Caution: Photography May Ruin the Experience

In my earlier days I worked as a tour guide, traveling the world to finance my studies. On one tour to Vietnam an elder man was in the group. He was the one who seemed to enjoy the trip the most. This was all pre-digital times, but while the other tour members were busy with their cameras and changing rolls of film, the elder man just stood there, enjoyed people and nature and seemed most content (while the “photographers” were always in a kind of hurry). I asked him, “No camera? You don’t want to capture your trip?” He just smiled, pointed his finger to his head and said, “This is my camera.”

Today, with the digital onslaught, it’s safe to say that our obsession with capturing each and every experience through our cameras is often sabotaging the very experience. Unintentionally, we destroy our memories and with it the experience we tried to capture in the first place.

There is a growing addiction to digital photography that was first belittled and today is just accepted as the status quo. Everyone’s snapping everything everywhere. So why bother. Friends and family members have to pose and are turned into beaming, giggling fools while the photographer’s eyes are locked onto the screen, not realizing any longer what’s really going on around him- or herself.

The fixation on a viewfinder or screen frames the world into a much smaller one. The bane of 21st-century life is the smartphone, a product with a camera of such technological prowess and immediate convenience that no one would blame you for “just trying it.”

Everything’s recorded before you know it. Only clicks count. Thousands and thousands of giggling fools, plates of food and animals making cute faces are on these phones. The experience itself counts no longer. It’s all about proving the experience, not living and enjoying it.

By being fixated on a camera many lock themselves out of the experience, be it while traveling, enjoying a concert, a nice diner with friends, whatever. For most though, the separation from the experience is nothing to worry about, because their lives are determined by the images on Facebook.

Photo or experience, what could be more important? | muha / Flickr
Photo or experience, what could be more important? | muha / Flickr
They may not realize it, but mages on the handset replace one’s memory.

Take travelers: many think their photos are creating memories when in fact they are sabotaging them.

Ever tried to kick the habit and start “seeing” again? Enjoying the moment again without being fixated on gear in your hands. Without thinking about light, aperture, framing?

Or it never happened to you that you were witnessing something truly fantastic and totally excited you snapped away at it — only to realize when the unique experience was over that all you had were dozens of photos, but no real memory of what just happened?

Because not once did you look up to see with your own eyes what was really going on.

The problem runs much deeper than this being a minor camera addiction. Technology traps us. No need to explore anymore. It’s all on Google. When you get off the plane in a place you’ve never seen, no more need to explore. No more need to ask real people where to stay, where to go for a great night out.

The smartphone has all the answers.

Even if Siri is not your type, she knows so many alternatives of everything, she’s hard to resist.

Sadly, though, technology gets us to the end while bypassing the means. It is the destination without the journey. It’s like photographing without knowing what we’re photographing.

So here’s a challenge: try to experience the experience again.

Seriously. Next time you’re about to snap away, hold your breath and start by looking what’s going on around you. Walk a bit, talk to people, discover new angles. And then, well then you might be ready for a few photos. Not too many.

Explore, discover. You might even get lost. Seriously. Getting lost is something to be embraces, not feared.

That’s when you discover what all the others miss.

They got the waterfall, the sunset, the walrus on the beach.

You got the waterfalls above the waterfall, the birds passing the sunset, the penguin that hides in the bushes.

Wanna bet who has far fewer, far better photos?

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  • I’m guilty as charged but I won’t show this article to my wife.

    • Ha! Here it’s the opposite. Sometimes I think she lives for Facebook et al…

  • David Holliday

    I would agree with this with video cameras on iphones. And yes smart phones. I know someone who spends most of her time taking pictures of herself with a iphone and then posting on face book.

    With the Fuji XE1 set on single shot at a time I take a great many photos but like to think I am experiencing what is all around me. I do not take any photos with my iphone.

    I am always looking for original photographs to capture.