When I get to a new country I always get it, the flutter in my chest, the sweaty palms, and the adrenaline at its peak. There's just something about the feeling of touching down in another country that I will never get over. My mind is racing and I find myself flipping the switch. By that I mean that my mindset totally changes and its game on, I have my camera ready and I'm not afraid to use it. My wife and friends can attest to this transformation quite distinctly.
I took over 300 shots in Venice alone. Others be damned, but I'm the weirdo snapping shots in all kinds of places standing on a bench, kneeling on the sidewalk, etc. etc. That's part of the adventure and I have never regretted it. Its fun to get out of your shell and break the rigidity of human behavior every once in a while, right? And there's an excuse, your adventuring! The problem can be when you find your eyes on the camera screen more than on the vast expanse of where you are. Thankfully my wife tends to bring me back to reality now and again (god bless her heart). The experience is just as important as documenting it. Here is my best stab at breaking down the paradox. First lets look at "Getting the Shot"
Getting the Shot
Call me a hippie, artist, romantic, or maybe all three but the greatest treasure that you can take away from a trip is the memories. The sights, sounds, and the people your experiencing it with are all part of the journey. Having a well documented trip means that 1yr or 10yrs later you can be taken right back and relive it all again. Your can share these memories with those closest to you not to mention they spur conversation and give you a sense of unparalleled accomplishment when you get the shots that make people pause and say "Did you take this, wow?".
The second reason is a bit darker. I lost some very close family members at a young age and I always wish they had taken more pictures. Seeing the pictures they left behind really does keep them in your memories and are something very special to be treasured. So, not only are pictures a way of documenting for you, they are something you will be showing your children or grandchildren one day. Hell, maybe your documents will end up on the History Channel or in a museum!
Impossible right, I must be off my rocker. Where do we pull human history from? Its pulled from the people of a certain time period, documents from the common citizen. Every major event in history has a myriad of letters, pictures, and objects from different periods of time. I don't think WWI soldiers thought their letters would be getting published in history books either. Personal accounts provide context for human society to understand itself. I want to contribute to that human history and you should too. Your pictures will live longer than you.
Getting the Experience
And then we have (exhibit A) here to my left. I sort of wish this picture was photo shopped but I don't think it is, not even the knee pads. My wife is probably giggling right now but I am nowhere near this guys level. Anyway, there comes a time when you have had your nose behind the camera a little to long. The best way to tell this is if you feel cheated as you leave an area.
There's getting the shot and getting the perfect shot. While the perfect shot is satisfying, the realization that I finally came to was that I may not get the perfect shot in every scene. Whether its the lighting, the scope, or the scale, sometimes its just not gunna come out exactly how you want it. I am not a professional photographer and nor is my camera. Know your systems limitations and accept them or upgrade in the future.
Lastly, I think is important to note that you must be aware of those you are adventuring with. Sounds pretty self explanatory but I tend to be like Will Farrell "autograph mode" in Talledega Nights at times. But I digress, it is easy to get lost in it the moment when your shooting. Don't forget about the other part of the puzzle that I mentioned earlier. Your trip is just as much about the people your with as the places you see.
If you've ever done anything cool by yourself you will realize its not much fun when you have nobody to turn to and say "Did you see that!" The people you came with probably didn't come with you to make a documentary or try out for National Geographic so its good to establish what your goals for the trip are together (see my article about trip planning here).
At the end of the day you are going on an adventure. The defining point of the experience is well.... .....experiencing.
Its subjective as to what the "experience" actually is. Taking the time to capture photos and video of your travels is essential and is an experience in itself. When will you ever be sitting in the windy expanse of Ireland shooting over a 720ft cliff again! Its a exciting activity and a talent that some don't have the aptitude for it so be proud of yourself. Don't let anything stop you even if you look like a weirdo. However, understand when you need to stop yourself. Take the considerations discussed into account before you change the batteries in the camera for the third time.
In the Army after every single event (and I mean every single event) leadership must compile what they refer to as an AAR report or (After Action Review). Usually outlined is the (Issue, Discussion, and Recommendation) format. It provides ways to improve for the future. We have already framed the issue and had a discussion so there's only one thing left; providing the Recommendations. Here they are:
1. Upgrade your camera if you are consistently disappointed with the clarity or lighting of your shots. You can be the greatest photographer in the world but sometimes you just need to make an investment in the right camera for the right "quality". Here are some options.
2. Accept the fact that not every shot will be "the perfect shot". Take a bunch of pictures of the same thing quickly instead of positioning yourself for an hr. Its a great way to still have a chance at catching the perfect shot but not holding up the adventure for those with you.
3. Bring your counterparts into the fold, explain why documenting the trip is important to you and get them involved. They are an crucial part of the whole experience. Hopefully they can see where you are coming from and really get involved. Nobody will regret it when your back home processing the incredible pictures and video!
4. Be mindful; put your old wise man cap on and realize too much or too little of anything is never good. Be like Yoda...... and return balance to the force. Sorry I just can't help myself with the comments. Once a nerd always a nerd. Great Travels and I look forward to hearing your suggestions!