of July " I'm missing the fireworks by trying to take all these pictures ". So you are so right .

  • Alina Bradford July 16, 2010 05:45 am

    Great article. I find that if I am carrying my camera I'm less likely to participate because I am afraid of damaging my camera. So, if I really want to get into the experience, I leave my camera at home.

  • Lisa July 16, 2010 05:10 am

    I really like this concept! (Although I'm hardly ever without a camera of some sort) In travel or even special occasions, sometimes you loose the moment instead of capturing it forever!!! I've got a decent small camera so I remind myself to silde it into a pocket and just enjoy... If there is something too good to pass up I still have the opportunity to catch it! I go to alot of rock concerts....and when I'm photographing, I tend to tune everything else out....includng the music!!! So I put my camera away after the opening....shoot a few shots in the middle, then a few at the encore and just enjoy the rest of the show!!!

  • ash July 16, 2010 04:57 am

    Great article Peter.

    A friend of mine had mentioned this to me (or warned?) before I left on a 4-week vacation in Morocco. I didn't listen, and am now feeling a little 'burnt out' photographically. Taking a few days off during the trip probably could have resulted in better images over-all and no photo-burn-out.

    I am (was?) one of those 'never leave a camera behind' people, and now during this 'burn out' I'm experiencing, I am finally leaving my camera behind on occasion, and yes, it IS liberating!

  • umesh kawan July 16, 2010 04:51 am

    cheers, I always thought the same way too, why is it just me taking pics of the surroundings but now i know its not just me there is whole bunch of others. one interesting thing is I am from Nepal. Glad to hear your visited there.

  • Gaurav Sehgal July 16, 2010 04:37 am

    I always thought why I was doing this, but now i know there are others who think alike. And its as important to observe the surroundings as it is to click them..

  • Katie-Lee July 16, 2010 04:19 am

    I have spent the past 4.5 years living overseas for work - and spending my vacations travelling to other countries (while I'm on the other side of the world I'll take advantage of it). I am very very lucky in that sense. I always take my camera bag and lenses - and now that I have a tripod - that will go with me as well. HOWEVER -- walking around the streets of Bangkok with a camera bag on my shoulder ended up being REAALLY heavy after 4 or 5 hours. So - I took it back to the hotel. I did however keep my little waterproof Olympus with me. It fits in a pocket. If I get the once in a lifetime shot of a UFO landing in the intersection - I've got a camera that takes a good candid photo. I even get to take some funny ones under the water in the pool and at the beach, at the splashy fountain and in the rain - those are the shots my friends want to see and laugh at. While I am living all these travel moments I may also notice these cool dogs that like to hang out on the sand in Phuket and play with the restaurant waiters - so I'll take my camera gear down at dusk - set up camp at a table at the restaurant - set up my shots and once the light is gone - have a beer and go back into travel mode. So -- take your pocket camera and rest assured that you won't be missing photographic memories -- and live the moment you are in. Then you can go back and get the awesome shot of the Gondola's silently dissapearing around the bend in the canals of Venice. There are alot of Gondola's and they're not going anywhere anytime soon - they'll still be there in a few hours! If you really feel bad about putting down the Canon - spend half a day inhaling the experience, the other half filling up your memory cards. The next day swap - pics in the morning - live in the moment in the afternoon. I always feel quite bad if I am travelling with someone and I want to stand and take endless photo's to get the lighting just right - or to wait for someone to be walking down the stairs to fill the shot.... how boring for the person I am with --- their memories end up being me with my eye in a viewfinder and them hanging around wishing we could just move on. If you are only in one spot for an overnight (like my 22 hours in Washington DC with a gorgeous daylight saving sunset and the greenbelt full to overflowing with baseball games and people throwing frisbees with Capitol HIll in the background -- well shoot to your hearts content - there is no time to waste. If you have a few nights -- take some time.
    Peter - thanks for the article. Timely reminder for me about to visit Santa Monica for the first time - beaches and sunsets are my downfall!!! There will be time - and will be taken just soaking in the atmosphere.

  • Paul Perger July 16, 2010 04:19 am

    I have always said, "The best camera in the world is the Human Eye. And the best media is your memory."

    You are right to leave it home once in a while. I have a small Canon SD780IS in my pocket 90% of the time. But there have been many times when I have consciously chosen to leave it in my pocket and rely on my memory to record the sight I am seeing.

    A photo, even an extremely well done photo can not capture a scene like your mind can. Period. A good photo can capture what it can see, and what it can see only. I find that when I look at a photo that I took, I remember the scene, the smells, the sounds, the wind. It is my memories that make the photo live.

    I can view other people's photos and admire the beauty of a wonderful shot, but even the best shots leave me wanting more... In fact the best shots ALWAYS leave me wanting more...

  • K July 16, 2010 04:15 am

    Leave the big gear in the hotel safe. Take the p&s (g11/s90) if you must -- but listen to Carey. Train the eye, learn about the place, the people, the connections -- you might capture something special. If you are so snap-happy and you are the next Ansel - then by all-means take it all, go for the gold. But, IMHO -- the best shots are taken when I have embrace the space, the connections, the surroundings, and the people in them. Live a little.

  • loralei July 16, 2010 03:57 am

    Wow. I though it was just me. You verbalized what is on my mind. I live my life through a camera lens and I am an amateur's amateur. I love your columns. Thank you.

  • Peter West Carey July 16, 2010 02:26 am

    Two things for those how are expounding to "never" leave your camera behind:
    1) I stated you can leave it a hotel (safe) for the day. I never stated, "Leave it at home". I'm not THAT insane. :)

    2) Have those who state 'never leave a camera behind' tried it? As in actually, consciously tried it? It's quite liberating. While I do like that some compromise by just leaving it in a bag (leaving it deep in a bag is a better idea), not having that weight and mental "Oh, grab it!" reflex going off does change the way you look at things. This is a chance to grow.

    3) Think of it as training. This is a chance to improve your overall eye. Cross training if you will. Don sarcastically points to learning to drive by leaving your car behind and yes, I'm saying just that. In the training sense, do marathon runners run every single day? The ones I know don't. While they are training they will often head to the pool or get on a bike. Cross train. Another way to put it, look at martial arts. There is an element of observation before practice before competition.

    Those who state, in black and white, "Always take your camera (or you'll die :) )" are missing out on the opportunity to grow.

    How about explaining it differently. On your next trip, leave your camera behind for 1.5 hours and walk around your hotel, maybe during the high sun part of the day. Then go back and grab it when the sunlight has improved a bit.

    I'm not trying to convince those who would never leave their camera behind. They're minds don't seem flexible enough to try something new. But I'm hoping some on the fence might give it a try.

    This isn't an absolute decree, it's a suggestion to help improve your eye.

  • Don July 16, 2010 01:58 am

    Never leave your camera behind. If you don't want to shoot OK but always carry your camera.

  • Karen Stuebing July 15, 2010 10:37 pm

    I understand what Mr. Carey is saying. Getting a feel for a place is important in order to take meaningful photos.

    But I'm not leaving my camera behind. Unless it's pouring down rain.

    It is possible to carry a camera and not be whipping it out to take snapshots every five seconds.

    I spend a lot of time hiking and driving around the mountains of West Virginia. Sometimes, I take 50 photos. Sometimes I take two.

    Unfortunately, I don't travel to foreign countries. I'm poor. But I have a wealth of photo ops where I live.

    When I got my first decent digital camera, I took photos of everything. I had the count up to 10,000 within months. I also deleted 90% of them. :) Mr Carey has a very valid point.

  • Jim Stearns July 15, 2010 03:53 pm

    Hummm- different approach. First of all, define "Travel" photography? I'm a old, mature, :) "Street Photographer". I shoot pics of things that "Hike my Skirt." Going to new area to shoot I come to shoot what is hopefully something that no on else has seen.
    Good article to jog the mind.
    Jim Stearns

  • marvin July 15, 2010 03:50 pm

    there is a negative and a positive to do so.
    yes you do learn to appreciate and get a better feel for the situation, but you can still bring your camera.
    just don't take it out like I often do.
    nice post!

  • Enrico Senis July 15, 2010 06:55 am

    Hi.
    Many years ago I used to travel a lot, but I wasn't used to take a camera with me.
    I am so sorry that the scenes, the characters, the landscapes and so on are just in my mind and slowly they are fading away and sinking in the oblivion..
    Now I regret sadly I had no camera with me.
    So, think well about your idea of going around without your camera.
    Kind regards,
    enrico

  • Irene July 15, 2010 06:16 am

    Regrettably, I cannot afford independent travel...so I'm always torn between absorbing my surroundings and "getting that shot," while trying not to be too far behind the rest of the tour group. I try to get in both by standing on the fringes of the group, not giving my full attention to the guides, skipping some meals, and avoiding the souvenir shops! I may be the last one to get back on the bus, but I'm always within the time frame. OK...you may get a reputation as being a little odd, but I love it when others see my photos and say, "Wow...where did you see that!" Bottom line....I'd never leave my camera in the hotel.

  • Elizabeth July 15, 2010 05:01 am

    I had a professor in college who used to say "you never really see what you are photographing until you develop the image, because the photograph is recorded when the shutter is closed." This isn't true if you are using a digital camera with the live-view function, of course, but it encourages me to use the view-finder more often to appreciate the mystery. This article reminds me of that quote, because if you are always clicking away, think of all you are really missing!

  • Tyler Wainright July 15, 2010 02:48 am

    Like others have said, take your camera - always take the camera - but, leave it in the bag a little longer until you feel more connected to your surroundings. Don't I sound a little like David duChemin?

  • Joshua Sigar July 15, 2010 02:21 am

    Like many commenters have said, it's a good advice but not much practicality. When travelling with other people, you don't visit the same place twice. When travelling solo you may be able to do what's advised by the write, but I'd prefer taking my camera, doing more walking and seeing, and yet taking some samples photos. Then you go back to the basecamp/hotel, and with the help of sample photos, you come back to one spot when the lighting is right.

    This is a total tangent, is having the opportunity to watch something phenomenal lessened by the fact that you didn’t take a picture of it? I certainly hope not, because you’d be missing out on life itself right in front of you.

    Of course not. But since I picked up a DSLR and take more photos, I appreciate being able to capture the memory. Photos tell story better than your memory. I enjoyed browsing albums from past trips/vacations.

    But then again, as you said, photography has somewhat ruined my vacations. There are times when I need a second visit because on the first visit I was to caught up taking pictures. Sure you can see the photos now, but being there is way different experience than looking at a photo.

    In the end, it's a compromise that you have to decide. I definitely can't leave my camera behind for most occasions, so I just try to take less time taking pictures.

  • Zé Maria July 15, 2010 12:36 am

    With me it doesn't work that way. To me it happens the other way around, when I am overwhelmed with the beauty or the magic of a place, I often forget the camera. I always carry the camera with me, but my true vision and feeling always come first than the camera. Sometime I see beautiful things and don't bring the picture because I didn't feel like photographing. But I never let my camera home. Just in case...

  • Miro July 15, 2010 12:33 am

    Great article! And for the few nay-sayers, this shot kind of summarizes the gist of the article about missing the "feeling" of a once in a lifetime experience, in order to get a once in a lifetime shot.

    http://gizmodo.com/5136176/the-youth-ball-welcomes-obama-with-a-sea-of-digital-cameras

  • Shaun Fisher July 15, 2010 12:03 am

    Advice is there to be taken or not - thats why it is advice. I'm sure P.W. Carey has bettered himself photographically with his experience, else he'd not give the advice!

    I can say that in my adult life I've had one trip with a DSLR and spent 90% of it taking photos and just days after the trip was over I realised that most were quantity over quality.

    If you are staying in one location for your travels for a decent amount of time, I'd say unless that "once in a lifetime" shot comes along, browse, study & experience it for a while before jumping behind the lens.

    Self control isn't easy!

  • NSL July 14, 2010 10:46 pm

    I think the sentiment expressed in the article is on the money, but I wouldn't leave my camera in the hotel ... ever. There would be too many missed opportunities regretted.

    Part of the problem with leaving the camera "at home" is for many, they will never revisit a location, and therefore never have the opportunity again to create memories of their visit, and of the location and its culture, history and impact.

    That being said, even if I'm specifically somewhere to photograph it, it's important to step back from the viewfinder and look around and simply enjoy being there. Doing that will usually even help make better photographs. It will make the trip better travel. It will make a far better experience. Especially when I'm traveling to a location I likely will not be able to return to again, I want to ensure I get a whole lot more from it than only photographs.

    When film was king, its expense, and the logistics of carrying a lot of rolls almost ensured every photographer would have the discipline to look around first and really see what was there, instead of just snapping shots from arrival to departure. It also helped to require discipline in framing each shot to make them count. Each photographer needs to gain that discipline if they've never had it, and regain it, if they've lost it.

    Peter, you mentioned about "...I’m not listening or smelling or feeling as much of the world around me." Though it's hard, we should be trying to capture that via our photographs. It's not easy, but sometimes we can capture not just the sight of what's there, but the emotion of what's in front of us. Standing back and looking around, savoring moments of travel, giving ourselves time to experience our location, can help us do that. It can make us better photographers, and can truly help us get a whole lot more from our travels than just a few thousands "glossies."

  • Sam An July 14, 2010 10:12 pm

    Good article. I've been guilty of being stuck behind my camera and not "stopping to smell the roses". But it would be very hard for me to just leave my camera home, because I would be forever worried about missing out on a photo op, which defeats the purpose of leaving the camera behind in the first place ;-)))

    One compromise that seems to work for me is to carry the camera but put it in a hard to get place in my backpack. That way, the camera is out of sight and hand most of the time, but is there if I really need it....

  • DebbieQ July 14, 2010 08:12 pm

    When I travel, especially internationally, I always take time to sit with my eyes closed and just listen. The sounds of daily life in far away countries is always fascinating to me and makes my traveling experience deeper and richer. It also helps to always have me notebook with me so that I can record "word pictures".

  • Bob July 14, 2010 07:24 pm

    How to drive better: Leave your car behind!

  • Bob July 14, 2010 06:41 pm

    For the record, I do not think leaving your camera behind is a smart thing to do. If you go on a holiday to a place where you will probably not go so often (e.g. I am going to Nova Scotia), I would rather have the camera on me. Most of us can control ourselves and enjoy the view and have camera hanging in front of us and on front of our eyes. I always learnt that photography is 5% skill and 95% being at the right place at the right time. Now imagine you get the 95% done correctly and then realise that you cannot use the 5% skill part because you left the camera behind. Of course missing a shot is not end of the world. It is one thing wandering about in places you visit often (without a camera) and completely different story when it is once in a lifetime holiday.

  • Camcorders July 14, 2010 04:10 pm

    Yes this is true! Last month we had a tour to shimla, great place to visit, but, not with out a camera or camcorder. I just forgot to pack it in the bag. I felt like purchasing a camera in Shimla, as the beaut-full scenes and mountains. Never forget to take a camera when touring such beaut full places.

  • Mushhood July 14, 2010 04:07 pm

    Great article Peter. I will definitely consider this when I travel to a new place next time. I agree with Thomas as well that you can just keep your camera on you but not give in to impulsive snapping right away. Maybe roam around and get comfortable in your surrounding first.

  • Ryan July 14, 2010 04:03 pm

    Thanks for the post. I agree, it is helpful to put down the camera at times. One of the greatest gifts of photography is learning to see the world. But sometimes photography prevents us from seeing, or experiencing. So we need to step away from time to time and learn to see the world again in all its beauty, intricacy, tragedy, and joy. We need to be absorbed in the immediate at times, rather than always looking for the memorable.

    Stepping away from my camera some this summer has helped me to see better, and it brought me back to my camera with more inspiration and excitement to do photography. Good advice Peter, with a good challenge at the end. The world is not only radiant, but explicit and speaking, and we can capture its language through a camera lens.

    Perhaps your right Thomas, leaving the camera behind may not help you become a better photographer, technically speaking. At times, I'm convinced, it will help you become a better, receptive human, and in the end this benefits one's photography.

  • Peter West Carey July 14, 2010 03:08 pm

    Thomas, go back and read it again. Never did I say leave your camera at home while out traveling. The last sentence even states the opposite.

  • Peter West Carey July 14, 2010 02:51 pm

    For those that can't put their camera down, let me put the spirit of this post another way. Some times the best way to improve at a skill (note the title) is to step back from the skill and look at things differently.
    If you're always worried about missing the 'once in a life time shot' while traveling and would actually kick yourself for missing it WHILE STILL HAVING THE OPPORTUNITY TO EXPERIENCE IT, you might need to relax a bit.

    This is a total tangent, is having the opportunity to watch something phenomenal lessened by the fact that you didn't take a picture of it? I certainly hope not, because you'd be missing out on life itself right in front of you.

  • Eric De Paoli July 14, 2010 01:08 pm

    Great article here. I find that a good way to eliminate/minimize tunnel vision when shooting for me is to listen to music via an ipod or such. I find that it helps me to take it all in, and sometimes is better off than just shooting with the camera on its own.

  • Len Metcalf July 14, 2010 12:05 pm

    I must chime in and say that I agree with what you are saying here 100%. It is a fantastic way to improve your own photographic practice. Even with camera in hand... how about stopping and just looking... looking for a long long time... really seeing... before starting to take photographs....

    I regularly go out without a camera... and bring home some of the most beautiful shots in my head... and I will have them for ever.

    This advice does seem to contradict the importance of all ways having a camera with you...

  • Mei Teng July 14, 2010 10:27 am

    I agree with Daniel. I am not sure if I would want to leave my camera behind and just spend my time observing. I can take in all the views and not rush myself through shooting everything in sight whilst still keeping my camera with me at all times.

  • Daniel Fealko July 14, 2010 09:22 am

    I'm not sure I'd advocate leaving a camera behind when traveling, but I do believe ones photos can be improved without a camera, sometimes. To see how, check out my post "To Improve: Practice Without a Camera, Sometimes."

  • murphee732 July 14, 2010 08:14 am

    Yes, thank you for saying this! I find that I completely miss out on the experience of the trip if I always have my hand on the shutter. And although I have the pictures as memories, its harder to recall something that happened when you were distracted by getting the shot. And if you miss the shot, or they all turn out terrible, then what do you have?

  • Kevyn July 14, 2010 08:01 am

    Thank you for this. I now have a new perspective on photography..

  • Thomas July 14, 2010 07:36 am

    I'm astounded by some of the stuff DPS publishes as advice, like a few weeks ago when an article was posted here saying that you should slightly underexpose digital photos to get more detail (that is the opposite of true), or singing the praises of the Lightscoop, which does more harm than good for a photo nine times out of ten.

    Always take your camera with you, *especially* when travel shooting. If you need to spend a little bit of time with your eye away from the viewfinder, that's fine, but at least keep your camera on your person. You don't want to miss experiencing the place because you were too focused on shooting, but you definitely don't want to be kicking yourself ten years from now because you missed a once-in-a-lifetime shot when you left your camera at home.

  • Delia July 14, 2010 06:43 am

    I agree. Sometimes I leave an event or place and realize how much I actually missed because my camera was in my face too much.

  • Naveen July 14, 2010 06:34 am

    Very true!
    Though in my case my love to explore and enjoy the place often overshadows my photographic aspirations, last time I visited goa, I dint touch my camera for 2 days because all I wanted to do was run around and jump in the beach.
    maybe ill visit again....just for photography this time!

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