Leaving the Camera at Home (You Can Do It…Really)

I just read an article about a blogger who actually called 911 from a Toronto film festival, complaining about excessive cell phone use during a midnight press screening. Alex Billington of FirstShowing.net says he called the police because there was too much texting and emailing going on in the theater and that the theater management refused to do anything about it. Yes. You read that correctly. An allegedly sane person called 911 to complain about phones lighting up in a movie theater.

I’m going to walk away for a few minutes and let that sink in.


There is no doubt that for many people, smart phones, tablets, and other devices have become extensions of our bodies. When was the last time you left the house without your phone? Forget leaving the house– when was the last time you turned it off? A guy in a movie theater got so pissed off over people who couldn’t put them down that he actually called the cops. I’m still trying to get my head around that. As much as I love Toronto, I’m happy I live somewhere else and don’t have to worry about the legit 911 calls that had trouble getting through because Alex Billington was burning up the phone lines.

By his own account, the emergency operator laughed at him, but this got me thinking about photographers and our cameras. Most of us have a least one go-to camera that we grab when we’re heading out the door. It’s as if there’s this compulsion to not only record life’s moments, but to do so with professional-quality results. I’m occasionally guilty of this myself, but why? I think the answer partially lies in the fact that we spend so much time shooting for our clients that we’re afraid of missing out on capturing our own personal moments if we just leave the camera at home once in a while.

I’m here to tell you that not only CAN you leave the camera behind once in a while, but you SHOULD leave the camera behind once in a while.

If you’ve ever watched a concert from great seats through the screen of your iPhone, take note. You’re never going to watch that video. And there is no way you’re ever going to get me to watch it. So, what are you going to remember from the event? Certainly not how much fun you had with your friends, because you didn’t! You spent the whole time trying to keep your phone steady. Remember that bit about stopping to smell the roses?


I wrote an article recently about packing my camera bag for a vacation with some friends. A body, three lenses, one speedlight, batteries, memory cards, travel tripod, laptop, and Peanut m&m’s– basic “essentials.” Four days later the camera, one lens, and the m&m’s were all that had come out of the bag. Was the extra gear wishful thinking on my part? Was I trying to anticipate every possible scenario? What was more important– photography, or four days with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time?

Regardless of whether it’s a smart phone, a point-and-shoot, or pro gear, I think a lot of us– myself included– are spending too much time documenting life and not enough time living it. I’ve recently stopped taking a camera to my son’s fencing tournaments. Since I work with a camera, I don’t want him thinking that I consider watching him in his element to be work. I have my phone with me for a couple of quick snaps if he wins a medal or some video if he wants to study his technique, but just being his dad at these events is so much more important to me than being a photographer.

Every new camera release is more impressive than the one before it. They are amazing, and make our professional lives easier, but they also have a way of getting in the way of our personal lives. Make a deal with yourself to leave the camera at home once in a while. I’m not saying you have to pass on photographing the perfect sunset. Far from it. But
maybe you need to shoot it, put the camera away, and enjoy the perfect sunset– preferably with someone else.

About The Author

Jeff Guyer is a photographer based in Atlanta, GA., specializing in commercial and portrait photography, as well as weddings, sports, and street photography. You can see more of his work at Jeff Guyer Photography, or connect with him on Facebook at Guyer Photography, or Twitter at @guyerphoto.

  • joe_average

    thanks, I needed to hear that from someone other than my family. they refer to me as “the paparazzi” sometimes. perhaps not only are we missing some of the moments ourselves, but also diminishing it for others. we see them cringe or put on a good smile when they see us coming with the lens pointed at them…again. so we go for sneaky ‘candid’ shots instead. on the other hand: I’ve also noticed that my friends and family are taking less photos and expect that i’ll be the one capturing the moment. I think it will always be hard to know when to put the lens down; I guess we all need a break now and then, regardless if we feel the obligation.

  • Tom Byron

    Thanks Jeff. Good advice. I think there are a lot of people I see who never cease to amaze me. They are constantly taking iPhone snaps of the most inane junk I have ever seen. I wonder to myself, “What the heck are you doing taking a “snap” of THAT nonsense for. No one cares—only to see this junk on Facebook later. Groan…

  • Brian Jurkowski

    Wow…. GREAT advice, Jeff!

  • Sam

    I totally agree with you. I don’t really understand people watching a concert thru their mobile phone screen.

    I always try to leave camera at home when I’m meeting with friends or family. If i have the camera with me, I just take a couple of pictures and put it back in the bag so I can enjoy the moment.

  • John R. Fulton Jr.

    I’ve been carrying a camera with me for years. All the time. I’m a photographer. It’s what I do.

  • Rick

    There is a big difference between a smart phone and a camera (beyond the area of photographic quality). Being tethered to a smart phone is an issue of perceived self importance, that the world will stop revolving if you don’t remain in constant contact. Being tethered to a camera however is like being tethered to your creative side. While I guess I could spend some time away from my creative self, I’m not sure I’d enjoy it.

  • Koos

    Can’t stand those freaking idiots with mobile phones in a cinema.

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    For me, it at least partially comes down to this– I realized some time ago that I have all of these great family photos, but I’m not in very many of them. Whereas Rick commented that he doesn’t think he’d enjoy spending time away from his creative self, I think it’s kind of important to take the occasional break from my creative self. Besides being a participant, rather than an observer, I always return to my creative self much more refreshed and motivated to create. As always– just an opinion.

  • James

    FOMTS Fear Of Missing THE Shot.