photographing your family, how a photographer photographs their family, jean hammer,

Does a Photographer Always Have their Camera with Them? Reflections on Photography and the Loss of Someone Special

As a photographer, I live, eat, and breathe photography.  There isn’t a day that goes by where I can just “turn it off”.  I’m always thinking about how beautiful the lighting may look at any given moment or how I could capture the awesomeness of what’s going on around me.  When you truly love your job and are indescribably passionate about it, you can’t turn it off.

But it also doesn’t mean that you walk around with a camera in your hands 100% of the time.

In fact, part of being a great photographer is taking time to step back and actively be a part of your own life.  How can you gain inspiration and insight if you’re always simply documenting from the sidelines?  Being involved in your own life and that of your loved one makes you well-rounded as an individual which will leave to your being a more effective and inspired artist.

It’s not easy to put your camera down, though.

As a photographer, I often have feelings of guilt when I leave my equipment home as I feel I’m constantly letting those around me down if I’m not snapping images of all our interactions together. In the odd instance where I try to just enjoy the day and forget about my camera, someone inevitably says “Oh, that would have been such a great moment to have.  Too bad you didn’t bring your camera.” and the feelings of guilt surface again.  I know that no one ever means it maliciously but it still induces feelings of guilt.  But why should I be feeling guilty?  Is there an inherent expectation that when you’re a photographer, you’re never supposed to be sans-equipment?  Can’t I just enjoy my life instead of watching it go by through my viewfinder?

Sometimes I will bring my camera; if I know there’s an event that’s going to be a particularly good story to tell and I have time to bring the equipment and edit afterwards.  I am a storytelling wedding photographer after all – if I am going to bring my camera it’s going to be when there’s a great story to tell.  Of course, the minute the camera is out of the bag, someone mentions going down to the park for a whole family photo session.  Explaining to people that I don’t have a tripod (which means I don’t even get to be in the photos) as well as that I intentions were to just snap a few little moments as they happened naturally, and to not organize an impromptu family photo sessions typically results in hurt feelings, theirs and mine.  (So much for hoping they read my article about how to be friends with a photographer, eh?)

As we prepare to celebrate the life of my husband’s grandmother, I have been reflecting tremendously on whether or not my decision to take an active part in my own life over the years has been the right one.  As the normal feelings of grief wash through me, I also feel the “to shoot or not to shoot” discussion running rampant throughout my mind.

After an immense amount of reflection on the matter, I think I may have finally sorted out out my feelings and would like to take this opportunity to share them in an effort to not only enlighten those who are friends with photographers (a little behind-the-scenes as to what’s going through our minds) but also with my fellow photographers.  When we read stories from our peers, internalize them and reflect on them, it can be tremendously helpful when faced with similar challenges in the future.

photographing your family, how a photographer photographs their family, jean hammer,

I’ve realized that I truly do believe that important moments in your life are those you are actively participating in.  I’ve said it before when I’ve blogged about wedding guests playing photographer all day instead of being truly present to take it all in and I believe the same holds true in my life, too.  Sometimes you just need to put down the camera and take it all in.

I’ve realized that not everyone will understand that my camera isn’t a permanent fixture at the end of my arm and I’m okay with that.  There will always be someone who will say “too bad you weren’t there to get one last picture” and whether they mean it maliciously or not I need to just let it roll off my shoulders and not let it get to me.  I have just as much right as anyone else does to enjoy moments in my life, regardless of my occupation.

I know the importance of being photographed by other photographers but I’ve learned that I need to make sure my family knows this too.  My husband and I often book sessions with other photographers just so we can have pictures together.  Being photographed by other photographers is so much fun.  Even if I don’t lost 10-pounds pre-session and even if I don’t get my hair and makeup professionally done, I always love the photos that are created of my husband and I — and, I am more than happy to invest my money into these sessions.  I’ve learned; however, that I need to start selling this idea to my family and friends.  I need them to understand the importance of being photographed by another photographer as a means of allowing me to not only be in photos once and a while but to make sure everyone’s expectations are on the same page.

It’s never easy to lose someone – but you will always have your memories.  I’m beyond happy with the memories I’ve been able to capture over the years when I have had my camera with me, but more importantly, I’m honoured to have gotten to share in this beautiful person’s life and to truly be present when I’ve spent time with them (and not just watching them through a viewfinder).  I have photos, but I also have stories to tell, interactions to remember and the feeling of their hugs to keep with me forever and that is what makes me the happiest of all.


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