The Fine Line Between Travel Photography and Having a family Vacation
A simple Google search for travel inspiration yields thousands of beautiful images and motivational quotes. Words like, “The Best University is to travel”, “We must take adventures in order to know where we truly belong” and “To travel is to live a full life” flash across your computer screen amidst jaw-dropping travel photography imagery. It brings forth such great feelings of wanderlust and longing to hit the road.
However, for those of us who travel with families and/or young kids there is a nagging voice somewhere in the back of our heads that speaks up and says, “Be practical, can you really make this journey with the kids?”. Then if you add to this mix, a parent who is very emotionally attached to his or her camera, you have just stirred up a pot full of trouble for yourself.
Being my family’s designated photographer, and having spent the past two months traveling across my home country of India, I experienced much of these same emotions on a day to day basis. India is a country like no other, where every part of the country has such a strong impact to the senses. It is big, busy, loud, and colorful – and is a photographer’s delight. The parent in me wanted to experience this magical journey with my family, and see my beautiful country through their eyes. Whereas the photographer in me was on a creative high and I wanted to document each and every thing I was seeing through my mind’s eye, and my camera’s viewfinder. I constantly struggled to find the right balance between being a mom, and being a professional photographer. 4000+ pictures later, I feel like I finally figured out what worked for me!
A quick detour on our road trip led to an ancient temple where I was able to take some amazing and interesting pictures inside the inner sanctum.
Research locations for photo opportunities ahead of time
Just like kids, we adults too crave structure and routine, especially when it comes to photography assignments. Just like you would carry a shot list for a wedding photography gig or a commercial assignment, knowing what to expect with every place you visit gives you a certain peace of mind. This is particularly true if you are visiting famous locations and monuments. I found that often in such places photography was not allowed, or you needed special permission, or had to pay a fee.
Research your travel destination as much as you can. Look for information online, or even ask in photography forums specific to your needs. I learned early on in my trip, that most religious monuments and places of worship don’t allow any type of photography. Even cell phones are not permitted. So I would often leave my gear at home, or in the car, and just enjoy the location with my family.
Minimum gear for maximum effect
Packing for months on the road is never easy, especially when you have a ton of equipment, and suffer from an acute case of separation anxiety with your gear. Once you have researched your travel destination and know what types of imagery to expect, only pack the appropriate gear. Maybe even challenge yourself to only use certain types of lenses and cameras. The more practical you are about your gear, the less frustrated you will be for taking stuff you don’t end up using. My goto setup was my Canon EOS 5D MK III and Canon 24-70mmL lens. I used that combination 75% of the time when I was traveling. I found that I could switch easily from photographing wide angle landscape shots, to narrowing in on my kids playing effortlessly with my zoom lens. I also carried my Canon 70-200mmL lens, but found it was very impractical in terms of its weight. Additionally, professional DSLRs and multitude of lenses tend to get heavy and uncomfortable to lug around for a 20 day road trip, and several flight journeys. If you are going off the grid, or visiting remote places, err on the side of caution, and perhaps travel with minimal gear like a small point and shoot camera.
Set aside some “me” time with just with your camera
During a ‘me’ time photowalk close to my home in Chennai, I spent 30 minutes photographing these birds without any interruptions or disruptions!
The deal I stuck with my family is that at every new place we visited, I would get one hour just to be with my camera. Any photography assignment specific pictures would be taken at that time. The rest of the day was time spent with my family, and capturing those moments on camera sparingly. There were times when the camera was completely banned because I really wanted to treasure the moments, and not just focus on documenting the experience. And guess what, I found I was a much happier, and nicer person, at the end of the day!
Engage your family in your photo trips
Do you have old outdated gear sitting in your gear cabinet? You know those old first generation DSLRs that you will probably have to pay someone to take off your hands? Use them to get your family engaged in photography. My kids share my old DSLR with a kit lens, and they love it. They love playing photographer, and some of the images they capture are so adorable. I always make it a big deal to praise their budding photography skills, and in turn, they are generally more tolerant when mom wants to spend an extra 10 minutes photographing the waves crashing against the rocks at sunset (because it is the most magical sunset ever!)
A rare image of me as taken by my daughter! – this was during a four day hike in the mountains, and it’s the only picture I have to prove that I was there too!
But 10 days later, this was the best I could get of them! – No amount of negotiation could get them to turn around and face me.
Make memories and not pictures
Give yourself permission to not take any pictures occasionally. Put the camera away and just enjoy the experience of being on vacation. After all, you have probably spent a lot of money, and precious time, to get to your destination. Soak in the essence of the space and place, and make memories that will last a lifetime.
After my long summer break, I still felt that I never really had any time off. To me, every minute was a working one, whether was I being a full-time mom, or a travel photographer. While I did walk away with some amazing imagery, a part of me regretted not spending more time with my family. What are some of your strategies for finding a good balance?
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