Just as many writers experience life in stories (how they’re going to tell it later), many photographers experience life through the lens (how they’re going to capture it through the viewfinder). Do you ever wonder if you’re losing a piece of an experience because you’re so busy trying to capture it?
Years ago, I heard a friend describe a trail ride she took through the high desert of Arizona. While the ride itself was beautiful, it was the Australian expat cowboy leading it that really stuck with her. He spoke colorfully about traveling the world and his many extraordinary experiences, putting her in mind of what it must be like to be a National Geographic photographer. But when she said to him that he must have some amazing photographs, he shook his head and told her, “I don’t take pictures. I think you lose a part of the experience when you stop living it to try to capture it.”
What do you think of that?
When I’ve shared this story with others, I get a mixed bag of reactions. Those who are casual photographers are apt to look puzzled. After all, they’re not setting up tripods and whipping out light meters and fidgeting with lens changes and worrying over which F-stop to use. They’re quickly whipping out their iPhones or point-and-shoots and grabbing the shot as is, hardly a moment lost. And those who are beyond the novice stage tell me that it’s second nature to them figuring out how to artfully capture a moment without having to separate from it, so to speak. Plus, photo-editing software gives them extra wiggle room to be quick (and a little messy) about grabbing the shot.
Still, there are those who nod and agree, who seem to feel a little trapped by a sort of frantic need to capture it all through the lens. Certainly I’ve seen relatives of such photographers nod and smile a bit at the story. Was the Australian cowboy onto something or was he missing something? Seems to me that, for him, it was all about being fully present in each moment and every experience in an almost Buddhist manner. But there are whole books written about how to both live in the moment and photograph it. It’s called contemplative photography.
What are your thoughts: Can you be fully present for your life but still photograph it?