You’re Missing the Picture

posted in: Uncategorized | 23

July 17th, 2011


Something happens when you put the camera up to your eye and you try to capture a moment. You inadvertently remove yourself from the moment. The organic flow of life comes to a halt for a split moment. That same flow that makes our moments worthy to capture is repelled every time you put the camera before you. I’m not saying photography ruins an experience, but you’re familiar with that unnatural moment created by simply holding a camera to someone’s face. The flow of the moment is repelled by the quest to capture.

There is a ‘no camera’ policy at the Coney Island Freak Show. I’m not sure I agree with the idea behind the policy, but I suppose it plays into the history and hidden mystique that is the Coney Island Freak Show. (I tend to be more for exposure, free sharing, and sneezers.) Strangely enough though, there is an inadvertant benefit to a strict policy that forbids photography,videography, and even life drawings of the spectacles you see when the curtains close behind you. Yes, sketchbooks must stay at home. When you’re no longer focused on getting that photo as proof you were there or to serve as a corporeal reminder of your fun hip life, you get to a level where you actually enjoy the experience for what it truly is. You as the viewer become part of the show; no longer burdened with the need to snap the moments into existence for a facebook album no one will remember. You let your guard down. There is only life happening and your total engagement.

I’m sure we all have gigs of photos and maybe even boxes of photos (let’s not all date ourselves here) tucked away in storage. What is the real purpose of capturing that moment? Could we benefit more by simply being in that moment? What are we really trying to capture?

Let’s not be pedantic on the issue. Of course there are times when photographs enrich a moment. But the Coney Island Freak Show Policy, when applied to life, may be a fresh way to enjoy an experience. No longer see the good times as a thing to capture. So leave the camera at home. Stop overshooting.

Focus instead on being a participant.


I’ve been in New York City for the past week on a mini-holiday, so I apologize for not being around more. I’ll be back in San Diego this next week, so I look forward to connecting more with everyone then.

23 Responses

  1. I definitely agree with this, however sometimes I will go back months or years later thinking I have photos only to be disappointed when I don’t have even one.

    • Misti, I just dropped by your website and you do have some stunning photography. I guess my challenge is to leave the camera behind with the intentions of having no regrets. Those moments you may have missed won’t be missed because you were really there to enjoy them. πŸ™‚

      But keep up the nice photo art too!

  2. Maybe a photo or two for posterity?

    But as you’re cruising down the ton le sap in Cambodia, with your 280mm zoom lens and spying on the lives of people living along a riverbank, for you a great photo, for them their everyday life it has a bit of a prying nature to it all?

    Our first thoughts are ‘this will make a great facebook photo!’ or ‘I can’t wait to write about this’ instead of just having the moment in time to yourself?

    We’ve read, watched, reviewed every destination, now travel really has had the shine taken off it. It’d be rare to be going anywhere without having any preconceived notion about it via someone else’s photos or videos.

    A no camera policy would be grande right across the board. Nice post mate.

    • Thanks Andrew. I think you summed it up nicely. Take a photo or two for posterity. That should suffice.

  3. I think we talk about this a lot, being in the moment and not worrying about getting that candid camera image. Where do most of those photos go anyway? I do appreciate looking at old photos of passed family members but I really never look back at my old photos. Maybe one day when they have matured more, I real appreciate it. I do agree that we overshoot and under enjoy the moment. I think this also goes hand in hand with cell phones too. Sometimes we are too busy texting, checking our email, facebook that we don’t enjoy the moment as much either.

    Photos have always been a way for people to remember memories, and capture moments. Maybe we all need to start journaling more instead. Think about how detailed we could be and have one photo to remember it by, rather then a hundred photos.

    Great post!! Can’t wait for you to come home!! NYC sounded like a blast!!

    • Okay Meg, so we have a challenge then. Let’s not over shoot when we travel. Please. No need to travel with 10,000 photos we won’t ever go through.

  4. I think sometimes we want to recreate experiences that sometimes we spend so much time on thinking about the experience that we never thoroughly enjoy the experience. I like what you said about taking photos and uploading them on facebook so that our life looks interesting and unique. We want other people to long to live the life we live and to relish in our experiences. The truth is we are just fabricating experiences to appear happy. Most images are not an authentic expression of who we really are.

    • Matt, it is a strange thing. Even stranger that we all do it, and somehow we even buy into it.

      Most images are not an authentic expression of what’s really going on either. But alas, it’s fun to pretend.

  5. A good friend of mine is in a rock band and occasionally asks me to take photos at their gigs. Of course, I’m more than happy to help out, but I do notice that I completely miss the song when I’m behind the camera. I’m focused on what they’re doing on stage and trying to catch a good moment – which is very difficult to do with a live act on stage. Luckily, I’ve heard most of their songs hundreds of times but I certainly agree with your take that we lose something when behind the camera.

    • Maria, you’re doing your friends a good service! πŸ™‚

      Though your experience may be much different behind the lens, it may make the time more enjoyable. Perhaps seeing them as a band would get pretty boring too… or not. πŸ™‚

  6. Dave – favorite line “No longer see the good times as things to capture”

    I am guilty of this 10 fold. And not just with a camera, but with myself. Good times hit and instead of appreciating the moment, I worry about its expiration. My mind scatters for ways to make it last longer, adding more logs to this metaphoric fire, and then like everything else, it passes. And instead of having the experience of a good moment, I had the visceral urge to not be satisfied and want more from it.

    It’s funny how that works – but I think if we just picture ourselves as free spirits free to enjoy and free to let go, well that’s a pathway to bohemian.

    Great, great post!

    • Chris, that is exactly the moment I was trying to describe. It’s that anxiety over worrying if the moment will expire soon. Instead of wasting that time in a viewfinder, we can celebrate it for what it is.

      A new challenge for me indeed.

  7. Hmmmm…it’s no fun when everyone agrees with you 100% of the time, right? That doesn’t stretch our thinking, right? I think I have to respectfully offer challenge to some of these notions and assumptions about photography/the photographer and share a different perspective to consider. I disagree that the general statement can be made that for all who snap the shot, the organic flow of life comes to a halt. I think that happens for many, but I would imagine it happens for people who struggle with connecting with the organic flow of life in all sorts of ways not just when holding a camera. The problem isn’t the camera in and of itself.

    For some, holding the camera and snapping shots to go home and create the scrapbook is a distraction. It is likely that many, even without the camera in hand, do not know how to be in the moment.

    Assumption: Having a camera to your eye removes you from the moment.
    Assumption: The only intention with snapping the shot is to capture the moment.

    Consider this: Would we tell a musician, sitting on the beach, playing his guitar, composing a song that his guitar is keeping him from being in the moment? Can we assume that the guitar distracts him from the experience? Might it be that sitting quietly connecting with the world around him actually inspires him to create?
    Would we believe that an artist with a sketchbook, sitting by a stream is halting the flow of life by capturing the beauty before her?

    For some, photography is their art, their medium for capturing beauty or conveying their world perspective. It is an expression of who they are based on what and how they depict a moment through the lens.

    For some, seeking this beauty in subtle details of our world provides opportunity to connect to, not halt, the flow of life. It provides opportunity to be observant to what is happening before you rather than to the conversation in your head that is often the cause of distraction. An artist has to connect, feel, be in the moment to express the beauty of that moment.

    For some, wanting to go out and see, feel, hear, connect to the world, experiences, people brings them to places they might never have sought out before. It can open ones eyes…

    We can’t assume that just simply sitting still with nothing in hand is the only way to be present, reflective, open to the flow…sometimes the experience needs a conduit.

    As you know, I am pretty close to a photographer πŸ™‚ so I can share what I have observed with him and his art…

    Going out on a walkabout with his camera is what saved him when he was at his lowest point. he could escape the burdensome distractions and go be quiet, reflective, free to explore and connect to natural beauty. It literally saved him.

    He expresses and works through his feelings by portraying his perspective through his art.

    Part of our joint intention with sharing photos is to inspire others. I don’t want to sound hokey here but let me give an example. On our recent walkabout we shared photos from along the way. My niece has been corresponding with me since, saying she is moved by what we are doing. It is causing her to question her lack of getting out and experiencing her world. She is in a box. Seeing some of our photos is encouraging her to get out and have her own experiences. Awesome!

    This is getting pretty lengthy and I think I have conveyed a different way of looking at the idea of photography. With all of this said, I do agree that what you are saying is often true, just not always true. πŸ™‚

    Hope you are having fun!

    • Amen sister. I guess there is always two sides to every perspective. I like the way you think sometimes. πŸ™‚

    • Liane, you are only welcome here when you disagree. Amazing comment! πŸ™‚

      “It is likely that many, even without the camera in hand, do not know how to be in the moment.”

      Yes, I can agree with this. So armed with a camera is an even faster ticket out of the moment.

      That said, you’re right. I wasn’t aiming this at photographers. If anything though, what I’m saying is most of us are not photographers. I’m not yelling, I’m just making the emphasis. πŸ™‚ I think if anything this lends greater credibility to photographers. They know how to focus in on the moment. The average person who wants to post their photos online to impress people is more often than not, going to miss the moment.

      So focus if it helps, but don’t if it doesn’t. And thank you for the excellent comment!

      It’s important

  8. rob white

    Great noticement, David. From my experience, when I carry a camera I notice a feeling of anxiety in me. I become focused on capturing a specific image at the expense of missing out on mindfully participating in the whole experience.

    • Rob, it’s crazy how trying to capture a good time can pull you out of the good time altogether. I like the idea of a refocus.

  9. I can see what you’re saying. There certainly needs to be a balance between taking photos and being in the moment. Photos are great as a way to remember things you’ve done, but if you’re too focused on photography, you take yourself out of the experience. When you take out that camera, you’re no longer participating in the experience and have become an outside observer. Normally I take the time to fully enjoy what I’m doing first before I start taking photos. I think it’s a pretty good way to do it even though it doesn’t always work.

  10. Philipp Knoll

    Hey David,

    This is a brilliant post on a topic that I thought about a lot myself. Perhaps someone asked that before me: did you leave your camera at home while traveling to NYC? πŸ˜‰

    Seriously, I’ve noticed that taking images can ruin the moment and once you put the camera away you still can’t go back in time to pick up where you left. I had a lot of those experiences when taking images of our kids. One minute they were playing feeling un-watched and the next moment the camera was there and it changed everything. It broke the natural flow and the situation never was the same again.

    To me leaving the camera at home is not an option. But I agree that we have to be much more careful and sensitive. There are great moment to capture and others that just can’t be captured without a loss that no image can compensate.

    Another thing is that you need to be aware what you are taking the image for. If it is manly for Facebook, Flickr etc. than better really leave your cam at home. It is nice to share image with loved ones and I always appreciate to be shared images of family living further away with. But Facebook will be forgotten sometime. Facebook is now our memory is forever. Facebook is not our social memory.

    One reason I take images and store them is that they will be treasure for my kids. There are so many things from my past as a very young child that I can only remember because someone captured the moment. All of those memories add to the person I’m now.

  11. Love how you captured this nuance in this thought-provoking piece. As a writer, there are days when I don’t want to write what I am feeling. I just to savor the moment. I’ve been there to forget the camera walking out the door and think “I’ll just be in the moment today.” But then I regret when I see something that strikes my fancy. Anais Nin wrote that we write to relive the experience. When you think about an experience, it’s already in the past tense even if it’s 30 seconds ago. By capturing, it becomes present again, and we are living in the flow. Perhaps its our attachment to living that we compulsively want to capture what we see. It’s lovely to connect with you, and I look forward to drinking more of your inspiration.

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