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Does Photography Ruin your Vacation?

By on Nov 24, 2011 in Photography | 2 comments

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When I was in university there was a lot of talk about what it meant to “travel” This mostly came from white upper-class students whose parents were paying for their university and traveled to exotic and remote places like…. New Zealand or England. They came back with stories of how they were not tourists and mingled with the locals. Of course I am not entirely being serious here but for the most part that was the common element of these inane conversations in my university “tourism” class.

Even back then I didn’t agree with the idea that just because you sleep in the dirt and braid your hair that you were any better than the hordes tourists that flood in to scenic areas around the world. However in a recent article that I read in CNNGo that idea  permeates the article that is steeped in a sort of hipster-esque idea of “I’m cooler than you because I found this place that no one knows about yet and it is awesome and you are not because you don’t know about this place

The article points out that spectacular views of wonderful places are obscured by hordes of people snapping away photos and all the while missing “the moment”. Thus eluding that the only way to really remember something is to experience it and commit it to memory and nothing more. These camera phone people are ruining it for the rest of the “travelers” YOU KNOW… The more adventurous ones who are staying down the street at the hostel and walk around carrying  a  gigantic 150 litre expedition back.

The real victims of this click-happy menace are travelers.

 

At first the author is attacking only the camera phone users. This is something that I too cringe at only because there are so many better options out there other than the poor quality camera phone. However he goes on to attack all photographers by explaining how he was addicted to “the real deal

My junk was the real deal. Class-A stuff, the cocaine of the photography world — the digital SLR.

 

This irritated me more than anything. It basically stated that if you travel with any device that captures an image then you are in fact a part of that giggling horde of annoying people buried in their electronic devises. So what are we to do?

I understand full well what the root of the topic is here. Some times we get a little carried away with photography.  Especially as you get more into it, you start hunting for that perfect shot more than you are actually enjoying the moment (maybe for some).  That is the simplistic basic idea of this argument. It demotes anyone with the enjoyment of travel photography to nothing more than a OCD 10 year old with a new video game.

I think what the author forgot is that photography has been a part of our lives for a long time. Many people love looking at those old photos of family trips and “the way things were” While we may rely on devices now to solve the little problems of travel like finding our way and checking into a hostel, the curiosity is still there and I think that it is even amplified by the camera.

When I travel I have my camera with me. It pushes me to get out and explore. Even with my soon-to-be wife, we get into many adventures and the camera is there to keep just a glimpse of that moment for a long long time. Yes, some times it is a burden but what the author forgot is that most people with cameras and even phone cameras are not idiots. There is a time and a place for everything and that feeling or moment does not last forever simply in our brains.

If I am travelling alone, then I can shoot as much as I want. I bathe in the moment and the experience of being in a new place. The adventures I had were amazing and I am 100% grateful to have had a camera with me at the time to record them. When I am travelling with people that are not into photography, I am conscious of that. I pick and choose times that I can shoot alone and most of the time that does not cause any conflicts. I will wake up early to shoot a beautiful sunrise and let the rest sleep in. It takes only a few moments to capture a beautiful scene and the rest of the time I am just grateful to be there and I have just created my own adventure.  It takes a split second to take someones photo and that could mean making a new friend or someone that will lead you on the next adventure.

The other thing that was mentioned was the fact the these devices that we are addicted to take away from the exploration of the new travel location. The author mentions that google and our web-enabled phones take the fun and mystery out of getting lost and exploring. He feels that these devises allow for the easy way out and that the true nature of travel is the journey and not the destination.

Back in the day people used Lonely Planet to do everything and you can see this by the piles of discarded copies at your local used bookstore. 10 years ago people would not even leave the country without picking one up. Back then, instead of smart phones you saw people reading Lonely Planet or similar versions of that profound book on the planes and trains across the world. They didn’t just step off the plane and being exploring, that is only what they told people in their university tourism class when they returned.

Furthermore, the point must be made that the times have changed greatly and that the information that was once made only available only by stopping at the local backpackers hostel or hangout is now made possible via the internet. Blogs on every topic have exploded across the internet and increased the ability for people to connect. The author mentions how years ago people talked to “real people” to get information. I wonder then, if it is not “real people” who are writing blogs and commenting on forums, who are the ones providing the massive amounts of useful local information?

The travel blogs and the forums have connected people and brought us closer together. Websites that are dedicated to “couchsurfing” and getting groups of travelers together are great ways to meet new people and have adventures while traveling. Having information at your fingertips provided by blogs written by people who either live there or have been there allow for a little piece of mind. Perhaps even saving some money or time that would allow you to do more exploring. It cannot provide all of the answers but it will get you started in the right direction. That “right direction” is important when exploring a new place with going down the wrong path could end up in either robbery or death.

As a former Search and Rescue volunteer, I can confidently tell you that even with the most advanced technology (gps, google maps, Daum street view) people will still get lost. They will still get off the beaten track and find that hip “local” food place (kimbap Nara?) that “nobody else knows about” and return with stories of how it was “the best [insert name of local dish]  that they have ever eaten”

Furthermore, the devices that people commonly use condense the amount of “things” we take with us down to one slim unit. Books, camera, video camera, computer, maps, phone, advice, and music are now contained in one small hand-held device.  As a traveler, you need to drop the weight and condensing things down to an iPhone or tablet pc is a godsend. I used to have drawers filled with maps, guides, subway maps, internet printouts, etc. Now, it is just my phone and my “real deal” my DSLR.

I guess in the end you have to figure out WHY you are traveling. If you are traveling for photography then so be it! If you are with your family or significant other then choose your times wisely. Also, make sure your friends, partners, and travel mates now that you like to photograph things and that they should also make some compromises. After all, when you get back with your amazing shots, I am sure they will want you to share.

The final note is that before you travel figure out what you want to do and adjust your camera and kit to that. If you are on a tour and you just want scenic shots just bring a wide angle, 1 camera+1 lens. If you are just walking around and wants some street shots, look into a 50mm 1.4 that is small, fast and lightweight. You don’t always have to take your entire gear closet with you.

If you do like to focus more on photography, take a look at Flashlight Expeditions. They will meet all of your photography wants and needs in a variety of exotic locations. If you like reading about travel done right, then read my friend Griffin’s blog during his travels. He is also sponsored by Tamron which shows you that traveling with camera in hand can get you noticed and does not take away from your adventure.

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Justin Howard

    November 24, 2011

    Post a Reply

    An interesting and highly relevant article with many valid points.

    I think when it comes to still life an interest in photography doesn’t really make a difference to the experience. Beit your Petronas Twin Towers or Big Ben, I actually think having a DSLR can actually make you appreciate things more and in detail too as you are trying to get closer! I think when photography can negate the experience is when you are observing people or atmosphere and to really be apart of that I find constantly snapping away can detract from the experience.

    Irrespective of where I am, I like to spend a few moments without my camera to really appreciate the place or if I feel that my attempt to take photos has really distracted from the experience.

    I guess we are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place as some sites in the world are just not always plausible to visit more than once and as a photographer you know the trip would be incomplete if you dont have ‘that’ shot.

    I also take your point about being with people who are not into photography: its thoroughly distracting on a number of levels.

  2. The Bobster

    December 22, 2011

    Post a Reply

    Jason, Mr Durston was not talking about vacations. He was talking about traveling. They are not the same thing.

    When you go on a vacation, you are very likely to do the same things thousands of other vacationers do, and see pretty much what they saw. A traveler wants to see something no one else has ever seen. It’s a goal that is getting more and more impossible as then world becomes saturated with images taken by people who go to places just to make them and show them.

    I know that the more I get into photography, the more I also notice two things happening. First of all, I start to see the world around me inside of a frame, whether it is rectangular or square or whatever. That’s the first lie that camera sells us. We all know that the world does not exist inside of a frame. The world is bigger than that, even just the world I am sitting in right now, with the computer screen in front of me. (There’s also the cat on the chair beside me, sleeping deeply because she feels safe right now, and there is the silence of the street outside my window at this early hour of the morning.)

    The other thing that happens is that I might be spending so much of my energy watching for the perfect moment that Cartier-Bresson spoke of that – oh, golly gosh – I just might be missing out on EXPERIENCING that moment while I’m thinking about which lens to use, and whether I should use a tripod just now and whether a flash is going to help things out. When I first started taking pictures a few years ago, it was because I wanted to notice things more carefully, but there’s a risk that what I notice and pay attention to most is simply the camera itself.

    I think Mr Durston is hinting that, while trying to save the image of a memory, we might be killing the prospect of creating a true and authentic one. I can agree with about half of that.

    If you are traveling with people, ask them to let you go off alone for the afternoon with your little box to capture some light in it. Take that time for your art, or your obsession. Afterwards, be with your friends, completely. Kiss your girl, and make her know you are not thinking about anything else …

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