Why I'm Not Bringing My Camera on My Big Trip

Photo of me by Hannah Fine Photography

Photography has become a big part of my life. If you've been reading my blog for the last few months, you're probably aware of the shift I've made into creating quality, beautiful photos that aim to capture my surroundings as accurately as possible. And I love it. I love photography both as a means of story-telling and as an art form; I love being able to go to people who've yet to travel and tell them my stories and say look, places like this exist, and I saw it and you can see it too. In fact, I received a lot of really incredible feedback from my Iceland photos from people who heard the name of the country and stopped at the Ice-, and didn't know about all the beauty that exists past the snow.
So why would I stop taking photos, especially on a big trip I've been planning for nearly a year?
Good question. And I have a few reasons for it.

It's time consuming. As with any true hobby, photography takes up a lot of time - this is normal and expected. What many people (myself included) don't stop to think is - is my love of photography taking away from my love of adventure? Am I missing out on travel experiences because I'm living life behind a lens? This particular trip - 2.5 weeks of backpacking Eastern Europe - is an exciting one because it's the first big trip Phil and I have been on internationally in over a year. And I miss him. Seeing him every 3 or 4 months is rough. While he is incredibly caring and patient, I don't want him to be living our travels while I spend my time looking at them. I want to be present with him while we soak in the baths of Budapest, view Mucha's grave in Vienna, explore the grounds of Peles Castle in Romania, and watch the sun set over the Hagia Sophia of Istanbul. I value good photography, but I value a good adventure (and story) more.

It's made me lazy. In this day and age, nearly anyone can take an incredible photo with the right equipment. Not to say that photography doesn't take a lot of time and effort - I'd be hypocritical to insinuate that I don't spend hours both taking and editing my photos. However, photography has made me lazy on two fronts: in my story telling, and in my everyday life. The last few years, blogs and websites have become increasingly visual-based, relying on visual media as the primary source of content. My blog included - approximately 60% of what I post is just photos from my adventures. The problem with this? I've lost my knack for storytelling. I've lost my desire to put words to my experiences. When I look back at my writing from when I lived in Egypt - before I had a nice camera or the time to edit photos - it makes me both happy and sad. My stories were moving, they made you laugh and cry (many people have told me both). I'm a good writer, yet I've fallen on my photos to tell my stories for me. I want to be known for my art as a writer as much as for my art with a camera.

On the second front - photography has made my everyday life a bit more difficult. A few weeks back we had a big essay due for one of my classes, and my close friend in my program asked if I had finished mine yet. No, I said, I've been editing photos from a shoot I just did. She laughed, of course you are, she said, you're always taking or editing photos. What she said wasn't intended to be negative, but it pointed out something I'd previously been blind to. I've let photography not just become a hobby, but a hindrance to my everyday life. I'm putting off important tasks (such as essay writing - though arguably I'd still manage to put that off without photography), for the name of art.

It keeps me paranoid and anxious. There's nothing like hauling a bag of $3,000 worth of photography equipment around the world to keep you constantly on high alert and high anxiety. I generally am an anxious person - always worried about what ifs and worst case scenarios. The worst thing I could to do exacerbate this problem is to travel in (arguably) unsafe conditions and areas with so much money on the line. Sure, I have travelers insurance, but the point isn't that my camera might be stolen, it's that I'm always worried that it might be stolen. Everywhere I go, I'm clutching my camera and my bag to my chest, feeling uncomfortable taking it off even at restaurants where I worry someone might snatch it off the floor. Why would I want to put myself in a situation where I'm supposed to be having fun but am making myself constantly worry-prone? I want to truly enjoy this trip - not to worry about whether the seedy guy at the back of the bus is eyeing my camera bag.

So while I'm saddened by losing an opportunity to take incredible photos of far-away lands I may never make it to again, I'm more saddened by the thought of my time in those places being lessened because of my obsession with my camera.
In four hours, I'll be on my flight to Prague. I won't be taking my laptop, tablet, or camera. All I'll have is my phone, primarily for directions and occasionally for grainy-photo taking. With that said, you won't hear from me till January when I'm back from my trip and done with my finals.
However: I hope that taking time on this trip to be fully present at every moment will give me the opportunity to write some beautiful stories for you. And I truly look forward to doing so.

What are your thoughts on trading in photos for story-telling?
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Iceland: The Blue Lagoon

We slipped into the lagoon, ducking low to keep our bodies warm in the milky water. As we waded towards the center, the dark clouds overhead gave release, and it began to snow. Flakes drifted around us, sticking in our hair and coating the black lava rocks. In the distance, a patch of orange sunlight peeked out from behind the neighboring gray clouds. I studied the landscape, watching the patch of light reflect off the opaque pool. I could stay here forever, I thought.


Arguably the best part of our trip was our visit to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a giant hot springs filled with milky blue water, in a valley of black lava rock. It's located about 50 minutes outside of Reykjavik city, but there are loads of busses that head that way for all of us tourists interested in going.
Also: it has a swim up bar. So Grace and I drank our morning lattes IN the lagoon, while it was snowing. I left the lattes out of my aforementioned narrative, as it seemed slightly less romantic in print, but let me tell you - swimming around in a giant hotsprings while it snows with latte in hand is officially the best way to start a day.
Some logistics: try to get to the lagoon at opening, otherwise you'll have to deal with a massive line and big crowds in the pool. Bring your own towel and bathing suit, because it costs an extra 25-euros to rent those at the lagoon. The entrance fee is 35-euros for the most basic accommodation (just the entrance ticket), but you can pay more for other services, including spa treatments and robes.

Notes on photographing the blue lagoon:
I took my DSLR to the lagoon because I didn't want to miss out on photos. You can take good landscape shots without ever stepping foot in the water with your camera, as there are many platforms and bridges to walk out on. However, if you want a close-up of yourself or another person actually in the lagoon, you'll have to take your camera in the water with you. I risked it all by wading around with my DSLR with a wide-angle lens, looking like a total fool but feeling victorious afterwards. Keep in mind that if you go in the winter (like I did), the lagoon creates a lot more steam which makes photos near the water difficult to capture. In this case, wait for a good breeze, otherwise your subject will be covered by the mist (unless that's the look you're going for).

As an added bonus: check out these sunrise photos - aren't they stunning? I'm telling you, Iceland has the best of everything. Best sunrises, best horses, best lagoons... I don't need any more reason to move there.

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Iceland: Four Hours of Daylight

One of the things that I (naively) overlooked when planning our trip was the fact that Iceland currently has about 4-hours of daylight. This is the opposite of the last time I planned my trip, when we were working with about 3-hours of darkness.
So I ran in with all these plans of hikes and adventures, before my friend kindly reminded me that sunlight was a premium and I'd need to prioritize my list of things to do.
We worked with the daylight though - and the night time. I tried my hand at photography in the dark, and I wasn't unhappy with the results. The bigger issue was that it started snowing and the wind was whipping it into our faces, making it impossible to see the landscape, let alone my camera. It was good practice and totally worth it, though.
We spent many hours walking through the snow and the streets of Reykjavik, just soaking in the ethos of the island.
Iceland retains its magic at night, if you were wondering.

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Iceland: Exploring the South Shore

Magic. Pure magic. Everything about Iceland is a fairytale, and I've fallen head over heels for it. I only had two days in the fair country, and I'm mourning the loss of all the missed days of adventure up until now.
When can I go back?
My best friend flew in from Seattle and met me in Reykjavik, where we spent a whirlwind couple of days touring the area as much as possible.
Our first day we went on a tour of the south shore, which included a black sand beach with basalt column cliffs, hiking the Solheimajokull glacier, stops at the Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls, and a few small towns where we filled up on coffee and perused a wide selection of traditional sweaters I'll never be able to afford. 
I'm also relatively certain that it's impossible to take an unattractive photo of Iceland. See below for proof. 


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