Thursday, July 13, 2017

What is Vacation Photography to a Photographer?

Ricoh GR Limited Edition. High Contrast JPEG mode. 1/1600th sec f/2.8 @ ISO 800. Green Lake.
What is a vacation? For some it's a chance to get away from work and relax. For others it's the opportunity to do something exciting, something different from our daily routine. How about spending time with our family and friends? Yes, vacation can mean different things for different people. As an example, I would hate to be stuck on a cruise, but that's me. I have good friends that love cruises. Conversely, I know people who would never go to places like Hong Kong or Bangkok for vacation, but I love the energy of these big, crowded cities. And this leads to my problem. My idea of a vacation and my wife's idea of a vacation is not always the same. That in itself isn't the problem. The problem lies when I decide to take pictures. My wife knows I take pictures for work, so when I bring a camera on vacation, am I working or not? Are the pictures I take for an upcoming review, or is my primary motivation to take pictures to capture those moments that I can share with my wife and the rest of our extended family and friends?

Fujifilm X100F. 1/180th sec f/2 @ ISO 200. Classic Chrome. Shannon Falls Provincial Park
I've always struggled to find the right balance of 'vacation' photos and 'serious' photos. I tend to zone out and wander aimlessly when I'm in serious photography mode. I did this on my honeymoon, I did this the following year when we made an epic trip to my home island of Okinawa. Come to think of it, I do it every time I'm on vacation. I mentioned this before, but I wouldn't categorize photography as fun or enjoyable. It's not just a hobby, nor is it just work. I am a photographer and so I take pictures. A horse gallops, an eagle soars and I take pictures. Wherever I am and whatever I'm doing, I'm always seeing my next shot. That's why I've always had a point and shoot on me since I was a kid, and that's why I love taking pictures with my iPhone. The problem? I can't turn off this 'habit' of wanting to take pictures, especially when I'm on vacation. My latest quick vacation with my wife and my in-laws took us to beautiful Whistler, BC. It's not my ideal vacation spot, but it's definitely relaxing. I could have taken up a variety of cool cameras and review equipment, but since I'm suppose to be 'with' my wife and in-laws, I decided to keep my kit small. The Fujifilm X100F (review camera), Ricoh GR (my camera) and the QFlash Q20 (review equipment). It took me a couple of days and a bit of planning to decide on this kit (which includes which bag I'm going to bring), but it was the right balance for this trip.

Fujifilm X100F w/QFlash Q20. 1/1900th sec f/6.4 @ 400. Q20 flash @ 1/16th power. Classic Chrome profile. Whistler Village
I knew I would be doing lots of trail walking, picnics as well as some family bike rides, so my cameras couldn't be in the way. My goal wasn't to work, but shooting with the X100F and the Q20 flash during family vacation time would help me see how these tools would work in a real world situation. So yes, I guess I was working... a bit. I always had either the X100F or the GR around my neck, the best place to have a camera. However, I had to control my desire to always take pictures. When we all decided to do a bike ride (I was on a tandem bike with my mother-in-law in the back), I had to refrain from taking pictures. My focus was being in the moment with everyone and not 'wandering off'. When I did take pictures, it was for them, not me. Pictures of my nephews, portraits of my wife and mother-in-law, group pictures, etc. It wasn't the style of photography that gives me the most joy, but hey, it's still photography and it's bringing joy to the ones I love. That's always a good thing.

Fujifilm X100F. 1/5th sec f/4.5 @ ISO 400. Classic Chrome profile. Whistler Village
I did have some 'me time' during this trip. I hung out at the local public library alone for an hour. It was really quiet. I also rented a bike again later in the evening and went for a 1 hour adventure alone with my cameras. I posted two Instagram stories about each of these adventures, once in a library and another time in a forest. 2 hours of alone time. 2 hours to do whatever I wanted. 2 hours of wandering and getting lost. Was it enough time? Vacation is never long enough.

What is vacation photography for me? I don't know. I've always taken my vacations with others, and I've never felt completely satisfied with my photography during those trips. Some may suggest I take my own personal photography vacations, so I can do whatever I want. That might work for some, but not for me. I travel to exotic and faraway places for work all the time, and I'm no happier or relaxed. During my last trip to Bangkok and Hong Kong, I was exhausted and stressed, although creatively it was a great experience. My conclusion? I don't think I'll ever be satisfied with my photography while on vacation, but I'm okay with it. I have both the privilege and the drawbacks of taking pictures for work, and so I'll have to accept both the good and bad that comes with it. I will continue to take photographs no matter where I am or what I'm doing because that's what I do. I'm a photographer so I take pictures. Thanks for visiting and happy shooting.

Fujifilm X100F. 1/1500th sec f/5.6 @ ISO 400. ACROS profile. Green Lake


  1. It's an interesting dilemma. I either want to be out at sunrise and sunset for landscapes or, if in a city, I am looking for interesting street or graphic images. Neither is particularly compatible with the (others on the) holiday. And it does often occur to me that I come back from holiday with very little in the way of family photographs. Does that make me a bad partner/parent? At least with sunrise shoots, it is possible to get my landscape 'fix' before anyone else is out of bed; then I just have to deal with the problem of being tired for the rest of the day.

    1. The early morning thing works for me with shooting my YouTube videos. I'll get up before anyone so I can shoot the video, but that's more about sneaking in some work, not my photography fix. My wife typically will 'let' me shoot while she shops in a store, so I will often get 15-20 min bursts of photography, but broken up into 4-5 sessions a day... but only if she finds good deals while in a store!! Thanks for sharing your story, and no that doesn't make you a bad parent. It just means you don't need to take so many vacation pics, which is totally cool. Some of my most memorable vacation moments in my life (watching shooting stars on my grandma's roof in Okinawa and fishing with my uncle as the sun set) had no accompanying photographs. Happy shooting!!

  2. This is a rather sticky situation for you to work through but my input to it would be, you love your job right? and taking pictures is a very crucial part of a holiday so you are not working, you are on a vacation! i love the pictures though!

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