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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.

Sigma 18-35mm 1.8 DC USM Art Lens review: Sharp, sharp, sharp!

Following on from my initial thoughts of the Sigma 18-35mm 1.8 DC HSM Art lens, have my feelings changed about this lens?  Or has extended use the lens brought us closer together?

I decided to try out this lens during a recent holiday to the Greek island of Santorini.  I do not normally do travel photography and I can honestly say after my time in Santorini I have a greater appreciation of the travel photographers art - how they achieve anything worthwhile whilst working in such blistering heat is beyond me!  Anyway, moving on...

The image quality is fantastic

I normally shoot between f5.6 and f11 and the image quality is excellent within this range.  One thing that was particularly noticeable was the lack of flare on the lens in such harsh sunlight and chromatic aberrations were virtually nil.  All images looked fantastically sharp, even prior to RAW processing in Lightroom – I actually found myself questioning whether I had applied sharpening to the image already and had to double check.

18-35mm reach is fine (for me)

I had no issues shooting with what some would regard as a limited reach.  I prefer to shoot minimal style images so this suits me but I can certainly understand that most travel photographers would find this limiting.  That said, It really is worth considering exactly what type of images you are going to shot before opting for a lens such as this.

It's still too heavy

As a travel lens I think this lens is too heavy - I will stick to my primes from now onThe Sigma weighs in at 1.79lb on its own so add that to a camera, and even a light bag and it can be become a bit bothersome to lug around.  That by being said if you want to take quality images using an Nikon APS-C camera then the extra bit of weight is perhaps worth the bother.

Handheld, 1/250, f5.6, ISO 100 @ 31mm

Handheld, 1/250, f5.6, ISO 100 @ 31mm

Conclusion:  Is the worth buying?

There is no denying that the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM Lens  is a fantastic lens.  The sharpness you can achieve on a Nikon APS-C camera is fantastic.  As I stated earlier I usually shoot between f5.6-f11 but when I did shoot at f2.8 image quality appeared to be maintained.  Really, the only downside for me is the weight, it is really is noticeable, if you used to using prime lens.  That being said if you want sharp images this is the lens you need.

Have you used this lens or have any questions about?  Leave a comment below.

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