Much like I wish I were the kind of traveler who only packed one bag, I wish I were the kind of photographer who only used one camera. Instead, I always have two or three bags and two or three cameras. Despite my best intentions, I can’t seem to go on a trip with just one of each. Even if I wear the same outfit or shoot with the same camera for three days straight—both of which have been known to happen—without fail, the next trip I take, I still find myself wondering if I’m packing one outfit or one camera too many.
A man waits patiently for morning customers in the heart of Lisbon. Similarly, chairs remain empty just before an evening of Fado commences in the heart of Alfama.
This past month, I packed two shoulder bags with three cameras tucked inside and headed to Portugal. Four cameras, if you count the water-proof disposable I brought just in case I didn’t want to take one of my three cameras to the beach with me. While my travel partner booked our flights, researched which cities we should visit, and even bought travel-sized toiletries for the both of us, I took inventory of my cameras and decided on my Nikon D750, Nikon FM2, Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8D lens, a NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D lens, and my Fujifilm instax mini 50S instant film camera. One camera for practicality, one for the love of film, and one for fun.
I took stock of the film in my fridge and tucked three rolls of Ilford HP5 Plus Black-and-White Negative Film in my carry-on bag. I ordered three extra packs of instax mini instant film and the aforementioned Fujifilm Quicksnap 800 waterproof 35mm disposable camera. Traveling with film is not for the faint of heart, especially when traveling in and out of a greater New York City airport. Allowing yourself additional time to wait for an impatient TSA agent to hand-check your film is imperative, something I found to be motivational to remind me to use up all of my film while traveling.
Traveling with film is also something I only tend to do when I know I am traveling through a country at a slower speed. If I’m spending multiple days in one city, it becomes significantly easier to allow myself more time to photograph the same scene with two different cameras. Because we weren’t in a rush in Lisbon, we lingered in a café with the most wonderfully calm outdoor terrace. I photographed details of the well-designed space with my D750 and then my FM2.
In lieu of giving into jetlag, a serene café with an abundance of still life is the perfect excuse to fight the fatigue and stay awake, experimenting in digital, analog, color, and black-and-white.
The best thing I’ve discovered about traveling with a film camera, regardless of the format, is that locals cannot as easily identify my photographic intentions. Every tourist has a DSLR. Not every tourist has a film camera. While strolling through Lisbon one afternoon, I stopped to photograph some men gathered around, having their shoes shined. Noticing me taking their picture, one of the men waved me over. He pointed to my FM2 camera and then gave me an amused look when he realized there wasn’t an LCD to review the image on the back. I shrugged my shoulders, smiled, and thanked the men in my very limited Portuguese—enjoying the lack of immediacy, as well as the mystery that comes with shooting film.
Not only can shooting with film make you (as a photographer) feel less visible, but it is less of a target for theft or solicitation. If I am unsure of my surroundings, but still want to take a picture, I’m more comfortable using my film camera than I am using not only my digital SLR, but my smartphone, too. While my film cameras are in perfect working condition, these cameras are older and require more work than a more modern digital camera with an easily identifiable “automatic” mode.
It was impossible to not appreciate the quality of light in Portugal. From a steep climb up a narrow street, to the intricate tilework and exterior sink, to the tuk-tuk driver trying to pick up lost passengers, it was as if every scene were lit specifically for one to take a picture.
However, as much as I love shooting film, I will admit that it is not always my first choice to use when I am traveling, especially if I am squeezing in a greater number of cities in a relatively short timeframe. In addition to my penchant for packing just a little too much, I tend to hold my shutter button down just a little too often. Because, despite my general distaste for mathematics, I attempt to capture a certain symmetry in my images which can often involve multiple frames of the same scene from a few different vantage points. And as any street photographer knows, photographing people and capturing the perfect glance or expression can oftentimes make or break an image. Taking multiple shots of the same scene without compromising my film inventory gives me a little more freedom to capture more. If I have one roll of film for the entire day, I’m going to shoot much more conservatively in comparison to the dual 64GB memory cards I typically have in my D750.
Communicating to friends and family exactly what I am seeing while I am in a different country has become exponentially easier when shooting digitally and taking advantage of an application like Nikon’s Wireless Mobile Utility app. While I’m not opposed to using my smartphone for a picture here and there, I prefer having the control of a manual camera and the flexibility that comes with having a larger RAW file.
I’ve done many a silly thing with my camera(s) to get the shot, but rarely do my cameras come to the beach with me. I often take a couple of trips to the beach—one without my camera and one with, wherein I stick to a boardwalk or a lookout point to take pictures, allowing for a different perspective yet equally gorgeous views.
Within minutes, I can transfer files to my phone, connect to my favorite social media account, and upload images for friends to view around the world. Later, I can revisit the same image in Photoshop and make adjustments for a publication or print the picture for personal or exhibition use without compromising any image quality.
Few things are more pleasing than a quick instax instant film photograph.
Because it’s incredibly easy for me to get wrapped up in photographing a new [to me] country and process a different culture through the lens of a camera, I often forget how fun photography can be. This is where it pays to travel with a small instax film camera for instant and fun prints of your trip. Compact and lightweight, the camera can even fit in an oversized wallet or clutch, taking up little room in a bigger photo bag. The resulting instant prints become an exceptionally unique and personal souvenir. While I always have the intention to print and frame personal pictures captured with my D750 or FM2, more often than not, these pictures tend to live online. Returning from a trip abroad with physical prints is half the battle.
You already know that it’s not necessary to land in a new country with an arsenal of camera bodies, lenses, and film, especially with the soaring fees that come with international (and domestic) flights and luggage requirements. Anyone could argue, and I will readily agree that the best camera you have is the one with you. And yet, I’ll likely be squeezing at least three cameras in my next carry-on for the love of photography and processing—both imagery and a new culture.
Additional images can be found on Elizabeth Groeschen’s website.