Expectations and Disillusionment

Even at my advancing age, one of life’s lessons that continually appears is the relationship between expectations and disillusionment. This life lesson is evident all around us. As photographers the most common example of this are the expectations we have of our camera equipment.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

NIKON 1 V2 + 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 77.1mm, ISO 3200, 1/125, f/5.6

As has been stated here many times in various articles, there is no such thing as a perfect camera. Everything photographic, just like everything else in life, comes with trade-offs. Each of us has the responsibility to understand our purchase options sufficiently to make well-informed decisions.

NIKON D800 + Tamron 150-600 mm f/5-6.3 @ 600 mm, ISO 6400, 1/80, f/6.3

For example, a full frame camera will always be better in low light situations than a smaller sensor camera. This just makes logical sense. What isn’t logical is a photographer buying a small sensor camera, then complaining that they can’t shoot it at ISO-25600 all of the time and get good, clean images.  Or someone who buys full frame gear, then complains that it is far too heavy for them to carry around and use effectively.

NIKON 1 V3 + 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 180.6mm, ISO 800, 1/640, f/5.6

Trade-offs. We need to understand the trade-offs that are involved when we make a decision, and live our lives. And, most importantly we need to be aware that the expectations we create can be a direct cause of any disillusionment we experience in life. We can squawk all we want, but ultimately we are fully responsible for the disillusionment we feel in life.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO-400

In the spring of 2019 my wife and I had the opportunity to do an extensive self-drive photography tour of Ireland. We researched our route and created a comprehensive travel plan. Halfway through our trip I became disillusioned. I was prepared to cut the trip short and return home.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 7 mm, efov 18.9 mm, f/8, 1/640, ISO-400

Why did I feel that way? I had set unrealistic expectations in my mind about what we would see and experience. The biggest mistake that I made was listening to the opinions of other people and using them to formulate expectations in my mind. In retrospect, we ended up having a great experience in Ireland. The key was me adjusting my unrealistic expectations, and just allowing each day to unfold without any preconceived notions. Living in the ‘now’ and savouring each of life’s  moments makes disillusionment disappear.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 17 mm, efov 46 mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160

Our journey through life isn’t one of a straight line to success and happiness. There are twists and turns along the way. The roadsides are chock-a-block full of negative people. Naysayers who will tell us that we can’t be successful. Obstacles will appear to block our way. The faith that we have in ourselves will be challenged.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 241 mm, efov 649 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-250

None of these things matter in the slightest. The only thing that matters is whether we’re going to roll over and give up on ourselves.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 241 mm, efov 649 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-160

Deciding to right ourselves and struggle through adversity makes us stronger. Keeping focused on what’s important in our lives gives us the energy to endure. Expectations and disillusionment need to be understood for us to grow.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-160

Setting expectations for others, and things outside of ourselves, creates a barren existence. The world does not exist to make us happy. My wife’s role isn’t to please me… or me to please her. My children do not exist to live the lives I may imagine for them. Companies that I worked for in the past did not exist to provide me with an income and a rewarding career. Whenever we set expectations of others, we sow the seeds of our own disillusionment.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 200 mm, efov 400 mm, f/5.6, -0.3 step, 1/1600, ISO-250, subject distance 4.8 metres

Setting expectations of others and things around us, puts us on the path of judgement. The more we judge, the less we understand, and the less we experience the joy of life.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 158 mm, efov 316 mm, f/6.3, 1/60, ISO-200, subject distance 1 metres

The only expectations that truly matter in life are those that we set for ourselves. Holding ourselves fully accountable for our thoughts and actions is the foundation of a meaningful life.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear and technology as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

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12 thoughts on “Expectations and Disillusionment”

  1. I like the way Roger Cicala, of LensRentals.com, put it: “Expectations are the seeds of disappointment.”

    I had a dentist one time, who had a poster of a cowboy in the act of flying off the back of a bucking bronco. The text was, “Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. Take what comes.”

    So I find myself constantly fighting the urge to set expectations, knowing by experience that I’m happier with things when I just let them happen, with an open mind.

  2. Photography is a wonderful journey full of surprises and joy. It is in one sense, recognizing the intrinsic value of our surroundings and discovering the possibilities of the “moment.” As we view these surroundings through the lens of our cameras we begin to understand that we do not “create” a photo to satisfy or please someone else but to relish and remember the experience as a destination in itself. On those special occasions when we lower our cameras from our eyes and take the time to more fully comprehend the scenery or view before us, we realize that that just being in that place is overwhelmingly rewarding and wonderful. Whenever we look at the photo(s) taken during these moments we are drawn back to the enjoyment of the experience.

    It is also very special to be with one or more photographers in the same spot recording with our cameras the same scene and being in wonder that each photographer has captured the scene with a different “look” and viewpoint than have the others. Each photographer has a unique perspective in this shared experience and each will remember their feelings and emotions that moved them to capture the scene in their own unique way.

    Tom, this article was a tribute to the wonders and joy of being a photographer and an incentive to get out again with our cameras (when government regulations allow) to savor the experience of capturing lasting memories.

  3. Two points: My greatest mistakes on taking self guided trips is to try to cover too much ground. And the other point is simply that the harder I work, the stronger I become and the more satisfied I am when my task is completed.

    1. Hi Lewsh,

      I completely agree that trying to cover too much ground is counterproductive. My wife and I usually try to keep our actual driving times to between 1.5 and a maximum of 3 hours daily.


  4. Very, very well said. I agree completely.

    On a side note I’am curious to know what were your expectations on that Ireland tour.

    1. Hi Jorge,

      Everyone that we knew that went to Ireland had gone on a bus tour. These bus tours basically stayed on the main highways and visited the top tourist destinations, most of which were in the top half of the island. So, my expectations were for the ‘post card’ Ireland that these folks talked about, i.e. rolling green fields, stone walls, sheep dotting the countryside etc. Some folks had described it as ‘the most beautiful country’ they had ever visited. We had researched stopping points along our coastal route to identify potential photographic sites. What we did not research was the actual driving experience between these stops. Having been to New Zealand numerous times we were expecting many opportunities for impromptu roadside stops to capture photographs.

      I was not expecting dry, rocky conditions and scrub-like vegetation which is more common on the bottom half of the island. So… it took me a little while to shift my expectations and just accept whatever we experienced each day. For quite a bit of our travels during the first 7 to 10 days landscape photography opportunities were limited by high stone fences and thick, scrubby trees along the roadside. For much of the time it was like driving in a tunnel-like environment.

      Our upcoming photography eBook of Ireland details our route each day and features images in chronological order so readers who may be planning a self-drive tour can use our experiences and images as a bit of a guide.


      1. Hi Tom,
        Thank you for satisfying my curiosity.
        I was also in Ireland but in 2003 and honestly I didn’t feel what you described probably because in 18 years a lot has changed. I will have to buy your eBook to compare the itineraries and see the differences in the paths we have chosen.
        Thank you again for your kindness.

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