I've written about this many times in the past, and as long as I'm concerned, I'll continue giving people this advice if they get in touch with photography with certain passion in their hearts and their minds. Always, carry a camera with you. This is the ultimate and most valuable advice I can give to anybody when they ask me about getting closer to photography. Sometimes I don't even give people the opportunity to ask, but they reflect so deep passion about the discipline, which they need to know this, it is my responsibility with the world, to let people know, that the only thing they need to do, is to have a camera always with them and practice with constant discipline. The rest is going to fall into its place by sweet gravity.
About three years ago I realized this the hard way. I was traveling to East of my country with a coworker, it was very early in the morning, around 20 minutes past dawn. (There is something really beautiful about driving highways at dawn, it is something completely uplifting, I always the first twenty-two seconds of this ad when thinking about dawn, highways and photography: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qjzhJKlvS8) The sun had raised, and the light was very charming. Suddenly, about one hour after departing from the city, I saw one of the most compelling scenes I have ever seen in my entire life. And I wasn't carrying any kind of camera with me that day, not even a smartphone. I only have the memory of that striking scene, which is imprinted in my mind so vividly, that I could draw it, unfortunately, I don't have the ability to draw.
Religious beliefs, especially Christian believes, are absolutely common in my country, I live in El Salvador. I can only describe the scene, because I was stubborn, and haven't had adopted the discipline of always carrying with a camera with me. The scene was like this, at one side of the previously mentioned highway, there was an old woman, kneeled on the ground, with her arms lifted so passionately towards the sky that you could feel her sacrifice at that time. Her eyes were obviously closed, and her mouth was moving, so she was praying out loud I suppose. She was doing her prayers with a passion and faith, I could only describe in its truest form, as Tangible. The scene wasn't alone, there were two elements very close to her that really shocked me (and consider that the praying lady was already pretty strong). One of them was a couple of persons standing right next to her, very close, minding their own businesses, completely unmoved by the old woman kneeled to the ground. The other one was a fire built by her (I guess, or I hope). To her right, a fire made up of wood and trash, at her left, people minding their own businesses, and at the center, the praying woman. That was the scene that slapped my face, and twisted my supposedly solid philosophy of photography forever.
I can only remember the scene, and describe it to you as a campfire tale. This, thanks to my sloppy behavior of not carrying a camera with me at all times, because I was just too careful about gear. I'm not saying to be reckless, but you should try to stop treating gear like a newborn, and find a trusty camera that feels comfortable to you at all moments. That moment in time changed my discipline forever. As a Social Photographer, I love talking with strangers more than with known people. I talked with many truckers about that peculiar scene, at that specific point of the highway, and for my surprise, the scene was not a reverie, it was a daily thing of that rural area. I'm sure I've driven by that spot at least twenty times after that encounter, always hoping to see the exact same scene again, or at least a similar one, just the praying lady, I don't know. It just had never happened again for me, yet. I have faith that someday, I'll see her again, and I'll be prepared to capture the image I so deeply crave because I carry a camera with me always.
Before this encounter, I was only a DSLR and SLR user, and let's face it, DSLR gears are huge and chunky, it is not so easy to carry with you all the times (unless you attach a pancake lens, which I have done with the moment is required). After this pinpoint happening, I looked for a small compact camera, and I found a secondhand G1X from Canon. This little fella became my best friend, I carried it with me always. Nowadays I have changed almost completely, and have gotten an even smaller and inconspicuous camera, a Fujifilm X100T. The gear is not the relevant thing about this article, the thing is that you need to find a camera that is absolutely trustworthy and that you feel comfortable for carrying it around 24/7. Some friends of mine find their full frame DSLR with a 24-70mm like the perfect 24/7 companion, and I respect that.
Why a smartphone is not enough?
As I said before, I have written about this before, and I'll continue to do it as long as I'm concerned because I'm committed to my photographic philosophy. Many people have told me that their phone is their trusty camera, and it might be true. I don't underestimate phone photography, in fact, I have been having fun with it since a while now thanks to VSCO cam (I don't have a public profile, yet). I think that a Smartphone is completely useful and very powerful, but the fact that you are carrying a camera with you makes you more sensitive to the surrounding. Of course, this is very subjective, but I have proved myself, that having a camera hanging from my shoulder, is a constant reminder that I have to be aware of my surrounding and that I need to keep a sensitive eye towards everyday scenes.