Are all photographers terrible travel companions? How I balanced family time and photography in New York

Family holidays can be a minefield for any photographer.  We all know that we should be switching off and relaxing with our loved ones but it is not that easy is it?  Whether we set off on a summer holiday, a weekend jaunt, or a mid-week city break, the family holiday is a balancing act I struggle to reconcile.  As such you can imagine the dreadful combination of joy and terror that overcame me when my wife, my daughter and I finally plumped for a weeklong trip to New York.

The Met Museum New York

I know from previous trips together that I am a terrible travel companion.  I constantly find myself distracted, tense and wandering off to search for possible photo opportunities.  Unfortunately, my photography brain makes relaxation very difficult because I always seem to find something to shoot and it is impossible to watch any potential opportunity slide by.  I knew it would be especially difficult on this trip, how could any photographer with a love of the urban environment resist the allure of New York?

I know that I cannot go on like this and in the weeks leading up to our trip I decided to put a plan in place to help ease my stress.  This began when I narrowed down my kit to a minimum, taking only my Fujifilm x-t2 and two prime lenses – the 23mm f2 and my 50mm f2.  I also decided to sacrifice my tripod and shoot everything handheld.  I genuinely considered ditching all of my photography gear and taking only a smartphone thinking it would eliminate my anxiety about ‘doing photography' but I could not do it.  New York was too great a location to miss.

New York is so vast that an itinerary is essential for most visitors.  Creating an itinerary was a great way to help me plan my shots and discover locations nearby.  Iconic New York sites such as the Empire State or the Chrysler Building are obvious starting points and it was a simple task to research the surrounding area using Google Maps’ Street View feature.  This was a great way to walk the streets of New York and see what was close by before we even departed the UK.  Simple steps like this helped to control any urge to wander off and snap away unprompted.  I even went so far as creating a ‘New York locations’ map on Google Maps containing over seventy possible points of interest.  So whenever I had some spare time I could nip off and back again with minimal fuss.

Architecture Ney York Reflections

Limiting my photo gear and planning our locations meant I was able to ease my anxiety about missing any shots I had in mind.  It also meant I had to accept my limitations and work within them.  I knew night and long exposure photography would be difficult without a tripod and I could hardly expect my wife and daughter to visit the sites at sunset or sunrise solely so I could get the best light.  The vast majority of my photography was actually shot in the harsh midday sun and I had to adapt to these conditions as best as I could.  This often meant I would try out a contrasty black and white shot, seek out spots in the shade, or head indoors and make what I could there.

Reacting to weather and light is essential in photography and it is the main reason I took such limited kit. Reducing the options I had enabled me to react to my surroundings, compose my image, and shoot quickly.  It is one of the main reasons I prefer primes when travelling.  I find the limitation of using a prime lens can actually be liberating as I have less options to consider when shooting.

One World Trade Centre.jpg

I don’t know if I will ever truly manage the delicate balancing act of the family holiday. There is a constant battle between my photography brain and my rational brain.  The rational side tells me to relax, slow down, and enjoy the experience.  Unfortunately, it often loses out to my photography side which always compels me to seek that one last shot.  Perhaps one day my rational brain will stand tall and overpower the selfishness of my photography brain and my much longed for stress free holiday will finally happen. Perhaps.