• Carl Battreall

Where is your camera?


Where is your camera? This is the most common question I have been asked over me thirty plus years as a photographer. It is usually asked by non-photographers when they learn I am a photographer. In the early days of my photography, friends and family would continually ask, which as a young photographer, I found frustrating and annoying.

I never carry a camera with me unless the purpose is to create photographs. Family events and casual trip photos are generally taken by my wife or friends. I would often remind people that photography is my job and I have no interest in working on my time off. But that is not truthful, there is much more to it than that.

First off, the camera creates a barrier between your experience and the event. Instead of being fully immersed in the event, our attention is placed on our concerns about making photographs. Composition, exposure, light, etc… that is what our attention is focused on and it becomes difficult to become fully engaged. I want to be engaged with my surroundings and the events taking place. I want to be hands-on; I want to smell, touch, and listen. I want to be fully present, both in mind and body. The camera strips much of the experience away. Interestingly, the emotional barrier created by the camera is often what allows photojournalist to create images of horrific and painful events. The critic Susan Sontag was concerned that photographers used the camera to excuse their lack of humanity when photographing sensitive subjects, especially in a situation when the photographer could do something to help the scenario. Something to contemplate.

Second, meaningful photographs are created when you are fully committed to the image making process. It does not matter what genre of photography: fine art, editorial, commercial, a photographer’s state of mind must be fully dedicated to the moment and the process.

I use a tripod 95% of the time. I forgo the tripod only if it is dangerous or inconvenient, like when doing street photography in a crowded area. When I am out looking with purpose, with the intent to create photographs, the tripod acts as a button, a starter that ignites the engine of creation. There is a moment, that is hard to describe, when I just know there is an image to be made. I may search and study a scene, watch the wind, the light. If I do not feel that a photograph is there, I will take the time to enjoy the scene around me. However, once I set my bag down, once I unstrap that tripod, the wheels spin and all my emotions, all my focus is on the photographic process and the creation of a photograph.

I have never understood those photographers who have cameras strapped all over their bodies, like weapons on a soldier. They will tell you they want to be ready for anything. But rarely are good photographs created on the fly, shot from the hip. Even professional photojournalist or street photographers know when to keep their cameras in the bag and when they do take their camera out, it is with intent and purpose.

When it comes to personal, family, casual occasions, ask yourself what is more important? Taking photographs or being fully engaged in the moment? Rarely would I choose photography over a fulfilling experience.