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Photograph Your Vacation, But Also Be Present

           As some of you may know, last month I became a husband. (WHAT!?) I know I know, it's crazy, fantastic, and basically the smartest thing I've ever done. I'm not sure if you've heard of this phenomenon, but apparently after you throw the biggest party of your life (AKA a wedding and wedding reception), you then get to go on the most epic vacation of your life. (Who is making these rules!?) A "Honeymoon" I believe they call it. (WHO ARE THEY!?) Before we even met in person, Sara (my WIFE) and I had talked about how we've both always longed to go to Paris. It only seemed natural that that should be the first destination on what would go down in history as the greatest honeymoon anyone has ever taken ever. (True story; check the books...on......honeymoon history.)

Photo by Sara's Uncle Bill (and I guess also now mine too!)

          I can't tell you the number of times I've been asked how I take so many wonderful, amazing, perfect pictures on a vacation and yet still seem to be present and enjoy the experience with my own eyes.  Just kidding I can tell you... zero; no one has ever asked me that.  However it is a thing I often struggle with. (By "often" I mean whenever I'm on vacation.) I'm sure at some point we have all had a conversation that went something like, "Man it's so hard to take lots of photos to document my trip (for when my brain is old and wrinkly and can't remember all the details), but then I get home and realize I was barely even on the trip because I spent the whole time playing documentarian. I was constantly spying on the world through a view finder or fiddling with settings to get everything looking just right, and I hardly remember what it was actually like to be there."

             I set off on this journey knowing full well that I was going to be inundated with the most beautiful architecture, stunning monuments, and breathtaking landmarks. How the crap was I going to somehow enjoy myself, while constantly feeling like I needed to be documenting every second? Here are some tips and tricks I put in place (some by choice, others by chance) to make it easier to balance being present and being behind the lens. 

 

CALM DOWN ON YOUR FIRST OUTING

When we landed in Paris, everything seemed amazing. (Well it was amazing, but I mean EVERYTHING.) My mom calls this "Sensory Overload." Every building, restaurant, and street in Paris looks like a movie set. I kept waiting for the fake backdrops to tip over and reveal the crew bustling around running cables and rigging lights. But no, Paris is real and every inch of it is a stunning picture just waiting to be taken.  So, I told myself on our first "wander" to just take it all in. Breathe in the smell of freshly baked baguettes, listen to the eloquent language floating through the air, and notice how the light reflects off the many windows. It was very tempting to photograph every little thing. However, I realized that I was going to be there for five days (before we shipped off to the next leg of our journey), and after a couple days, some things that seemed like an "absolutely must photograph" at first would be seen a zillion times and appear less impressive and important to remember. "Look, a French Pigeon!" "OMG a French trashcan with a fancy metal curly top." "Dear lord, look at that French...whatever that is." These are the pictures that you will end up deleting later, or just never showing to anyone anyway. It's sort of like shopping around instead of just buying the first thing you see. Don't get me wrong, I did take pictures on our first day, on our first adventure, but not a LOT.  This tip is not saying you aren't allowed to take any photos, just try not to feel pressured to be trigger happy, especially in the immediate area around your hotel that you're going to see A LOT.    

NO INSTAGRAMMING ON THE SPOT

        Due to the fact that we were in another country, on an entire other continent, we had to get a small "roaming data package" for our phones so as to not run up the most insane cell bill. As you can imagine, we definitely hoarded our precious few megabytes of data for important things, like directions to places and looking up the best restaurant nearby. (There's no time to eat bad food in France.) So, whenever we would leave our hotel room where PRAISE THE LORD there was free wifi, we would turn the data on our phones off.  
       Whilst meandering France obviously there were MANY occasions that we wished to IMMEDIATELY share a picture of with our family and friends, but all we could do at that point was take the photo and shove the phone back into our pocket.  This turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  On any other vacation (in which we weren't in Paris with very limited data usage), I would have taken that photo of the Eiffel Tower and instantly disappeared into my phone.  I feel these days it takes me longer and longer to Instagram a photo. I have to run it through the editing app "Snapseed" (I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS APP BTW), then into Instagram to rifle through all those filters and tweaks to get it just right. SO rather than standing there like a zombie for ten minutes, complaining about how I can't decide between Valencia and Earlybird, I would take a few seconds to snap a good picture, and then just continue to enjoy my surroundings. Of course then we would get back to the hotel at night and onslaught the interwebs with several Instagrams at once, but who cares. 

 

DON'T SWEAT THE SETTINGS

One of the other tricks I implemented on this trip was to not be a perfectionist with my photos. I guess it's less of a trick and more of incredible self control. I can't speak for everyone, but I always shoot in manual mode. I like to be able to make all the creative decisions as far as depth of field, amount of motion blur and all that jazz. Normally when taking a photo I would snap tons of different exposures, trying all kinds of combinations of ISOs, apertures, and shutter speeds to be sure I had the clearest, most beautiful, grain free picture.  I came to the realization that I wasn't planning on selling these pictures, or winning a "you took the best vacation photos ever" prize (though neither of those things would suck). So if I had to jack up the ISO to get an exposure in which you can actually see what's going on, then fine.  A little noise never hurt anyone, and there was no client to complain! These pictures were for me; if other people were going to enjoy them, that's fantastic, but all that mattered was capturing the memory of a moment that I wanted to have forever. SO, whenever something struck me as an important photo to have, I would only take one or two quick pictures, glance at the back of the camera to check exposure, and then I was on my way.  Really as long as you get nice framing and a picture you can see, I say don't waste your time fussing with buttons and knobs. Take that time to enjoy yourself - YOU'RE ON VACATION!! Heck, you could just be totally crazy and shoot in automatic mode! I won't judge you.

PHOTOSHOP IS YOUR FRIEND (DUH)

Ok so who are we kidding, the main reason I was so relaxed about not getting the absolute best photo possible in camera, was because I knew that I could save almost anything in Photoshop! If a picture is a tad blurry, you can always sharpen it a bit. If the picture is slightly on the darker side, one can always throw on a little clarity and bring up the shadows in the raw editor. (Providing you shoot in raw. If you're not shooting raw files, get your butt on board, like yesterday.) If the picture isn't perfectly level or framed nicely, you can always crop and twist to your heart's desire.  I also like to break all the rules about what size a vacation photo is supposed to be. No longer are we living in the days where your disposable camera only provides 4x6 prints. (But those were the days amiright?) So If I thought a picture would look a bit more cinematic if I were to crop some off the top and the bottom to make it slightly more panoramic, then dag-nabbit no one was gonna stop me. Even though these are just vacation photos to help you remember your trip, there's no reason they can't also be glorious works of art!


        Also one of my favorite tricks that I used on pretty much every single picture you'll see from the greatest honeymoon ever taken ever, is the "HDR Efex Pro 2" filter from the NIK Collection.  I love this filter, but it can most certainly be way overdone. In fact every time I run the filter it IS way too much and I have to turn the layer down until it looks natural, but it does an amazing job of throwing some detail back into your shadows and bringing down your highlights without making them look grey and muddy.     

So basically what I'm getting at is I HAD THE BEST TIME EVER IN FRANCE! I got to spend two glorious weeks with the love of my life.  I got to speak lots of French with the locals. (I can do that...mostly.) We got drunk during our picnic that was part of our bike tour of Versailles. We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and got to see the City of Lights at night. We climbed the spiral staircase alllll the way to the top of the Arche De Triomphe. We took the fastest train I've ever been on to Saint Malo, where we discovered glorious pastries and an incredible bistro during the second leg of our journey. We climbed a sometimes island (the tide comes WAY in and goes WAY out, so there are islands that you can hike to when it's out), and experienced breathtaking views.  Somehow during all of the countless moments and unbelievable experiences that we had, I managed to snap all these photos (and more) while still being totally present and taking in everything France had to offer. What a life I'm living. 

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