You have been looking forward to this weekend trip to a fancy city that you always wanted to see. Time is limited, you only have a couple of days. You are travelling with your partner who is not all that much into photography. You don’t want to spoil the getaway by constantly logging behind, hunting for that perfect photo opportunity, that better angle, fumbling with your gear to change to the more appropriate lens.
And besides taking the marquee shots of well-known attractions (and that everybody back home expects from you) you are looking for those special shots that you expect from yourself, because after all your are not after the tourist snap shots, for you are a photographer.
You arrive at your destination, it is great to be there, the sights and sounds are awesome, the food tastes great, you take the “must-have” shots, but photographically you just don’t get into the right groove, into your creative flow. And somehow this frustrates you because your own expectations towards yourself are otherwise and you know you won’t have a chance to get back to this city anytime soon when the photographic circumstances might be better. Sounds familiar? Continue reading after the jump. Typically the stress already starts when packing the gear. I mull over which camera body I should take for this city trip. My big, weather-sealed flagship OM-D E-M1? Or the lighter and much more fancy looking PEN-F as the perfect and stylish city street shooter? Should I take a backup body, just in case? Which lenses should go in the backpack? Only my primes that work so well with the PEN-F? Or the 14-150mm travel zoom which gives me all the range I need but has its weaknesses in low light? Or maybe the weather sealed 12-40mm f/2.8 pro zoom? A weather sealed lens makes only sense when I combine it with the weather sealed body of the E-M1. Sure the 12-40 has the overall superior image quality. But then what do I do when I need a longer focal length? Bring both zooms? And some primes for when the light gets low? Should the big Olympus flash go into the bag? If yes I should also take my Yongnuo triggers so I can fire it off-camera. If I bring the flash I could also do some portrait shooting. Should I pack the small shoot-through umbrella and/or a reflector? I need a tripod for sure. The big or the small one? Depends again if I take the big or the small camera. Really undisputed are only charger, extra batteries, memory cards and a few cleaning accessories.
Things are much easier when I now exactly what I want to shoot. I pack the camera and the lens best suited for the job. Or when we go on a multi week holiday and take the car. Then I bring everything and select each day he equipment I feel like shooting with.
But for a city trip together with my significant other where we go by airplane and where photography is not the main purpose of traveI found I fare much better by keeping it light and simple.
So for a weekend city trip I would take the PEN-F with the 14-150mm travel zoom plus the 12mm f/2 prime for low light and that extra wide angle that is nice for shooting architecture and landscapes. I pack the small attachable FL-LM3 compact flash unit that came with the PEN-F which is capable of bouncing and swiveling. And my lightweight Rollei Flexipod tripod that works great with the relatively small PEN.
As backup and for when I don’t feel like pulling the PEN out of the backpack I bring along the Ricoh GRII that I can carry in my pocket. All of this gear fits more than comfortably in my small Thinktank Perception 15 backpack together with charger, battery, cards, cleaning stuff, 11′ MacBook Air, iPad, a light Jacket and something to drink. At the end, traveling light is the key benefit for city trips where you walk a lot all day long.
On location the thing for me is to get into the flow, photographically speaking. Somewhat rushing from attraction to attraction among loads of other tourists I find it difficult to come up with shots that satisfy me. Sure, I start taking the (required) standard shots of the main sights, those that everyone takes at that you can find all over the web. But despite many nice and colorful images I feel dissatisfied as these “mandatory” shots don’t really get me into the groove where I can enjoy the trip also as photographer.
One good thing about photography is that you can always start fresh. Even after taking loads of “boring” pictures you can still make your trip worthwhile with a few really good images that help you tell a story when combined with the standard “tourist”-shots. For me often it is a single shot I really like that gets me over the hump of boredom and frustration into my flow where all of a sudden it is easy to find all kind of great image opportunities that satisfy me as a photographer. Images that I love to take and not feel I need to take.
When I’m unnerved by my own photography I just need to mentally force me into this fresh start at looking at things differently, zooming into details, using a different perspective from down low or up high, take shots of interesting people and street scenes and not so much of buildings and attractions. And all of a sudden things fall into place and I can happily combine sightseeing with photography, without annoying my travel companion. And this fresh start can come anytime, instantly, after a coffee break or at the start of a new day.
Another thing that give some lots of extra time to enjoy the weekend trip much more is that I don’t process my images anymore. I used to instantly downloading and looking through my images when returning to the hotel. The thing is, if I start with my computer I’m on it and lose too much time going over the images, deciding on keepers and starting some post processing.
Nowadays I rather enjoy the time on the ground and take care of my images when I’m back home. The additional advantage doing it this way is that I can let my shots “marinate” a bit. With the physical distance to the destination and the time distance to when I took the shots I get a different take on my photographic results. I somehow better see what works and it is much easier to discard everything that doesn’t work or is just too much (for motives I took ten different photos off, but I really need only one or two to tell the story).
On location I now only make sure I back up my images by downloading them to the MacBook and saving a copy on my portable WD Wireless Passport Pro hard drive.
So by traveling light with limited but capable equipment, trying consciously to get into a photographic flow if needed and leaving image processing for after my return to home I can much more enjoy my weekend city trips.
Feel free to comment below about your own experiences for those short city getaways. Below you also find further images from our Stockholm trip