I was out walking at the local park, under a beautiful sunset with broken clouds stained orange, when I saw a few deer on the opposite side of a small clear hill. At first I couldn’t tell what they were in the dim evening light, so I walked closer until I was close to the top of the hill. From this vantage point, two of the deer were excellently silhouetted against the sky through a break in the background of trees. Of course the first thing I thought was “If I only had my camera”, but since that wasn’t going to change anything (and my camera phone was less than useful), I started to not appreciate the scene as much since I couldn’t record it.
Wait a minute. Pause. Why should this wonderful sight be any less enjoyable or able to be appreciated just because I can’t take a picture of it? Shouldn’t the scene playing out before my eyes be enough to stand alone and be remembered by its own merit, without a camera? This got me to thinking. If a setting, action, event, even color and light, can’t be appreciated by itself when you’re there in person, then why would capturing it in a 2D digital file (you are shooting digital right?) make it any more substantial at the time of its happening? Part of the problem is that photography (like most anything else) can degrade into a pattern of collecting. Getting another shot at the expense of experiencing the moment that it actually happened. While this by no means describes everyone, it’s a rut that anyone can fall into. It’s about what you take back with you in your mind as much as what’s on your SD card at the end of the day. This all sounds great, you may be thinking, but I actually do want to walk away with some nice shots. An understandable stance, and one with which I agree. The thing is, if you know and appreciate your subject as they are, your shots will improve as a result. Ideally, you’ll want to get in closer, find a new perspective, and leave knowing you did the subject justice. Don’t be an outsider, be an insider. I know from experience that photography becomes less stressful once you can appreciate a photogenic scene for what it is; it’s not worth letting the moment be swallowed up in a wave of regret over the lack of an accessible camera.
So next time you find yourself saying “If I only had my camera”, and there’s nothing you can do about it, sit back and appreciate the scene before you while it lasts. With that said, my rule is to always have some camera on hand so that you never find yourself saying “If I only had my camera” in the first place.