The Fear of Missing Out

By: Adam Marelli

Is it holding your photography back?


The fear of missing out affects more than photographers.  There were many nights I spent out well past the hours of intelligent decisions (usually post 2:00am) because I did not want to miss out.  It is a tendency that is nearly impossible to satisfy because there is the possibility that something is on the horizon.  But the probability that something spectacular was going to happen, on those over served nocturnal evenings, was about as likely as winning the lottery.

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I got over the fear of missing out a few years ago while shooting a project in the South Pacific.  Before that, I would carry a camera a lot.  It would be with me around NYC, at the airport while traveling, family gatherings … you name it, I had a camera.


But it took going around the world to realize two things.  There was zero correlation to the amount of time I carried a camera and the amount of good pictures I produced.  And not having a camera is one of the most powerful exercises for training your eye as a photographer.

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How did this all happen in the South Pacific?


After two+ days of travel from New York to Tanna Vauatu, I was exhausted.  Finally able to drop my bags, I decided to take an afternoon walk down the beach.  For those of you who don’t know what the Tanna coast looks like, imagine being shipwrecked on a deserted island.  When you look down the beach, all you see is an endless line of sand dividing the ocean on one side and dense foliage on the other.  There are no visible houses or people. This is Tanna.

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My brain was totally shot from travel and I figured even if I took a camera, the pictures would be junk.  Was I wrong?  Absolutely.  Did I miss an amazing set of shots?  Yup, I did.


Did it regret?  Not at all.  Missing those shots was the best thing that could have ever happened to me because along with missing those shots, I lost the fear of missing out.  It just vanished and it has never returned.

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What happened you ask?  As I walked down the beach, I saw two figures in the water.  They were waist deep and looked like they were bathing.  Even though Tanna is a small island in the middle of the Pacific, it has ample fresh water.  No one bathes in the ocean.  It did not make sense from a distance.  As I got closer there was a flash of orange light, like a mirror reflecting a blinding light.


Not having a camera is one of the most powerful exercises for training your eye as a photographer.


The bright light was the setting sun as it reflected off of cow organs.  Two of the women from the village were cleaning the parts of a recently slaughtered cow.  Later, I learned that the volcanic rock that lines the coast is connected to an underground fresh water reserve.  At low tide, the pools have mostly fresh water.  The women use the water to clean everything from clothes to cow parts.

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As I sat there having a conversation with what turned out to be my host’s cousin, Marie, and her friend, all I was thinking was, “How the h*ll did I leave my camera back in my hut?!”  Here I was, in a totally new place, watching something I’d never seen before, blanketed in the most ideal late afternoon sun you could get in the South Pacific, and all I could do was make a memory – not a photo.  I felt like an idiot.


But a few hours later when I went to bed, something hit me: I was in a new place and I was bound a see some incredible things.

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If I worried about every shot I tried to get or missed, the whole experience would just be a big ball of stress.

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The next day, I decided I would not shoot every day.  I would use the tension that built from not shooting to fuel the following day.  This on and off approach to being on the island changed how I shoot.  No longer did I feel the need to catch it all. If things passed and I missed them, I just let them go.  When people met me for the first time and asked, “Are you a photographer? Where’s your camera?” I replied that it was back in the hut.


If I worried about every shot I tried to get or missed, the whole experience would just be a big ball of stress.


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I don’t imagine it is an experience I can recreate for someone else.  It is not something I could teach.  It is only a story that I can retell.  For most photographers the story won’t matter.  But for a very small few, it will take them one step closer to relieving another one of the invisible burdens we put on our photography.  When those weights are lifted not only does our photography grow, but we enjoy it a whole lot more.

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