Our 5-Night Tonquin Valley Hike without Cameras – Any Regrets?

As some of you know Samantha and I headed out in late August on a 5-night backpack trip to Tonquin Valley in Jasper National Park without any cameras at all. For those not familiar with the Tonquin it is easily one of the most stunning backcountry destinations in the Canadian Rockies. Not taking a camera would seem to some equivalent to not taking photos at your wedding.

So some of you emailed or asked us in person, “do you have any regrets?”  Below  are our answers:


I have not been to Tonquin Valley in over 10 years and we had planned a fairly leisurely circuit of 6 days and 5 nights so there would have been plenty of opportunity for photography. But I also know from past experience that sometimes the camera gets in the way of experiencing nature on a deeper level. The camera can be a distraction putting a barrier between you and your surroundings or colouring how you see your surroundings through pre-conceived notions of what is ‘valuable’ to photograph. The good thing about years of photography is that it taught me how to see, how to enjoy the subtleties of light and design in nature. For this trip I actually ‘saw’ way more than if I had a camera. I felt like an elite athlete in the zone. I had no camera to interrupt my visual flow. I came away with new ideas and approaches to try in my photography the next time I pick up a camera. The trip primed my creative pump and got me really excited to move forward with new projects and ideas. I am a better artist for having left the camera behind.

And even more importantly than this fresh injection of seeing, I value the trip more because of the deep connections Samantha and I made during the trip. No cameras were there to take us into our own little private worlds. We actually spent time in conversation rather than running around chasing light.  The trip not only helped me grow as an artist, it  grew our relationship. What could be better? No regrets at all – we should do this more often!


 I wasn’t as apprehensive as Darwin about setting out without a camera even though this was my first foray to world-famous Tonquin. In fact, I looked forward to it. This past year, we had worked really hard with numerous talks, workshops and seminars. Maybe even too hard. When you have a business in the photo industry, instead of a passion for photography as a hobby, your creative side can suffer sometimes. I felt like I needed to take a step back and reconnect with nature and myself. Because we teach photography for a living, there would have been a host of other expectations and needs if I took my camera along…for example, people may expect shots to be posted on this blog! Leaving the camera at home allowed me to just enjoy the hike as a vacation and to share my experience with my partner. I didn’t realize how much a camera (or any device with which we become obsessed) can get in the way of just being present with your loved ones until we left ours at home. Darwin and I were able to experience Tonquin together, like we experienced our first hikes after we started dating. Maybe there’s a lesson there…every now and then I’m going to put down the device and just spend time with people. I know I won’t have any regrets.

©Samantha Chrysanthou - self portraits on a hike where we had a camera

©Samantha Chrysanthou – self portraits on a hike where we had a camera

About the Author

I am a Canadian landscape and outdoor photographer who loves long hikes in the woods, yummy food, hairy dogs, good company and a good guitar jam.


  1. Marty Prentice
    September 20, 2013

    Good for you both!! One of the wonderful Rockies trails Last experienced it about 10 years ago. Unfortunately my back packing days are likely behind me but I will vicariously continue to enjoy such experiences through the eyes of others like yourselves.

    How were the withdrawal pains? No cameras. We are doing quite a bit of travelling this year and I am always in a conundrum about taking camera equipment, especially when accompanied by spouse and other non-photographers. There is the extra space required and the natural concerns about interfering with my (and companions’) true holiday experience. For my upcoming 3 week European trip, I am taking my Cannon 7D, conventional lens and longer zoom, sufficient card space, polarizing filters, small camera bag and lens cleaning supplies; no other filters, tripod, other storage etc. We are hoping to travel relatively light assuming we can do some laundry twice.

    Hope to get to one of your tours or seminars next year even with your reduced schedule. Marty

  2. John James
    September 20, 2013

    Well said and great advice to anyone. Joyed to know you have a wonderful relationship with Darwin and life. Thanks for sharing the good stuff.

  3. Marion Faria
    September 20, 2013

    Believe me, it is a good thing you two had a rest before dealing with Natlaya, Allison and me for a week! Just kidding! Sometimes you just have to put down the camera and talk to each other…

  4. Jane Chesebrough
    September 22, 2013

    Beautiful photo of you two. Happy for you “deepening the connections” and for the inspiration that the trip gave both of you.

  5. Royce Howland
    September 30, 2013

    Kudos for doing 5 days in stunning country, with no cameras! Sometimes as photographers we forget that concepts like “work / life balance” don’t just apply to people banging away at office jobs that they hate… 🙂


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