I’m on vacation now and I am the photographer for the trip. As I am sitting atop an elephant and waiting for the right moment to take the picture, I began to think about all the things I am missing just because I am trying to get a “good” shot. Then I flashed back to all the other times where I was trying so hard to capture something on camera but missing the experience itself entirely (e.g. performances, ceremonies, vacations, etc).

Why am I taking pictures? What is it all for? 

Capturing memories that I can look back on? 

Showing my family and friends all the interesting things I’ve seen and all the nice places I’ve been?

Making use of my digital camera?

These all sound like good reasons but the reality is with the invention of the digital camera, more than 90% of the pictures I take never see the light of day and I’ve yet to look back on the 10% of the pictures I have taken recently. What is a bit unsettling is thinking about all the experiences I missed taking these pictures. I have come to realize that, 

To capture the moment, you have to remove yourself from the moment.

A photographer is always in the third person. Being in the third person is what allows you to take a snapshot of what is happening. As a photographer, you’ve also opted to sacrifice the present (experiencing the activity for yourself) for the future (capturing the experience of the activity). Photos are taken for future use and enjoyment, rarely for the present.

People take pictures to capture the moment and to reminisce but my question is:

If you didn’t experience the moment because you were taking the picture, what memories would the picture bring to you when you see it in the future?

Photography is not a bad thing. I am just recognizing it for what it is. Now that I see the price of taking photos, I have made a conscious choice to change my habits in a few ways:

  • For special or one-time occasions, I will hire a photographer so I can have the experience while someone else captures it for my future pleasure.
  • I will be more aware of my purpose: Do I want to be in the experience or just to capture the experience?
  • I will analyze the pictures I never look at and stop myself from taking pictures of this kind. This helps to save time in both taking the picture and then deleting it later.

As I was writing this post, I thought about my friends who were into photography and I wanted to tell them that they are missing out on life. Upon further thought, professional photographers and photography enthusiasts are actually in the moment when they are taking pictures. That is the experience they want so they are actually not missing out on anything at all.

Next time you pick up a camera, ask yourself:

Do I want to to be present for this?

If your answer is yes, put the camera back down.

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Robert Chen

Robert Chen is the founder of Embrace Possibility and author of The Dreams to Reality Fieldbook. He helps people who feel stuck move forward by guiding them to see other possibilities for their lives. If you would like help applying the concepts in this article to your life, contact Robert for a free consultation by clicking here. If you're going through a tough time right now, check out Robert's article on How to Feel Better Right Away and if you're having trouble getting what you want out of life, check out How to Always Achieve Your Goals.

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3 Responses to Why Photographers Miss Out on Life

  1. JK says:

    I agree but so here are some random reasons for taking pictures from a photographer’s pov ..

    1. SLR experience. As you said, purely enjoying the moment of snapping what you see onto a permanent memory. When you have a good SLR, it’s like having a car. The experience of hearing the click or seeing how the quality pic you snapped look better than in person etc

    2. Bad memory. There has been so many times where I had forgotten an event had happened, who was there, what I was wearing. I often laugh when I scroll through the pictures of the silly faces of the people in that moment. I recently went down the memory lane when I restored my backup to my laptop.

    3. We all age. Pictures also help us capture and freeze the time. Pictures help us share with others what we saw. From a girl’s perspective, what we wore, how we look compare to others.

    4. Sharing the moment with others not in the moment .. It allows conversation piece and hence form bonding. Recognition of picture taking skill. There are so many times that I have laughed with friends bc catching the right moment. I took a pic of my 2 friends’ little kids and their first kiss. LOL. That was a fast click or I would’ve missed that moment.

    5. Sometimes you don’t see yourself until a picture with others enable to see how you ‘fit’ in. Too fat, too skinny, aging well, etc .. It’s permanent lense …

    So in a nutshell, I prob don’t need 50 pictures of some buildings, the same flower, food. As I find myself deleting those type of pictures to save memory. The ‘people’ part of the picture taking is valuable. So I’ve learned to use the camera moderately .. I often leave the SLR home for people’s wedding because I wanted to participate in the moments instead of chasing the perfect pic of a cake, or placecars, or to flowers.

    So don’t fall off taking pictures when you atelier on top of the elephant .. Enjoy the ride =)

  2. [...] What’s crazy is that if I didn’t catch myself, I would have spent the full two-months worried about where to go next instead of actually enjoying the incredible experience right in front of me. Since I was also the photographer, I was especially susceptible to this. [...]

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