The other day on the bus from Inverness to Ullapool, Scotland, I sat next to a guy who took a 15-minute video of the glens and mountains passing outside the window. That wouldn’t have been so unusual, except that he then proceeded to hunch over his smart phone and re-watch the entire 15 minutes of video. All the while, he was completely oblivious to the actual scenery that was flying past us right outside the bus.
“What is this world coming to?” I thought. Can it be that travel photography has completely removed us from the actual experience of traveling?
In today’s world, technology is increasingly present in our lives. Of course, photography has been around for a long time. However, the type of cameras we use, the way we take photos, and our level of accessibility to photo equipment has changed dramatically. In the old days of photography, rolls of film meant that we had to think more carefully about the number and quality of the photos we took.
With digital photography nowadays, however, it doesn’t matter how many photos are taken because they can all be deleted later if necessary. The sky (or rather, the size of the memory card) is the limit! This causes us to take dozens of often mediocre photos of every possible thing around us: the street, the bus, the trees, a friend, our shoes, our friend’s shoes….and so on.
In addition, cameras have become cheap and popular with the masses. It’s now become unthinkable to travel anywhere without having some sort of electronic device to record each and every moment. Whether we use cellphones, point-and-shoots, iPads, or DSLRs, we are obsessed with taking travel photos.
On my recent trip to Iceland I became very aware of this fact. Indeed, I started to realize that travel photography can have its downsides. I joined up with a group of people who were making a 7-day car trip around the Ring Road. Armed each with a digital camera, they were determined to “see” and record every bit of the island with the limited time they had. Consequently, they stopped off about every ten minutes to hurriedly take a set of photos, then jump back into the car and hit the road again. Sometimes, they didn’t even stop the car; they just held their cameras out the window and snapped away.
So what makes people behave this way? Well, we take travel photos for a number of different reasons. First of all, we take photos in order to keep some cherished mementos of our trip, and to remind us of all our wonderful memories. Secondly, we take travel photos because it’s just hard to resist. When we travel, we are exposed to many things that are new to us. And when we witness something new and fascinating, we get so excited that we turn to our cameras to capture every moment of it. Finally, and sadly enough, we take photos to prove something to our friends and family. Why else do we take photos of ourselves standing in front of famous monuments? Because we like to say, “Hey, I’ve actually been there!”
But my question is this: Have we actually BEEN there? Being present in body is one thing. However, being present in mind and spirit is quite another thing entirely. My conclusion is that it’s not really possible to properly see or experience a place if one is constantly stuck behind a camera lens.
This is not a rant about what I think other people are doing wrong. I myself am quite often guilty of constantly taking photos. Lately, I’ve been thinking about my whole travel philosophy and weighing the upsides and downsides of travel photography. I’ve come to the conclusion that taking travel photos is a positive creative outlet, but that it can quickly become something negative.
Photography is undoubtedly a form of artistic expression and a way to capture memories. However, everything should be used in moderation, and this is no exception. Taking too many travel photos can actually make you blind to what’s happening right in front of you. It can keep you from letting yourself be immersed in the whole travel experience.
Thus, I have come up with a list of things that I have resolved to work on improving when it comes to my travel photography.
I resolve to:
- Not become anxious and/or stressed if there has been a missed photo opportunity.
- Stop constantly analyzing every street and landscape for the best angle from which to take a photo.
- Take time to just be in the moment and appreciate the sights, sounds, and smells of the place I’m in.
- Avoid taking photos of places if I haven’t spent at least one hour there.
- Compose purposefully and not just take photos of every single thing because I can.
- Take photos of people and places with a story and memories behind them. Those are the travel photos that I will actually cherish the most.
Do you constantly take photos when you travel? What do you think are some downsides to excessive travel photography?