Confession. I am a photographer and a frustrated journalist. I do it for the love of pictures and, through pictures, telling a story. Sometimes one picture will tell an entire story. Most of the time, it is the accumulation of pictures that tell the story I want to tell. This is particularly true when I travel on vacation.
Most people come back from vacation and really have nothing to say. “Did you have a good time?” They will answer “fantastic, wonderful trip!” You ask: “What did you see?” They answer “Well, we saw all the usual sights.” You can ask: “How was the food?” and they will answer “Fantastic, wonderful . . . and the wine!” Then if you start asking them to describe any place or any meal or any day, they run out of steam. They remember, maybe only the feeling of being there or with someone special, but cannot share or convey the details or even the feeling they had and, deep down, will harbor and shelter for a while until it fades and becomes just another destination off the bucket list.
The truth is that I take a lot of pictures, often close to 1000 a day. I never show that many but I take them. Like most serious photographers, we are fussy about our cameras and don’t mind the weight and the rituals. Cell phones have turned everyone into a photographer, some venturing beyond selfies. The photographs are of limited quality but no worse and often better than my old Kodak Brownie Holiday. My current camera rig won’t fit in my pocket, maybe not even in the pouch of a kangaroo if I could get one to assist me in my travels. My new camera is mirrorless but is back to being as large and heavy as the DSLR I gave up to get to smaller and lighter.
Non-photographers look at us with the curiosity of those driving by two cars by the side of the road, watching the drivers exchanging ID and insurance cards. Some of my friends berate me: “How can you enjoy the vacation, lugging around that heavy camera? You spend so much time behind the camera that you don’t get to just experience the place and enjoy the moment!” No photographer ever said that.
For some, experiencing travel and taking pictures is giving half your attention to both, like driving and listening to the radio. To me, it is as natural to enjoy a place and photograph it as it is for a person to have conversation over a fine meal with good friends, fully experiencing both.
Bringing the camera up to my eye, after surveying the scene, helps me focus on what I most want to remember about that moment. I will experience that focus a few hundred times a day. I am harvesting what the eye sees because neither my skill with words nor the acuity of my memory will serve to summon it back up to share with friends at home when I am asked “Well, how was it? What did you do?”
When I was in Ireland in 2012, and I was being teased by my travel friends who took no pictures, I put the situation in perspective and responded with this. If I shoot most pictures at a 250th of a second or a 500th of a second. That means shooting 250 or 500 pictures has exposed the sensor “film” chip and memory card – taking a picture – for an entire second. So, if I shoot 5000 pictures on a vacation, I have really only been taking pictures for ten or twenty seconds. Let’s say I really linger or shoot 10,000 pictures. What have I spent “taking pictures”, a whole minute? Now, that’s not too much time away from viewing the scene and experiencing the place, is it?
For me, taking the pictures and bringing them home safely is just the beginning of the trip. It is like going to the grocery store and buying all the fresh ingredients of a great meal. Then there comes the cooking and finally the eating. I love processing the RAW files through one or two software programs, eliminating the flawed shots, cropping and tweaking each remaining picture with some redeeming quality to get it to the best condition. Then reducing the gallery of a day or half day of the trip to its essence. What did I see? What did I eat? Who was there? What was the place like?
For me the real pleasure is how much I can convey of what I experienced through sharing my photographs with others, photographs rich enough to cause someone to stop and stare at them, to enter the scene and explore it for themselves.