One of the great fears of any photographer is 'missing the shot'. You're at the right time, right place when all the components of the next great Cartier-Bresson 'decisive moment' unfold in front of you ... but you don't have your camera ready to capture it. You've left the camera behind, or you have it with you but you don't have the right lens for the situation. Seconds later the 'moment' has become another opportunity lost.
This was certainly a fear I had when heading off to Japan recently with my new small camera. Not only is the camera small, but it has a fixed lens with a fairly limited zoom range of just 24 to 70mm.
In the past I've always travelled with – and used quite a lot – a telephoto zoom out to 450mm. And I've captured some of my favourite pictures with that zoom. There was no way I would be getting some of those shots with the new camera.
As I battled with my own mind over this conundrum, I worked through a number of reasons why having more limited options would not be a bad thing, and in fact could be an advantage. Here are the five reasons I came up with to help myself overcome the fear of missing the shot.
- There's an old saying in photography that 'the best camera is the one you have with you'. You just have to work with what you have. The reality is that if you have an interchangeable lens camera with telephoto lens on it, and you walk around the corner into a scene that would be perfect in wide angle, you'll miss the shot anyway. We need to work with what we have. (A number of my favourite pictures over the years have taken with my iPhone because it was the camera I had with me at the time.)
- An extension of that idea is that if you have a light, easy to carry camera, you're more likely to have it with you. Heavy gear is tiring to haul around, meaning a) you are more likely to quit early or b) you are more likely to go out without it.
- Limitations encourage creativity. Street photographer and educator Valerie Jardin takes wonderful pictures with a fixed focal length camera (and often talks about the power of limitations on her podcast). Rather than settling for the 'postcard' shot because you have the tools to reproduce it, limitations force you to work harder and see what's around you in a more original way.
- In many situations you have a lot more versatility than you think if you remember that you can zoom with your feet. Forget the telephoto and get closer to the action.
- When you think about it, the whole idea of 'missing the shot' is actually ridiculous in the first place. You can only take pictures of what you see, where you are at any moment in time. I'm sure I missed a shot on the other side of the world just now – I just don't know what I missed!
The obvious retort to all of this is 'Why not just use your iPhone?'. Plenty of people do (both my daughters have travelled extensively overseas with just a phone) and today's phone cameras are certainly up to the task. However for keen photographers there is a balance to be struck here. I want to be able to work with the exposure triangle to achieve certain creative effects. And, particularly in low light, there are physical qualities of larger lenses and sensors that will never be matched by the tiny lenses and sensors of camera phones. I love my phone as a backup camera, but I also love fiddling with the variation offered by my 'proper' cameras.
To be honest there were times on this recent trip when I felt straight out smug as I breezed around with my baby camera watching other travellers lumping around, in some cases, two camera bodies with different lenses on each, just so that they would have the full range at their disposal at a moment's notice, and never miss a shot as a result.
I was more relaxed and having more fun, and if that didn't end up showing through in my pictures I'd be very surprised.