Have Cameras, Will Travel – the Art of Being There

Fishing Boats at Camogli
Venice
On the Way to Portofino
Beach huts near Portofino

Fishing Boats at Camogli

Venice

On the Way to Portofino

Beach huts near Portofino

It’s All in the Planning

It was all about being there, though it took me some time to articulate that. Italy in April!  I was to spend two weeks touring with a friend before joining a photographic workshop in Liguria (that strip of coast near Genoa) for the third week, so I had to be ready for a wide range of situations.  I wanted to travel lighter, so I could relax and savour the experience, the places, the photography, without wearing myself out lugging too much stuff or fussing about missed photo opportunities.

Inevitably, my planning started with photo gear:  what to take;  how to carry it safely and comfortably onto planes, trains, buses, boats, up steep flights of steps, around cobbled streets, into churches and museums;  how to fit laptop, camera gear and personal essentials into a single carry-on bag I could actually carry for more than five minutes at a time…  I wanted to keep my gear simple as well as lighter – enough to give me options, not enough to slow me down and distract me from finding my vision.

Finally, I had a plan:  one DSLR, two zoom lenses, a fast prime, a high quality compact camera,  an iPhone (trust me, it is camera gear), the laptop, an external drive, plus batteries, chargers, memory cards, a more comfortable camera strap, a smaller suitcase (so I had to pack less), the right carry-on and camera bags, a lightweight rain cape that could cover the camera bag, the tripod I always pack and never get around to using.

There were glitches, of course, but the plan worked pretty well, freeing me to enjoy the experience to the full.  Future trips will require much less preparation, just a few minor adjustments – a second external drive for extra backups, maybe a single zoom lens instead of a pair, a small torch for checking camera settings in low light, a checklist to remind me, for example, to clear extra space on my laptop and set my cameras to the destination time zone before I leave home.

How Many Cameras?

Well, um, three counting the iPhone.  My heavy but gorgeous Nikon D700, of course.  I wouldn’t go to Italy– or anywhere further afield than Queanbeyan – without it.  Then there was my Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, a lovely compact with a fast, sharp wide-angle zoom, my “go anywhere” handbag camera for all those times when I don’t have the DSLR with me.  And, finally, the iPhone, my latest toy.

I used them all, honest!  The Lumix was there primarily as a fallback in case anything happened to the “serious” camera – I hoped I wouldn’t need it, but I wasn’t about to head overseas with only one capable camera.  At that point I still regarded the iPhone as a toy – expensive, extravagant, by no means essential, but the source of much photographic fun and creative enjoyment.  But I thought it would be fun to use the iPhone alongside my more “serious” cameras throughout the trip and see what happened.

Small is Beautiful

I was right, it was fun – all of it.  But my attitude to all three cameras evolved along the way and each, in turn, contributed to my photographic exploration of new places.  Even in this digital age, a camera is only a tool, a box designed to control the amount of light that hits the sensor, when that happens and how long it takes.  Any working camera can do the job if it’s used with care and attention.  But different cameras do some jobs better – or at least differently – than others.  For example, the Lumix really came into its own inside churches, where my zooms were too slow and my 50mm prime wasn’t wide enough.  That fast, wide angle lens let me capture images I couldn’t have made any other way.  And sometimes a compact camera just seemed more appropriate – smaller, quieter, more discreet – than a big DSLR.

The DSLR gave me more creative control in some ways – there’s nothing like a viewfinder to help the composition – but with practice it’s possible to “guesstimate” what’s happening on an LCD screen in all but the brightest sunlight, though I would forget about manual focus and fine control of depth of field under those circumstances.  Besides, making images often feels more spontaneous and playful precisely because the camera isn’t a proper – i.e. serious, even professional – DSLR.

Then again, sometimes it’s just nice to go extra light, taking both little cameras for a walk and just playing with the possibilities that present themselves along the way.  How better to explore a new place or rediscover a familiar one with fresh eyes?  And we’re back to the art of being there – without that, no images can be made, even with the mind.

More, I think we need to give some time and attention to being there in order to find the images we hope to make.  Trying to rush things – click!  click!  click! – can only deliver snapshots.  Stroll, pause, linger, look, listen, touch the stonework, take a gondola ride, enjoy the food and wine, watch the people – maybe even strike up a conversation? – and, above all, see the light and experience the moment.

So maybe it isn’t really surprising that many of my favourite photos from this trip were made with my iPhone.

 

Andrée Lawrey | July 2011

 

Back to Articles