How many times have you been strolling along, minding your own business, when suddenly the perfect photo opportunity jumps out of nowhere. You grasp desperately at your hip, looking for your precious DSLR only to remember that it isn’t there. Maybe you still have that compact film camera in your bag, that’s always good for getting an artsy shot. You fumble around inside the most inside pockets, but no luck. By the time you look back up, the sun has dropped too low, your subject moved, or you can’t quite remember what you found so compelling about the scene in the first place. You missed out on a golden photo opportunity, all because you didn’t have a camera on you.
This scenario is all too familiar to pretty much every photographer. And the more photos you take, the more opportunities you’ll notice and the more missed opportunities you’ll endure. This is why you should always have a camera with you. Always!
Let me explain this practice another way. Below are a few random shot’s I’ve taken with a backup camera because I didn’t have my regular kit with me at the time:
What do all of these images have in common? They were all snapped on my iPhone in the moment, completely out of the blue. They also all have an awful lot of symmetry, but that’s just personal taste.
Sure, they could be a little crisper, or exposed a bit more or less, or utilize some sort of photographic technique not readily available on a smartphone, but that’s not the point. Compare the photos above to the one’s below that I took when I didn’t have any camera on me at all:
Note how there are no photos there. That’s because you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and you can’t take a photo without a camera. A $6,000 Canon kit is absolutely useless without a photographer there to make it useful. On the other hand, even the crummiest camera can make beautiful photos if it’s in the right hands. Just look at the video below by DigitalRev TV, where they test a professional photographer’s skills in their running series, Pro Photographer, Cheap Camera:
I mentioned in the opening scenario the idea of having a compact film camera in your backpack. This is one of my favorite techniques for being an ever-vigilant photographer. If you’re interested in film but have understandably moved on to digital, you can still keep film in your life by loading up a cheap, 35mm, analog camera with some film and slipping it into your favorite backpack or coat pocket, so you can always have it with you for those special, can’t-miss moments. I do this with an Olympus XA, a clamshell, semi-automatic, a 35mm film camera that takes some decent quality pictures. It even has an aperture setting, which is all you really need to gain some creative flexibility. The photos that come out of it are definitely unique, and getting a roll back from being developed to see all the tiny moment that I snapped with that camera for the past month or two is a wonderful thing.
Another popular method of making sure your “always on” as a photographer is to carry a compact digital camera. For serious photographers, the Sony RX100 IV is very popular. It really does take some gorgeous images, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a difference between the pictures it makes and those from any APS-C sized DSLR. You could also opt for a small, APS-C sized mirrorless camera like the Sony a6300 or the cheaper a6000, which allow you to swap lenses and are basically complete cameras in a small package. But to me, carrying around either of these fairly expensive digital cameras isn’t worth the hassle of staying ever vigilant of theft or damage. Instead, I recommend you use the most obvious but underappreciated camera in any photographer’s arsenal: the smartphone.
Above, I showed you some snaps I took with my trusty iPhone, and I was only able to take those photos because I basically always have my iPhone with me. I bet you do too. Pretty much any smartphone is capable of taking acceptable photos in good lighting, so why not use it? Many photographers look down on any photo that they know was shot on a smartphone, but that’s just silly. It’s a camera. It makes photos. That’s all a photographer needs.
If you don’t want to carry around your full-sized camera setup with you all the time, that doesn’t mean you can’t be ready to take photos. If you’re always on the lookout for the best image you can find, you’ll find way more than you’d think. Keeping a dedicated camera for impromptu shooting can be fun and educational, but there’s no reason to overlook the power of a standard smartphone camera. After all, the best camera is the one you have with you.