The night photography almost ruined my vacation – A cautionary tale


February was a gear heavy month on the blog, predominantly focused on pre-release shooting with the new Fuji X-Pro2.   I wrote my 5 part review series on the X-Pro2, and also published an interview with one of the official Fuji Guys.  It was a great month and I am so thankful for my relationship with Fuji Canada.  Now that the X-Pro2 is out in the wild I’m really looking forward to getting back to talking about the art and craft of photography for a little while.

Readers of this blog will note that March has been light on content.  This was mostly because I travelled to Amsterdam for a week of photography.  I am editing the photos from that trip right now, and will have a 3 part series coming in the next few weeks from that amazing city.  Before that, however, let’s talk about one specific evening I was out shooting in Paris last summer, and how my love for the art and craft of photography almost ruined what was, up until then,  a perfect vacation.

I should point out as we start that this night was an anomaly for me.  I lead an incredibly fortunate life, full of amazing travel and photographic opportunities.  I work with people I love, use gear I love, and get to share my work with family and friends.  I am incredibly thankful.   Consider this a cautionary tale then on the importance of maintaining perspective, because when you lose perspective it usually works against you.  Let’s get started…

The photo at the top of this post was taken from the  Pont Alexandre III in Paris, looking out toward the Eiffel Tower shortly after sunset.  I love this photo, to me it speaks to the romantic beauty of Paris.  When people view it they often comment any how beautiful that part of Paris is, how peaceful it must have felt to stand on that bridge that night, and how it must have felt amazing to be all alone and watch the tower light up.

Photography can be an illusion though.  A skilled photographer makes photographs, not just takes them.   The actual experience of taking this photo was very different from the experience described above, and that’s what I’d like to talk about.

On this trip to Paris one of the things my wife and I wanted to do was to have a picnic on the Champ de Mars, the grassy strip that runs below the Eiffel Tower.  As we drank wine and ate bread we would watch the sun set behind the tower and I would occasionally click the shutter to grab a beautiful image.  This picnic was also going to be held on my birthday, so it was going to be even more special.  I had a plan.

Due to some low clouds and rain early in the trip we had to postpone this picnic, so when we finally went it was toward the end of our stay.  We got off the Metro and I was totally excited for this night, which I knew would be full of awesome.  I could see it all in my mind.  I had a plan.

Walking up to the place where we were going to sit I was immediately caught off guard by the fences running around the entire area, by the grass that no longer seemed to be there, and by the large festival tents that were erected.  Indeed, the entire area was closed to prep for an upcoming event.

…I was crushed.

I had this whole evening planned and had anticipated it for so long that truth be told I was frustrated by this turn of events.   Now, I love photography.  It brings me joy, and my portrait subjects will tell you that I laugh non stop on my shoots because of that.   As I watched the sun fall though, for what was bound to be a perfect sunset, I found myself scrambling in my mind to pick a new location to shoot before “the night was wasted”.   From my pre-trip research I thought of the  Pont Alexandre III, and set off on the 20-30 minute walk at what could only be described as an angered pace… dragging my poor wife along with me.

It might surprise you to hear this, but artists can take themselves way to seriously sometimes.

Shocking, I know.   Let’s look at the facts for a second though…

I was still in Paris.  I was still with my beautiful wife.  I still had a bag of amazing gear over my shoulder.  There was still a beautiful European sunset falling right in front of me, yet I had fixated so much on one specific plan for the evening that I disregarded all of that when the plan fell apart.  This night reminded me that taking ourselves and our art too seriously almost always ends in failure.  I am human of course and we all have bad days, so I am ok with the fact that it happened and I’m not shy about sharing this story with you.

Back to the story…

Walking fast, I’m sure I went past at least a dozen beautiful photo opportunities along the way:  The Eiffel Tower framed between buildings, a garden, street photographs, beautiful people who I would have usually asked to make a portrait of, etc.  I was in damage control mode to try to save this evening and still get my “trophy shot” for the night.  I stopped seeing as an artist.

We arrived on the bridge, I set up on a tripod and got the photo above framed.  I felt better, and it  was now merely a matter of waiting for the right light as the tower lights came on and the light in the sky fell.

It turns out though that I wasn’t the only person who knew about this bridge and this view.  Amazing, I know, that other people in the most visited city in the world would also know about a scenic vista.  I’m actually talking about hundreds of people.  By the time the light was perfect I had to obsessively ask people to hang back out of the way while I clicked frames.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes they ignored me completely.  I think I got 12 decent frames and that was it, we were overwhelmed and I gave up.  And, let’s not forget that my poor wife, the amazing rock that she is, was waiting patiently the whole time while I destroyed our evening trying to get the perfect photograph.

This should have been a hilarious evening full of calamities (which, in hindsight, it was).  My frustration over the loss of my initial plans made me completely forget why I create art though…

Because it is fun, it is joyful, and it brings pleasure to my life.  Being an artist is such a gift.  I create because I love the process.  Every now and then it is good to be reminded of that.

Since that night 7 months ago I have travelled to Seattle, Las Vegas, and Amsterdam for the purposes of travel photography.  I have shot weddings and portrait sessions.  I have shot a lot of street photography, and that night has been a good reminder to always love the process… ultimately it is just as important as the final product.

Next on the blog, a three part series from Amsterdam.

Until then,