Why you should take less pictures (and why you shouldn’t)

You can tell that the new term has started by how little activity there is on the blog. I apologise. For once I can’t use being too busy as an excuse because I have spent my evenings watching Kitchen Nightmares and reading books – something that I thought I had forgotten how to do but as it seems, my hunger for literature has not only remained but grown. And to be honest, I still haven’t started on my Bachelor’s thesis, which is supposed to be ready in about two and half months. Tonight, though, I am tackling procrastination in a full nelson and writing a post that has been on my mind for years.

Few things in life are better than stumbling home from the university trying to make it before the quickly escalating hangover tackles you, and then finding a big, friendly package in the mail box full of pictures of better days (and some rather good nights, too). This particular package contained photos from as far from the past as last January. Some of them looked even nicer on paper than they did on the computer screen. Flicking through them made me smile. It was like being back home, ten years old, holding in a shiny white envelope the product of my diligent photo-snapping and sticking the pictures into photo albums that had pictures of horses and puppies in flower pots on the cover.

Pictured: an extraterrestrial carshop worker. Not pictured: Wondrous sunrises.
Charters Towers, Australia
You guessed it – I love taking photos. The further I travel, the more I collect on my laptop in snapshots. Some night or another when I don’t feel like working, I get lost in the folders and electronic memories from trips past, and they make me smile because just by looking at a photo I remember the smell of the hostel, or the sound of silence of the awakening landscape, or the taste of that dried apricot on top of a delicious muffin. But I also look at those pictures and fill in the gaps in my mind. I don’t always take pictures, and even though it hurts me not to have captured a scene I have so clearly in my mind, maybe sometimes it is good to put the camera down.
Or is it?

As in most areas of life, I’m also in the grey area in photography – either taking photos all the time or not taking them at all are not options. The tough balance is to learn when to put the camera down and just enjoy the moment. Maybe there are people that are different to me, but in my personal experience it is impossible to both take photos and enjoy the moment fully at the same time. When I was younger, I went to two or three concerts a year (now I just put my money on travels), and living the music through the lens just didn’t do it. I love the pictures I took at those concerts because I think they are aesthetically pleasing, but still my favourite moment was always when I put the camera down, threw my hands in the air and sang along to every song I knew. Which, usually, was all of them.

Pictured: a band of boys. Not pictured: goosebumps and happy crying.
Helsinki, Finland
Pictured: two young ladies and a miner. Not pictured: desperately trying to search for the night life in King’s Cross
London, England

Some of the most magical moments I’ve experienced in my life I have gone through without a camera in the hand. There’s the first morning I woke up in the bed on the terrace in Charters Towers, Australia, and the sun was just peeking out from behind the treetops, and in that moment everybody and everything else was still asleep, and it was just me and the shy new sun. Or there’s the early morning (again) when I was alone snorkeling and noticed I was surrounded by big, translucent jellyfish. Or the Sydney New Year fireworks, which I embraced even without thinking about my camera. These moments had fleeting magic and since I did not capture them on camera, I can only see them now in my memories, but they’re etched there photo-like and I doubt they will ever fade away.

So, maybe I could argue that it’s better to lose the camera and just live it, but you know what? There are some pictures I downright regret not taking. I try to remember the boy I knew for four days in Cairns, or the crew I drove down through Northern Territory with, or the people I partied with every single night in Copenhagen, and all I have is a few blurry photos or zilch. So yes, I wish I had taken more pictures of people. I wish I had asked my travel companions to take more pictures of me. I wish I had captured more of Tallinn’s streets a year ago, or that I would have a picture of that one hostel I always try to describe but somehow fall short on words. And when I see the pictures my travel companions have taken, oh boy, then I get struck by a bad case of picture envy.

Pictured: nature around the town where the car broke down. Not pictured: Seafood dinner with a friendly pot head.
Laurinton, Australia

Most of this could have been fixed with a bit more confidence. I love being around people who take a lot of pictures, because then I don’t feel too presumptuous when I pull out my camera and ask the crew to wait so I can take a close-up of a street cat or snap a selfie of us all. I already mentioned Charters Towers in this post. During my time there I worked at a car repair shop for an elderly gentleman who usually only employed broke backpackers like me and understood what a great memory it would be to have pictures of a very unique thing they had done during their employment. Sometimes I was just about to jump-start a Rover, or change a tire, or check the spark-plugs, and he would whoop: ‘Wait! Let me get the camera!’ I have countless pictures of me in unflatteringly unfitting shirts and dirty jeans, without make-up and all roots showing covered in grease, and I am deeply grateful to my employer that he took those photos. And not only because now I have proof to people who see me tiptoeing around in heels and amusedly ask if I really¬†worked in a car-repair shop. Yes, I did, thank you.

Pictured: The last of the +250 steps to the castle. Not pictured: French-Canadian karaoke of Queen.
Heidelberg, Germany
Pictured: sunset over the Rhine. Not pictured: racing the streets to get one more shot of golden tequila
Dusseldorf, Germany
Pictured: some nice benches. Not pictured: the stories he told me.
Southend, United Kingdom

And here is the double-edged sword – I need photos to remember, because the brain is faulty and wants to fantasise the places it has recorded. Photos give an accurate description of the place or the party or the people I knew, well, as accurate as it can get when you remember the things you framed out of that picture. So in that sense I would not give up my photos for the world and will aim to take more and more in the future. On the other hand, there are some moments that maybe don’t need to be remembered through pictures – as faulty as those memories may be, the strongest thing in them is the feel of the situation, and maybe a picture of that scene would flatten it. Maybe in a picture the sun would have barely shown. Maybe in the picture there wouldn’t have been as many jellyfish.

Pictured: getting lost on a trail. Not pictured: the bungee jump later on.
Sigulda, Latvia
Pictured: the second most beautiful beach in the world. Not pictured: a swim with jellyfish.
Whitehaven Beach, Australia

So, what’s the point of this post? I don’t know if I have any, especially since I seem to have ended up in a tie between my two arguments. However, I honestly believe not one end of the scale is better than the other. Don’t be one of those people that take zero pictures (because in sixty years those mental images will have creased and crumpled at the corners), but know when it’s the right time to put down your camera, spread out your arms and yell: ‘Geronimo!’ People do that, right?

What are your thoughts on this? Do you take too many or too few photos?


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