I can’t speak with absolute certainty, but I’m fairly sure that when your dentist takes her annual vacation she doesn’t pack her drill. That your favourite barista leaves their Gaggia behind. The Uber driver parks his Avensis at the airport. I can’t think of many other professions where leisure travel involves you choosing to take along your entire arsenal of work tools.
Photography is as much observation as it is light and composition, and the chance to observe and record unfamiliar horizons, cultures and architecture always outweighed sacrificing my entire hand luggage allowance to camera bodies, lenses, chargers and laptops. Memory cards, flashes, adaptors, filters. “Any electrical items in your hand luggage sir?” “Yeah, I’m a mobile fucking Currys”. I pity the busman queueing behind me at the security check. “Any electrical items in your hand luggage sir?” “No, just this bus”.
To lump together everything shot overseas into ‘travel photography’ in the first place is to overly simplify. Most photographers just take a break from their commercial work and kick back into travel mode - simple snapshots but with too many pixels - but lots also make a living from travelling - McCurry will single out the faces, Parr will look to the tourists themselves, Salgado will change your world, Adams chased light across landscapes and bloggers…blog. For most of us though it’s a holiday in the sense that there’s no client and therefore no pressure. Right? Wrong. There’s a new client. Everybody you ever met. Everybody-in-the-sodding-world. Instagram.
You’re a photographer, so chances are you have social media accounts. As much as you’d love your feeds to be simple personal accounts of artisan coffees carefully framed to appear like they’ve not been carefully framed, and behind-the-scenes shots of unfathomable lighting setting ups and huge crews, they’re probably not. Your streams are a part of your shop window and you’re achingly conscious of this even when you pretend not to be. Shit holiday photos are not an option. Going overseas is too big an opportunity to simply not shoot, but thanks to the wonders of geotagging you’re entering a worldwide photography competition every time you point your camera at a tagged location. And everywhere is tagged. Usually more than once. So you’re not even sure if it’s the Eiffel Tower at the top of the list, or the third one down 5,000 miles away that some fuckwit tagged from their dorm room in Connecticut.
So now you’re measuring yourself against the whole world. Think about it. Somebody will have been wherever you’re standing when the light was perfect. Somebody will have been stood there when lightning struck or Elvis happened to pass by holding hands with the Pope. Somebody was stood there before the eternal scaffolding went up. Somebody was there with better photoshop skills than you making the lines in the locals’ faces even deeper. Somebody actually lives where you’re stood and can take a different image every day of the year. And probably has. “The Drop Coffee 365 Project”. You? Well, you’re just there for 15 minutes before your partner moves you on to the next culturally significant boutique fromagerie that somebody cooler than you blogged from. It’s not a lonely planet. Everywhere is mapped out according to bloggers. There’s a perpetual circle of them spanning Europe from Iceland through Stockholm to Santorini, back across to Milan, Como, dipping down to Marrakech, up to Marbella. I know Santorini intimately without ever having been there. I know which hotels to book in every European capital without referring to Mr&Mrs Smith. I know because the same bloody lobbies are perpetually showing up on my feed. Nothing is waiting to be discovered because somebody discovered it for you and helpfully made sure you’ve already seen it from every angle. The Blue Lagoon provides free Wifi so you can check in and post to Instagram. There’s a blogger lane guaranteeing you jump the 30 minute queue to stop you blogging about the 30 minute queue (I made this up, but only because they probably haven’t thought of it yet).
It’s nothing new and it is something I’ve been casually thinking about for a while. So when we booked our last trip away to Iceland, I made a change. To travel to the most incredibly photogenic landscape imaginable I decided to leave the DSLR at home and just take a point and shoot. I looked at mirrorless systems, got seduced by the various retro-modern Fuji and Olympus offerings, turned my nose up at Panasonic and Samsung (they make phones and TVs) toyed with investing in the latest Sony Alpha (okay, so they make phones and TVs too) then took a step back - mirrorless interchangeable meant that before long I’d build up a whole new kitbag of lenses, bodies and accessories and be back to hauling another full system around with me. So I narrowed it down to the Fuji X100t or the new Fuji X70. Fixed prime lenses. All day battery life. Pocketable. Small RAWs and decent jpegs. Jpegs that you can transfer easily and painlessly to your phone and edit from the comfort of the Yale campus Eiffel Tower. Back to basics. I bought the X70 and reclaimed my onboard flight allowance. My pre-holiday packing checklist halved in size. I sailed through security. I took more varied photos than I ever do with the DSLR. And the images were different - looser, more personal. Having one focal length makes you think about what you’re shooting more but also lends a coherence to the images. And because they’re quicker to download and sift through* I actually bothered to make an edit - so many of my holidays are sat untouched in folders because the thought of going through 100 near-identical frames of some vaguely photogenic mountain became a chore. The video on the X70 sucks, but then I had a GoPro and a drone with me for video. I’m not totally letting go. If I can sacrifice the DSLR and not miss it in Iceland, I’m pretty sure I can do it anywhere.
So, for the time being at least, the DSLR will only fly when I’m shooting for clients overseas. No compact, no mirrorless system (with the possible exception of the Sony) will ever give you the quality and options that a great SLR with a judicious lens selection will. Unless it’s for a social media campaign. But then they’ll probably just hire a blogger anyway.
Over the next blogs I’ll post my last few getaways. Clear down those gigabytes of mountains (or mountains of gigabytes). Give me some memories to look back on. I’ll start with Iceland and the Fuji. By the time I’ve finished, I’ll probably have something from Santorini.
*In theory…but not quite in practise. At least not in Lightroom which seems to have a major case of the crawls with Fuji files.