4 Reasons NOT To Take A Photo

by David Webb on May 18, 2011

put that camera down

Here’s when NOT to shoot: my top four reasons why travellers need to put away their cameras and stop taking photos

In This Photography Article You Will Discover

  • An Argument Against Photography
  • How To Get More Out Of Your Travels
  • What Memories Are Made Of

I’m a shutterbug. In the past few years alone, I’ve amassed a photo library of more than 20,000 images. I’ve had to upgrade my hard drive just to store them all. And frankly, there’s probably only a few hundred of them I really cherish (most of which can be found throughout this site, or here and here). So that leaves me with about 14,700 images in my catalogue that serve no genuine purpose and are rarely, if ever, viewed by anyone.

So why take so many images? I’m going to argue against being a photo buff. I’m telling you, fellow adventurer: put that camera down.

Here are four reasons to heed:

1 Live In The Now

There are few acts that take you “out of the moment” more than trying to frame a perfect photo. A gorgeous ocean sunset becomes a finicky game of shutter speeds and colour saturation. A thousand-year-old temple challenges you only to consider your f-stop, rather than the hands that carved the stone. A humpback whale breaching the surface of the sea turns into a disappointment when you fail to capture your National Geographic-worthy image.

As the hippies say, “Live in the now, man.”

I love to return from a trip with a collection of wonderful images — both for my work as a writer/photographer and for myself and my friends — but there is a point when you have to wonder… “when is enough, enough?” Are you truly immersing yourself in the experience when you hide behind your camera’s lens? Often, the answer is no.

2 False Memories

This one causes me great trouble — the concept of what memories are made of. Consider: when I visited Bali, one of the first wondrous sights that presented itself was Mount Batur — a mighty volcano near the island’s centre. I snapped photos rapid-fire; one in particular captured the scene perfectly. So perfectly in fact, that often when I remember the volcano I actually picture the photo — not the scene I witnessed.

Think about it for yourself: when you recall great vacation memories, do you find yourself picturing photos you took rather than your real-time experiences? Troubling, isn’t it? I for one would much rather remember reality than pixels.

3 Great Expectations?

When showing your vacation photos, have you ever prefaced a image with, “The photo doesn’t do it justice, but…”? Or perhaps you’ve heard someone else say this? Often times, even the simplest of scenes seemed photo-worthy at the time, but when you look at the image after the fact it barely warrants a Facebook upload. (Scenic shots top the list here…)

So why take it? Again, just sit back and breathe. You won’t forget what you see. In fact, without a photo — you may just remember it even better. Which takes me to my next point:

4 Remembering It Your Way

During my last surf trip, I had wanted to get some action shots of myself riding the waves. Day after day, though, we spent too much time riding and not enough time shooting… or so I thought. On my last day, I came to the realization that I’m probably not nearly as good of a surfer as I think I am — and that actual photographic evidence would confirm this beyond all suspicion.

Perhaps the waves were smaller than I recall. Perhaps my surf-style was much less clean than I imagined. Perhaps I looked like a bloody idiot out there. Perhaps — but that’s not how I remember it. I remember myself as quite the pro. Do you know of any photographic evidence to the contrary? No? Then I’ll remember it my way, thank you very much…

Now, I’m not saying you should toss your Canon into the canyon. Photos are an important part of any adventure. Furthermore, as a writer/photographer/blogger, I personally know images are an integral part of sharing my experience with my readers. But there’s still a strong case — even for me — for putting down that camera… and just being there.

Also Read: Travel Photography Quick Tips

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Meggie Kay December 16, 2013 at 11:27

Great points! I love taking photos and taking my time with photos to capture the moment right. But I always make sure I take a moment to actually look and experience what’s around me. I don’t want to see the world through a lens, I want to experience it… With all that said, I also tend to travel very slow. Jumping around places quickly doesn’t give you the best of both worlds. Ha

Tribes Travel January 16, 2012 at 02:02

This is a really good post and reinforces our belief that, while photography is an excellent way to record your travels, simply absorbing and remembering the whole experience can be much more rewarding. Taking in the smells, sounds and feelings of a destination can provide so much more than a simple photograph.

flexicover November 21, 2011 at 03:53

I always find that when i’m taking a photo of something, i generally miss it in the real time.
it’s amazing how many people will happily view something from behind a camera, instead of actually just taking it in…

Gary Doi June 1, 2011 at 07:01

Very thoughtful article, David. It caused me to think of my own preferences and habits as an amateur photo buff. Perhaps, it makes a difference if one is a trophy photographer who seeks to capture the perfect shot of a great _____ (fill in the blank). I think the experiential photographer is (hopefully) more aware of things. For example, when I’m hiking alone in the mountains with my camera, I find that I’m more alert and perceptive to the potential images around me–throughout the hike. Without my camera, I tend to hike to my destination. On the other hand, as a tourist visiting a new country, city or location, I am notorious for taking far too many shots (just ask my wife).

Jacinda Green May 19, 2011 at 14:14

Thanks for posting this! I always fuss at myself for not remembering to bring my camera to places but maybe it’s not such a bad idea to leave the camera at home from time to time. There are plenty of pictures that I can envision in my memory!

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