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Do You have Photography Compulsion Syndrome?


Missed the sunset but sat in the cold until I got this bird flying over. 4 shots layered in PS.

“Photography Compulsion Syndrome” – tell me if you can relate to any of the following scenarios:

  • when traveling you’ve raced around at dusk, narrowly escaping a speeding ticket, trying to find the best spot to shoot the sunset
  • you’ve skipped dinner, or left your friends having dessert, while you go outside in the rain cause there was a great shot you just had to get
  • you’ve been on regular travel tours and were constantly frustrated because they never gave you enough time at the great locations or stopped at the side of the road for the old broken down buildings or because the “light was amazing”
  • you’ve lost images due to a card failure, a lost memory card, or a hard drive problem and have cried for days
  • you’ve yelled “Stop the car I’m going to have a coronary if I don’t get this shot!” to your friend or significant other
  • you comment on the lighting in a movie and notice when they use a graduated filter on the sky to make daytime into night and your partner rolls his/her eyes at you
  • you have at least 8 photography apps on your smartphone

If you nodded your head in agreement and related to any of the above, you too may have . . .

Photography Compulsion Syndrome!

But don’t despair, there is help available!

So keep reading, and please share your photography compulsion stories in the comments below. Only by forming our own support group and sharing can we find the help we need to conquer this crippling problem.

The other way to look at this is by using the following phrase: “You know you’re a photographer when . . .”. I know you may not consider yourself a “photographer” but you do not need to be a professional to have this distinction.

It’s in the blood. You can’t help but live, breathe and sleep photography.

It’s about passion. It’s about what makes your heart beat a little bit faster.

It’s about being excited when you get that shot you’ve always wanted.

Steel wool or fire spinning, something I've always wanted to do and finally got to try it.

Steel wool or fire spinning, something I’ve always wanted to do and finally got to try it.

So if you feel all those things about photography, you ARE a photographer. Don’t listen to what anyone else says, or labels set out my society or other people. They’re just that, labels. Being a photographer is in the blood, and the more you do it, the more passionate you feel about it. I often feel privileged because I “see” the world differently than others. Honour that in yourself and just embrace it.

The Stories behind the Syndrome

Okay so truth be told all of those scenarios are real and actually happened to me. This is how they went down and any resulting images.

#1 Chasing the elusive sunset

While traveling with a friend (who is also a photographer) on Prince Edward Island in Canada, we spent the day getting great images and had planned on arriving at Confederation Bridge to photograph it at sunset. The original plan had us arriving much earlier, having dinner and then scouting a location to get the best spot for the sunset. Well, that SO didn’t happen because we had stopped practically every 3 minutes all day, and we ended up literally racing just to get there. We really did get pulled over by the police for speeding (which I do NOT advocate by the way!), pleaded our sad story, and funny enough he believed us and actually escorted us right to the bridge.  We got off with a warning and we promised not to do it again. The image I ultimately got is below. Notice the location of the sun on the horizon. If we had arrived 10 minutes later we’d have missed it completely.


The red earth of PEI is what I wanted to capture along with the 12.9km (8 mile) bridge at sunset.

#2 Missed meals and lost sleep

On the same trip as above a bunch of us had gone to Peggy’s Cove to see the famous lighthouse, then on to Lunenburg, NS.  It has started to rain so we went in for dinner right by the water. I quickly ate my dinner and skipped dessert and coffee to go out and shoot the streets in the rain and mist. The images I got aren’t among my favourites ever, but I think they are a bit haunting, and ghostly feeling. I would rather miss an hour of sleep, or a meal once in a while, rather than ever having to say “I wonder if”. Take the images, go the extra mile, leave no regrets behind.


#3 The frustration of regular travel tours

In 2011 I took a 2 week tour of Turkey. The price was so good I couldn’t pass it up. I knew going in that it wasn’t a photography tour and I anticipated being frustrated some of the time, but I had no idea how much. Practically every day by 8am we were on a bus for our next destination, only stopping at gas stations along the way. We visited most of the locations at midday, amongst the biggest crowds and worst lighting of the day, and were back at hotel for the night by 6pm.

But to top it all off, we usually had very little time at the locations to wander around on our own. One such location was at the Roman theatre in Aspendos, one of the most well preserved in the world. After talking for 10 minutes outside the gate, we were taken inside where our guide talked for another 15 minutes. Finally we were set loose for a grand total of 15 minutes to explore this gigantic structure, I pleaded for more time! Of course I raced to the top to get an overall view, and literally ran around like a mad woman. I came back to the bus sweating, out of breath, and wishing I had another hour there later in the day. This is my favourite image of the theatre. I will go back one day I vowed!


The solution of course to this problem is to join photography oriented travel tours where priority is put on being on location for the best light of the day. Where you’re given plenty of time on your own to explore and photograph and the schedule is flexible if the group votes for more time. I lead several such photography travel tours and are working on more (Nicaragua, Mexico and Africa to name a couple possibilities), as do many other DPS writers. Check out your options. See more of my Turkey images here.

#4 Image loss to do hardware failure or stupidity (mine)

After my Turkey tour my husband flew over to meet me in Spain for a week with friends in Barcelona. We also drove to France for a few days, and through a unique little country called Andorra and a teeny tiny town called Os de Civis in Catalonia. My friend had photographed it before and her photos made me want to go there, so she took us. It was spectacular, unfortunately I have NO images to show for it.

Upon returning home I had problems downloading and kept inserting the card back into the reader, even after getting the same error message 4 times. Eventually the card failed and all the images were gone and the card unreadable. Even data recovery couldn’t get them back. I literally still want to cry when I think about the 1000+ images I lost from that trip, it was heart breaking but preventable.

LESSON – don’t do what I did! If you get an error message, listen to it! 

So I can’t show you any fabulous photos of Os de Civis, but here’s one from Barcelona that I took on an earlier card. I lost about 1/2 my images from Spain and France on a 16gb card. One advantage of smaller cards is that if you lose them, or they crash, you lose fewer images!

Guadi house in Barcelona

Guadi house, Casa Batlló in Barcelona

#5 “Stop the car I’m going to have a coronary”

I’m obsessed with light and when I see good light I want to leap from moving vehicles to capture it. On our recent trip to the Oregon coast I wanted to photograph sunset on Cannon Beach and once again we were chasing the light. There was a magical cloud hovering over a hill by the beach, tinted in pink and golden light from the setting sun. I knew it was a fleeting moment and we were blocks from the beach and anywhere to park. I literally yelled to my husband “stop the car I’m getting out now”.

I didn’t get the shot I really wanted and was disappointed that I missed the sunset on the beach. But the beach was full of people and chairs, it looked like a wedding, and I didn’t have the right location. So I got out and took a few shots and got back in the car dejected. This is the pink cloud, but it was more more vibrant 2 minutes earlier. I am my own worst critic, I’m sure you can relate. How good a time I have on a trip is directly related to the images I come home with – you?


So what do we do about this Photography Compulsion Syndrome?

Nothing! As far as I can tell it’s incurable. But it IS treatable by doing the following:

  • carrying your camera with you as often as possible so you never miss a shot, at the very least have your phone in your pocket always
  • photograph daily, the only treatment is frequent indulgence
  • look at other people’s photography, get inspired
  • share your compulsion with a friend, join a photowalk, camera club or take a workshop
  • get away from your every day scenery as often as possible, even if it just means taking a drive in the country, or visiting a neighbourhood in your own city you’ve never been to
  • share your images and stories with others with PCS, it will help relieve the anxiety

All in a little fun

I hope you realize this is all completely made up. There is no such syndrome, although it feels quite real sometimes. Are you as compulsive and compelled to take photographs as I am? Or am I completely off my rocker?

I’m just having a little fun at my own expense, and hopefully you can join in with me and share your stories. Tell me about the one(s) that got away. What image did you miss that broke your heart? Or better yet, show me the ones you’re proud of that DID work out and you went out of the way to get.

Keep on shooting!   Cheers


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Darlene Hildebrandt
Darlene Hildebrandt

is an educator who teaches aspiring amateurs and hobbyists how to improve their skills through free articles on her website Digital Photo Mentor and online photography classes. She also teaches all about photo editing using Lightroom, Photoshop, and Luminar Neo and has courses available on all three.

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