My husband and I are a great birding team. He relies on me to help him hear and spot birds, and I rely on him to get any pictures that he can. We often learn important things when we look at his photos later, making them of great value to me. But when I’m on my own, I am reluctant to carry a real camera. The main reason I hesitate is Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO).

Kurt Fristrup, taking photos of birds for me. (Photo by Kit Dunsmore)

A good camera means carrying more equipment, when I’m already weighed down by my binoculars, field guide, and notebook. Without a camera, I can put all my energy into observing any birds I spot. Fumbling with a camera means less time looking at the bird, and that worries me.

Me, ready to bird. (Binos but no camera!) (Photo by Kurt Fristrup)

I’ve often seen a bird that Kurt never got to see because he was too busy trying to get a picture of it. Whether the bird flies off before he’s ready or he doesn’t get a good photo of it, Kurt winds up relying on what I tell him because he never laid eyes on the bird.

Cameras also put distance between you and your subject. Life is literally “re-framed” as you focus in on it. While you are busy taking pictures of one thing, you could be missing something else close by that’s just as interesting.

It wasn’t until I started writing about this that I realized that my reluctance to use a camera while I bird is just FOMO. I like to think I don’t have issues with acronyms or suffer from things others complain of. Just like I thought I was never lonely, I thought I was free of FOMO.

One of Kurt’s photos: painted redstart (Photo by Kurt Fristrup)

But I do have FOMO. Fear that the camera will keep me from seeing the bird at all, that I’ll miss a lifer or a rare sighting or noticing an unusual marking or some really interesting behavior. The whole reason I bird is to watch the birds, to learn more about them through my own observation, to connect with the wild world around me.

And yet no camera is a problem, too. Without a picture, I have no way to verify that what I think I saw is what I actually saw. Without a photo, I can’t prove to others that I saw a rare visitor to the area. No picture means no visual record of the experience I had and no physical reminder of happy birding moments.

The longing for taking my own photos hit hard when I went birding in Hawaii. I saw lots of introduced species, but I also got some good looks at some of the colorful endemics. Brief initial sightings were followed by longer, more leisurely looks. When yet another i’iwi flew slowly past, I suddenly wished I could get a picture of this striking red bird

But all I had with me was my cell phone, and I knew better than to even try. The only thing worse than no picture of an i’iwi is a photo of a red dot that people have to take on faith.

One time when a cell phone was good enough. Of course, I also had a spotting scope along. (Pink-footed goose sleeping on the ice. Photo by Kit Dunsmore)

I know the best way to get over this is to just start doing it, but I have yet to take a camera with me birding. Apparently, my fear of missing on seeing the bird still outweighs my fear of coming home without photographic evidence of the sighting.

If you bird with a camera, I’d love any tips you can give me.

6 thoughts on “Birding FOMO: Carrying a Camera”

  1. I’m not a birder but I have a similar problem. I consider myself an amateur photographer but there are times when I just don’t want to deal with the hassle of a “real” camera and everything that comes with it. This is one of the main reasons I upgraded my phone to one with an amazing camera.

    1. My phone also has an amazing camera, which is super handy for blogging. But it’s not good enough to get decent pictures of birds unless they’re super close (which isn’t all that often). And I forget to get it out and take pictures when I’m with people for special occasions and I think it’s the same thing: I’m worried I’ll get too wrapped up in the photography and not really connect with the people around me.

  2. So far I have been birding without a camera, partly because I don’t want to deal with the hassle of carrying and operating one instead of focusing on the birds using only my binoculars. I am, however, now looking into getting as cameras so I can document sightings (either for my self, for my blog and/or for eBird).

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one trying to figure this out. eBird is a great reason to have a camera along… it helps them know for sure you saw what you said you saw. Let me know how it goes! I’ll post about my camera experiences once I give a serious try.

  3. I have a point and shoot camera with a 30x optical zoom. I keep it on auto most of the time so that I am not fumbling with my camera when I want to take a photo. My pictures may not be National Graphic material, but the are good enough for me to get an id off iNaturalist or the Cornell All About Birds site. That said, I think you are right about the camera putting distance between the photographer and the subject. When I am taking photos I am oblivious to what is around me. I am hyper focused on what I see through the lens in a logical, task oriented way. I can take pictures of spiders, though I normally am terrified of them.

    1. The only camera I use at the moment is my phone, so I stick to landscape shots. But I would like more pictures of the birds I see. I’m going to have to suck it up, learn how to use one of our real cameras and start trying it. But often, when we go out to bird, I have limited energy. I don’t want to waste it fumbling with gear. I suppose everything is a trade off in the end.

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