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News & Insight

Living A Capture Worthy Moment? Good, Put The Camera Down For G*d’s Sake

By Kishore Sawh on August 2nd 2015

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Disclaimer: The following article is an opinion piece by the author. The opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of SLR Lounge as a whole.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it’s summer, and there’s a good chance that means you’re out and about, sampling the menu of global travel brought to you by way of Frank Whittle and the invention of the jet engine. You could be copping a shop in London, getting down and dirty in Miami, or high as a kite in Amsterdam, and likely, there won’t be a moment when you don’t have a camera on you. You’ll be viewing new vistas, pawing from presentable plates, and maybe even swooning someone that tastes like the exotic travel we crave, making every moment that much more picture worthy. The question is, should you take it?

Often, my answer is, no, and I think you’ll be a better photographer for it.

This is a tough one, and especially directed at us, photographers, since we’re a tough crowd to get to to let go of the shutter trigger. But I would venture to say, no, don’t take it. A little while ago, I shared a video called ‘Brave New Camera’ that explores and analyzes how photography is evolving and what that means for connections to others and ourselves. We use cameras as speakers and mouths now, and pictures as a fundamental form of communication, making cameras about the most ubiquitous devices on Earth.

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According to the data researched and revealed in the film, there are more images taken per minute now than were taken in the entire 20th century. Let that sit for a moment, or 10, because that’s a mesmerizing, eye-widening, jaw-slackening statistic, and almost laugh-out-loud ludicrous. So what the hell are all these images of? Well, if Tinder and Instagram are anything to go by, a lot of it is crap, and crap that will disappear in some silicon wasteland of a hard drive never to be viewed. And if that’s the case, we should really re-evaluate why we’re taking all of these images and if their value is worth the altered state of how we experience particular moments in our lives when we’re taking them.

[REWIND: ‘Brave New Camera’ | How Cameras Are Changing Our Lives In Ways We Can Barely Comprehend]

The mere fact you think to take a picture suggests that moment is a bit above average, maybe one to be enjoyed, to be savored like the last stone crab of the season. You can’t be in two places at once so you sort of have to decide whether you’ll be totally in the moment, or totally into capturing it.

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But I’m different, I’m a photographer, honing my craft – a ‘Bresson’ about to breakthrough.

There’s a clip from the film The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty where Sean Penn, playing a photographer Sean O’Connell is poised, just waiting, to shoot one of the most elusive animals in the world, the snow leopard, in the most horrid conditions. Finally, one is spotted and framed, so he…stops, and just takes it in. Bewildered Mitty (Ben Stiller), asks him,

Mitty: “When are you going to take it?”
O’Connell: “Sometimes I don’t.” “If I like a moment for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.
Mitty: “Stay in it?”
O’Connell: “Yeah. Right there. Right here.”

Personal Experience

I loved this. As valuable as your camera and its produce can be, I would just wish for you all to put it down sometimes and soak in your present. Don’t be too detached and forget to enjoy and feel things. I travel often, and now camera proliferation seems to spell the death of ‘presence’ and I think it sad.

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I remember being at the NAS Oceana Airshow in 2006 when the F-14 Tomcat was to make its last demonstration appearance over 3 days. I’d been in love with it since I could walk, and wouldn’t miss it for the world, so I was there shooting my heart out, of course. Then, on the last day, the day I knew I would see this huge part of my life fly for the last time, I could’ve been on the media line capturing every last second of it, possibly selling some images of the historic moment, but I decided to put the camera down (mostly), forgot about balancing exposure and artistic expression, shut up, and was totally present.

In the broad scheme of things, it’s not a huge decision but one of my favorites. Because I can still hear the distinct whistle and white noise of those massive GE-F110 engines, smell the exhaust of JP-5 fuel they poured out, see the Big Fighter taxing, breaking, tearing up the skies, and bowing on the flight line. I can feel it as only someone who was really there could.

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Tanya Goodall Smith

    This is the exact reason I don’t take my camera with me on outings with my kids anymore. I was missing out on all the fun and not participating with them.

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    • robert garfinkle

      in a funny way the camera is holding us hostage.

      I suppose though, there are exceptions, where we do it anyway ( bring it ) if needed.

      my mom just celebrated her 75th birthday. it wasn’t a large event with respect to people, just significant – of course, yet did not bring the camera; as a matter of fact my brother I think pulled out his cell phone and did the honors of pictures when the cake arrived; it was enough, appropriate.

      and no one made a comment to the effect of me not bringing mine. it was ok for me.

      yup, are you going to capture the event as a pure participant, or with the camera.

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    • Gabriel Rodriguez

      So true Robert! We just came back from our first family vacation and I can proudly say that my camera stayed in the trunk the whole time we were out there. I just couldnt see myself caught up taking pics and missing out on the most important thing, which was quality time with the family.

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  2. Ernesto Gonzalez

    What’s wrong with writing: God’s sake? Otherwise the article is great.

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    • Graham Curran

      There is a proscription amongst some religious people about using the name of their deity, but given that God is a noun rather than a name it does seem ridiculous.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Ha. I share the opinion of both you and Graham, but there are those around who would make the writing of the word ‘God’ in this sense more trouble than its worth. Cheers guys

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    • Graham Curran

      And yet people are perfectly happy with In God We Trust on the currency.

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  3. Ralph Hightower

    July 8, 2011, I checked off a 30 year bucket list item when I saw and photographed the final Space Shuttle launch.
    This was my second “Final Flight” since I saw the US half of the Apollo/Soyuz launch on July 15, 1975. I heard the fury of the Saturn engines and felt it rumble the insides of my chest.
    I didn’t have a camera in 1975, but I remember that launch. It was a visual and sensual experience.
    I tried to get into the @NASATweetup events for the final year with no success. For the final mission, I pulled out all stops with Plan A, B, and C. Plan B almost worked since I was placed on the @NASATweetup reserve list. Plan C was to buy a tour ticket to the Causeway, which was a success.
    In preparation for the launch, I asked Florida Today for photography advice; I listed my camera gear. Malcolm said that my Canon A-1 was a classic camera and said that since it was a daytime launch, to use Kodak Ektar 100 and underexpose by -1/3 stop. Finding Ektar 100 in my area turned out to be a scavenger hunt, but I succeeded with two rolls. Malcolm also mentioned about mounting the camera backwards on the tripod so that panning upward wouldn’t be inhibited by the tripod’s head.
    I didn’t use my Spiratone 400m f6.3 for the launch; I used my 80-205 f4 and I made an executive decision to underexpose by -2/3.
    I stepped back from the camera to experience my bucket list and occasionally take photos. I heard Atlantis, but I didn’t feel Atlantis rumble my internals like Apollo did.
    But I I got an invitation from @NASATweetup to view the final Space Shuttle landing. I used Kodak BW400 exposed at ISO1600. The twin sonic booms were incredible.

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  4. robert garfinkle

    Well, for me, not having a camera pretty much my whole life, bearing witness and participating in events, there I was, more often than not, saying “I wish I had a camera.”

    5 years ago, I could not take it any longer, decided to take a small finacial plunge, and follow an interest right in to passion…

    as you can imagine, when one gets a camera for the first time, whether you know how to shoot or not, you take pictures of everything, just everything, to annoyance…

    but there was one thing missing in my photos… me!

    more than that, and the point this article makes, was I there at all… or was it just my camera.

    there are events, out of self respect and respect of others, to make it a point to be there ( in the moment, part of the moment ) without a camera; just being a part of… leaving the moment purely committed to memory – it’s a conscious choice.

    but I have to say, I struggle sometimes with should I or shoudn’t I bring one. And since I’ve owned a camera there have been a very small amount of moments a camera should have been there.

    so, would it be fair to say the question one should ask is, “Am I going to choose to journalize the moment / event as an witness / participant or allow the camera to be the eyewitness? maybe a little of both” – because in the end, who will be the one conveying the event to others, you or a bunch of pictures.

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    • Janna Slaback

      Yesterday afternoon my husband and I went to visit our daughters and their children. I thought about bringing my camera and then decided to leave it at home so that I could be fully present with our grandchildren. Ironically, on the one hour drive to their home, about 45 minutes into the drive, my daughter called to find out if I brought the camera as she wanted to go to a flower field and have me take photos of 2 year old Olivia. :-( No, I left my camera home intentionally, Iamented. No problem, she said, “I’ll charge the battery of (the T3i that I originally started with and gave to her when I upgraded to the 5DMark III) and you can take a few photos. Perfect! Although the biggest challenge was the settings that I am used to … back button focus, etc. So … maybe next time I will pack the camera in the car but not necessarily take it inside their home. ;-)

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  5. Janna Slaback

    I actually think there is so much to this. I often am constantly looking for that amazing photo and I do fear that I become more obsessed with the elusive perfect shot and I miss the tender, precious moment that I’m in. I feel this especially with my children & grandchildren. Sometimes it’s freeing to just put the camera down and be fully present. Yesterday I was at an open house for someone I hadn’t seen in 20+ years. He is roughly the same age as my daughters so there were a number of “kids” there at the reunion and I took my camera thinking for sure I was going to capture a reunion shot, but rather put it down and got involved in conversation and I’m actually 100% okay that while there are no photographs to document that day, hopefully relationships were rekindled.

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