A couple weeks ago a group of girlfriends and I took a weekend away. We went to a no-name town in Wisconsin and rented a house in a quiet neighborhood on a quiet river. The leaves were painted by the brush of fall and we couldn’t have asked for better weather.
If you would’ve asked me what I would have wanted to do 10-years ago, I would have said something that would likely have involved closing bars down and waking up with a case of the slows. But at 31? Time away looks a little different.
It’s quieter, slower, and more deliberate. More water mixed in with the glasses of wine and more hours awake during the daylight.
Regardless of my desire to unplug and unwind, the drive to document never leaves.
Like a friend that was invited along for a recharge, my camera is more than just a tool to document and tell stories.
It’s my soul sister that shows me what I need to see when things seem too crowded or loud. It’s an excuse to get outside or walk a little slower on a stroll, because the details we need to see don’t always show themselves immediately. It’s the friend that makes people laugh a little bit harder after something ridiculous happens, because they know the camera watched it too.
When I told my husband I wanted to try to document the weekend in a more present way, he looked at me like an alien. First of all, he doesn’t totally speak in terms of “being present” and the idea of going away for a weekend to sit in a swing and read seemed absurd (“you can sit in the yard and read here!”), so I don’t expect him to understand most of what I say when I speak creative lingo.
He also was worried I’d be too focused on photos I wouldn’t enjoy myself. Valid concern.
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Here’s the thing we have to remember when we’re both guest and documenter for personal events, whether big family events or small slow weekend trips:
you don’t need a million photos for it to have happened.
I actually went into the trip wanting a few photos that documented the 5-senses. If I did that, I figured I’d be able to fill in the blanks sometime later in life when someone wanted me to retell the story. It smelled like a campfire, felt like crisp air, cold river water and sweatpants, looked like stillness and rest and a million shades of orange and yellow, sounded like a breeze in the leaves and laughter and stories, and tasted like wine. I wanted to look at the photos and really be able to remember what the whole weekend was about.
It’s so easy to let the photographer part of you take control when you’re doing something different and fun. Whether it’s a weekend away with the girls, a cookout with friends in the backyard, or Christmas morning with friends and family, it’s really important not to be so obsessed with “preserving memories” that you forget to actually be part of them. That’s just sad.
I’ve found four things help to balance the photographer/life liver people we all want to be
And, you guessed it, I’m totally going to share them with you.
No thanks needed, friends.
- Go in with a plan
This sounds kind of contradictory to going on vacation to relax, but it really helps. I knew, for example, that I wanted photos of the art project we did, us drinking wine, and a cliche group photo. I also knew I specifically wanted to document all 5-senses. Knowing ahead of time that there were specifics I wanted allowed me to be mindful of taking those specific photos and not worrying about the rest. I didn’t distract myself with documenting every single detail of every single moment. We don’t remember every part of our lives, so it’s okay if the photos only tell parts of the story sometimes. For our art project, I documented setting up, a few shots of beginning to work, and then the final touches. The rest of the time my camera was somewhere else and I was fully present in the activity. Laughing and talking with my friends as we tried to be abstract and artistic together.
- Leave the camera behind
This is easier said than done sometimes, but the camera doesn’t need to go everywhere. Remember the reason you are on a trip or at an event. You might miss a moment in a photo, but you won’t miss a moment by living in it. There have been too many times I can count that I’ve gone somewhere and lugged my camera only to have it be more of a distraction and then come out of it with only mediocre photos. What a waste! Do you need to photograph every meal or is just one sufficient? Only you can decide what is important and what isn’t, but be okay with just saying no.
- Get. In. The. Photo
This is self explanatory, but seriously, do it. Get int the photo. Set a timer and use a remote (what I did) or take and old school selfie or hand someone the camera and pray they get you in focus. Whatever it takes, show you were there.
- Simple is best
Ahhh…simplicity. So easy to imagine yet so hard to execute. For this trip, I opted to leave the bulky DSLR at home with my library of lenses and bring only my mirrorless DSLR (all of these photos were taken with my Olympus OM-D EM-10 and 19mm lens) The idea of carrying a bunch of gear around and then having to make decisions of which lens to use for each situation was way too controlling. And sometimes, there’s no need for anything fancy. My iPhone is my favorite tool for daily documenting and would have captured these memories perfectly but I knew I might want to get weird and artsy, so I brought a camera with me.
What might you wanna remember about your past + your present that you haven’t yet documented?
As you embark on special times surrounded by good food, friends and family, remember not to be a slave to your camera or be so desperate to capture everything that you miss out. This is your time too. Documenting is awesome, but the experiences are even better.
Story + photography contributed by Ashley Manley.
Ashley Manley is a documentary family photographer and obsessive personal project shooter living on a small farm in Central Illinois. She has two littles she chases by day, a husband she annoys by night, and a handful of critters she pretends to control. She likes good light, good wine, good coffee, and good people. You can follow all of her daily adventures and wild ideas on instagram, where she’s been known to overshare and overuse the hashtag.