"A good photographer always has their camera with them." That's what we hear. Always looking at the world through the viewfinder, never a moment missed. "The best camera you have is the one that's always with you." is another iteration with the same gist. Some photographers live and die by these rules, but I can't overstate how short-sighted and mind-numbing that really is.
Photography teaches you to see the world. But you must first learn to feel it. Head out into the fields, the forests or the cities. Watch as the wind rustles leaves, hear the cracking of trees as they sway and allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the clamor of busy streets. Only then will you realise that snapping a picture of the first, most obvious thing that moves isn't good enough. And you've seen this happen before. Say you visit somewhere new and you find a nice viewpoint. You sit down on the bench and take in the scene. The next person that arrives see's the view, whips out their smartphone and snaps five or six images, before pocketing the phone and walking off. They took a photo of where they weren't. And that's my point: you must learn to feel what it's like to see a sunset before you can truly capture it. What makes that sunset fantastic? Is it the way the clouds soak up the pink hues as the sun grazes the horizon, or the ochre warmth that bathes the grassy hill in front of you? Perhaps it's the way the light skims through the skyscrapers, carving out a shadow in the sky. When you feel strongly about something, and take the time to identify the cause of that feeling, then you can begin to focus on that with your camera.
For example, I went to the Lake District in Cumbria, England recently for a photoshoot. I spent an entire day shooting the landscapes, from 4am to 9:30pm. I saw mirror-like tarns, (lakes) and rocky fells, (mountains) I even went inside a cavern which took my breath away by its beautifully quarried walls. But I never felt like I was there. I was just photographing it. My aim was to create a nice picture of the place. The following morning I woke early again, around 5am and decided to go for a run. It wasn't until I was outside that I noticed there was thick fog all around. Not wanting to take the usual option of running along a flat road I turned behind the house and ran up the mountain. As I scrambled up I noticed the fog was lifting. I could see a little further with every stride. At one point I could almost see the top of the fell and had a break on a rocky step carved into the mountain. As soon as I sat, I saw. This huge landscape in front of me, reaching infinitely over the edge of the horizon, was blanketed by fog. Everything, for as far as I could see was covered except for the fells that poked out above like islands in a vapor sea. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was the best cloud inversion valley fog I'd ever seen. I immediately slapped my thigh. But these were running shorts, and they didn't have pockets. No smartphone. No DSLR. No nothing. Except for my house key. I had two choices: go back down and get the camera and run back up the fell again to take some photos, or soak it in and connect. I chose the latter. I didn't have the energy to run down and up again with a camera on my back. And even if I did, it took me so long that the fog would've dissipated by the time I reached the top. I was forced, (reluctantly) to stop and connect with what was going on around me. No one else was there, just the sheep, the clouds, the fell islands and myself. It was only then that I started to notice things I wouldn't have seen had I taken my camera. The cloud was lapping and crashing against the fells like waves at the beach. I descended back down into the edge of the fog and found the sunlight to be strong, directional and yet diffused. Soft but strong highlights shon on the ash tree leaves that had just started to grow. Their young, yellow-ish colour resonating with the colour of the sunrise were wrapped in imperceptible shadows. I knew from experience that this was special light indeed. No adjustments needed in photoshop or lightroom if I took a picture now. But, I couldn't. Again, I only looked in awe of this special moment in time. However, I noted what was so special about it. The description above paints a picture that perhaps I wouldn't have captured if I had my smartphone or camera. I'd have been too busy snapping images of the inversion to venture back down to the edge and see that incredible light. I know I would have, because I've done it before. I'm guilty of being that second person at the viewpoint, and whipping out my smartphone to take a snap before hastily moving along. But I'm glad I wasn't this time. Now I know what to look for when I experience it again. I saw more, I felt more, and so I can convey more the next time. So I urge you all to sometimes put away your cameras and just experience life before you shoot it.