The No Picture Holiday Experiment

taking pictures

Photo courtesy of thethreesisters via flickr

By Sam Lloyd-Bennett

Taking pictures is a great way of recording memories, but do we take them too much?

During a recent traveling expedition of South America and Canada I took a great deal of photos and stopped at many tourist attractions. Many of the tours were completely based around taking photos, with guides driving between photo spots and taking photos of the tourists, and helping to coordinate funny shots by asking their groups to stand in set positions. This was greatly memorable and fun for me; however, it led me to think about why we take photos, what the positives and negatives of capturing moments on film are and, eventually, an experiment.

The Positives Of Taking Pictures

    • You are creating a physical or digital record of a special moment. Something you can look back on in many years to come.
    • It’s a way of sharing experiences with friends and family and connecting with others. This might mean showing them a photo album, posting on social media for them to view and comment on or encouraging them to relate your photo to their own personal experiences.
    • It’s a souvenir, a cheap and personal one, in fact. A photograph is something you can put on the wall to decorate your home, or put in a scrapbook.
    • It’s unique. You may be able to photograph moments and scenery in a way not done before. This moment will never happen again; why not capture it?

Positives Of Not Taking Pictures

      • You enjoy the moment more. You’re not thinking how you can best capture the scenery or how to make yourself look hot on social media. You’re experiencing the place directly, rather than through the lens of a camera.
      • Instead of sharing a photograph on Facebook, you’re more likely to share the moment with those around you and remember who you were with.
      • You create memories, recalling specific moments rather than still images.
      • You don´t spend time in the future looking over previous photos with rose tinted glasses and thinking about how you were happier, younger or more innocent.
      • You use your descriptive and story-telling skills to share your special moments with friends and family rather than just showing them a photo.
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What Mont Royal would have look liked if I’d taken a photo. Photo courtesy of Eduardo Zárate via flickr.

Personal Experiment

Taking pictures and sharing on social media is a strong part of our culture, which is probably why it´s very common to take photos on holiday. With the above in mind I set off on holiday to Montreal — with the intention for my camera phone to stay firmly in my pocket. I wanted to see if it was any better or worse taking photos on holiday, and use my conclusion to guide future trips.

Overall my experience was mixed. Although I began to enjoy the trip more once I became used to not snapping away, it was difficult in the beginning when I reached a landmark and actually had to stop myself from grabbing my iPhone. This meant I wasted some time thinking about taking a photo, although I really wanted to stick with my original plan.

I also noticed how much humans in general take photos at landmarks. Up on top of the Mont Royal, a famous hill in Montreal, pretty much everyone had a camera in their hand, and were taking pictures for the duration of their time there, regardless of age, race and sex. It felt good to switch off and enjoy the great view, the fresh air and the company of the people I was with.

That being said, I did regret not taking some photos of myself with the great friends I met while I was there. I still have the memories, and surprisingly, my memories of them are crystal clear.

Better Or Worse?

There are good reasons for both taking and not taking photos. Taking pictures of everything you do has become normality, and with the rise of smart phones and social networks it is now deeply ingrained as part of our culture.

When you don’t go on holiday often, it is nice to have photos to show friends and family, it is a way of connecting and building relationships with people as it makes the experience feel more shared. There can be times when sharing a photo on a social network can create a connection you didn’t have before, someone may spark up a conversation due to seeing you have visited somewhere they have visited, or a distant friend may reveal that they have recently moved there and you can organize to meet for coffee. This is when social media and photographs are really a blessing and help you form stronger connections with people.

I also found that we all too often spend time taking photos and don’t actually enjoy the scenery or directly experience the moment at all, and at the extreme end we can base our whole trip around visiting beauty spots just to take photos. There is of course a healthy compromise – we can take photos when we feel a compelling urge to without basing our holidays around it, obsessing over how we look or doing it just for the social media popularity.

Recommended Reads:

DSLR Photography for Beginners: Take Breath Taking Digital Photos by James Alan Driver

Travel and Street Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots by John Batdorff

Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Photography by Lonely Planet

How do you feel about how much we take pictures in the modern age? What are your camera habits on holiday? Please share in the comments below.

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About The Author

Sam Lloyd-Bennett is a mathematician come writer, residing in Manchester UK. He believes in love, happiness, and working together to create a better world. Please visit his site The Junto Times for more of his writing, and to join many others for his famous Free Book Club. Live and let grow!

4 Comments

  1. Wow this was super interesting. I often wish we could not have the burden of documenting everything! Actually read some studies that showed our perspective of the experience is changed when we see if through the lens, and stored differently in long term memory. Makes me think of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, when Sean O’Connell finally sees the ghost cat, and says if he likes the moment, sometimes he doesn’t take the photo. 😉

    1. @Amanda: Wow! That’s interesting. I remember my first trip to Australia before I was a blogger…I took about 10 pictures over the course of 7 months and had a blast just living in the moment. I think a balance is nice. Sometimes I’ll go somewhere, spend some time photographing it, then put my camera away and re-experience it 🙂

  2. Great article. I totally agree and try to limit the amount of photos I take anywhere, particularly at famous landmarks too. I find limiting yourself to 3-5 photos at a spot is good. Nowadays, I feel there is a real undercurrent of belief that if we don’t take photographs or document experiences in other ways that somehow they cease to be real. It is as if, without witness evidence, we somehow belief the experience didn’t exist. Its good to stop this line of thinking occasionally and be in the moment, witnessing an experience’s existence for yourself!

    1. @Steph: Setting a specific limit is a great idea. It’s funny, because when I do take photos I typically use them for blog posts and never use them again, yet I still have those memories. It does seem though like without the photos they don’t exist, at least sometimes.

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