Okay, it might be blasphemy to write this for a photography website. The other night, on a beautiful spring evening, I took Jupiter the dog for a little walk before dinner. I wanted to enjoy that prime space between winter and full-on spring. I usually grab a camera, even when it’s for a quick walk, but this night I deliberately left the camera behind. The time had just changed, and so we had that extra hour of daylight that all of the clock-switching nonsense aims for. We walked past the neighborhood park and turned onto a wide sidewalk trail heading east. The huge full moon was just rising and peeking out over the houses and tree line. It was absolutely gorgeous, beautiful reds and oranges reflecting the sunset hues in the opposite sky. I paused, and so did Jupiter.
If I had planned for it, we would have been in just the right spot for some moon rise shots not even a half mile from home. Instead, I stood there and watched the moon come up over the horizon. Jupiter sniffed around and then we walked around a bit more before heading home to make spaghetti. In those few moments, I didn’t miss my camera (even though I love having a camera). It felt nice to just sit there in the middle of the path and marvel at the moon so close. I didn’t even have my phone, because I also think it’s wonderful to be completely untethered at times. I could just stand there, and I wasn’t futzing about trying to find the best angle, or pulling at Jupiter because where he wanted to smell wasn’t where I wanted to take a picture.
I just watched the moon. I wasn’t thinking about capturing the moment, or wishing that I had my camera. I had just a couple of minutes of quiet, of appreciation, and the immense beauty of an ordinary night with the full moon before me. I got to bask in the light and take a few deep breaths before turning around.
I don’t remember exactly what was on my mind during that walk, but I know that I was thinking about the moon and having a lovely time of being exactly where I was at the moment. I wasn’t thinking about the future, or looking at a screen, or peeping through a view finder. I was looking at the moon, and for that slice of time, that is all there was: the moon, a path, a dog, and me.
Sometimes, it’s groovy to just leave the camera behind. You don’t have to take pictures all the time. For a lot of us, even when we don’t have our cameras, we will grab our phones and use that handy little pocket camera (which by the way, can also be a useful photography tool) to grab the image, the moment. It felt freeing, and even a bit novel, to just stand and look up without something between the moon and me. For those of us who love photography, it’s hard to set aside time to just wander, look, and ponder without a camera. The temptation is to always have a camera with me, but sometimes I like going against the grain (film, or not). I enjoy creating those small moments of freedom, by intentionally leaving my camera and phone at home. In this world of lots and lots of screens, it’s harder to find those pockets of time, but we can definitely create them for ourselves.
The next time you’re about to slip a camera in your pocket, think about leaving it behind for that walk, that hike, that bike ride. Look up, look down, look all around, and see how it feels to just see without the need for film or a sensor to capture something. Know that this moment will never come again, and in the magnificent or the mundane that is all you need.
By Kary Schumpert
Kary keeps a blog at running-into-life.com and can be found on Instagram at @running_into_life. She teaches, writes, runs, plays with cameras, and spends her time in New Mexico and Colorado.
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18 thoughts on “The Case for Not Always Taking Your Camera”
True Kary. Another good reason for not always taking a camera along is to discover locations to come back to when the light, the time of day or the weather is different. To plan a photo. Always carrying a camera assumes that we will stumble upon a masterpiece.
Graham, that is a really important consideration! I forget sometimes, especially when looking at the work of amazing photographers, that so much of the work is outside of the frame. I love your line “Always carrying a camera assumes that we will stumble upon a masterpiece.” I hope you’ll consider writing for 35mmc about that point, “to plan a photo.” It’s often overlooked in photography advice, and ignored by beginners like me. Thanks for your comment!
Thanks Kary. Nevertheless one of Ansel Adams most famous photos was taken on the spur of the moment. Moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico. According to his son as I recall they were driving back from a photography session, when Adams suddenly stopped the car and grabbed his view camera and tripod out of the back, setting it up in seconds and “grabbing” the early evening shot. Only time for 2 quick photos before cloud obscured the moon. But Adams must have been prepared with unexposed film loaded in his dark slides, and large camera at the ready. He knew the correct exposure for moonlight without having to measure. So in a sense he managed to plan that photo in seconds and while he was driving his station wagon
Graham, I didn’t know that about Adams and the Moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico (I’ve been near where he would have taken that photo)! That’s probably my favorite of his, and that is the perfect example of spontaneity and planning and skill. Planning is so underrated, and I’m still learning, so thanks for that reminder. Thank for sharing that story about Ansel (in my imagination, he and I are on a first name basis)!
I agree absolutely. There are times when just gathering the atmosphere and the memories is more special and enduring than a photograph. I have a friend who, when we encounter some special scene or situation, will grab his digital camera and shoot off dozens, even hundreds (I am not kidding) of shots. I may take 2 or 3 – maybe even none – on my film camera and just sit and absorb. I have many such special memories.
David, you bring up an important distinction between digital and film that can definitely help guide us to appreciate those moments more! You’re so right, that sometimes not even taking the shot is the best way to “capture” that moment, and those memories are what life is all about!:) Thanks for your comment!
Nice philosophical post for a change Kary. I do the same when attending a rock concert whilst all those around me are snapping and filming away with their ‘phones I’m fully enjoying the spirit of the live moment. Thanks and, well done.
Brian, good point, getting to that broader prospect of intention, and how it’s nice to just “enjoy the spirit of the live moment.” Thank you! Thanks for your comment!
Enjoyed the essay.
Question is, when you say ‘camera’ do you mean to include both a camera camera and a smartphone?
As it’s the smartphone / phone of any type which I readily leave behind when out walking and enjoying my surroundings
Ibrar, thank you! I love how you bring up leaving the phone behind, but taking the camera! It is so nice to just be able to walk and enjoy your surroundings. I really do miss the days before everyone was staring at a screen! Thanks for your comment!
The phone does such a good job, there’s no ‘need’ for anything else day-to-day (and it pains me to say this!)
Kurt, you have a solid point, the phone can be a great everyday camera. You’re right that there’s no need for anything else. What’s fun is we get to choose if we want another camera or not! Thanks for your comment!
I totally agree with this “way of light”. Particularly in today’s overabundance of images.
Finally, writing/speaking is at least as good as photography to share memories.
Vincent, you’re so right that there are so so so many images and we don’t necessarily have to add to the over abundance. You make a great point that writing and speaking can be wonderful ways to share an experience or a memory. That makes me think of letters and how I miss them. Now, I want to dig out a pen and stamps and some paper and write letters to my little nephews and nieces!! Thank you for your comment!
I’ve never had a moment where I thought “I wish I didn’t have a camera with me”, but I have had many in the past where I thought “I wish I had a camera with me”
You don’t have to use the camera.
Huss, hahahaha, you’re so right!! You caught me out. Yeah, bring the camera and you don’t have to use it. Very good point! Thanks for your comment! 🙂
I carry a smartphone or at least a smartwatch all the time. Not for the camera but for the phone. Not to chat or text, (you can turn off ringer, notifications) but for safety. My dog is a great walker, doesn’t bolt in front to chase a squirrel but at 13 it still could happen then Splat!
We pay a ton of money every month for these things, enjoy your silent walks with or without a camera, but carry the darn phone.
Loved the two articles, really
Marc, good advice! Yeah, you’re right, something could happen and that’s why we have those phones, for those emergencies. Yep, notifications are all turned off and phone is on silent 98% of the time. I can bring or not bring a camera outside of the phone at my own whim. Good advice! Thanks for reading and for your comment.