I love taking photos, I really do. I love how the camera’s viewfinder helps me find the beauty around me when I’m taking a walk. I love looking at photos of the kids when they were little, remembering vacations we took, the at-home birthday parties and picnics at the park, our family reunions and school plays and countless other happy family memories.
Between the computer hard drive and two bins in the garage, we have literally thousands of photos capturing decades of events. So you might find it strange that I’m reevaluating my tendency to bring the camera and take photos at every opportunity.
Recently I went away for a weekend with friends, and we spent a day and night camping near a beautiful Colorado lake. I brought my camera along in a beach bag that I kept track of all day, taking care to insure that the camera didn’t get wet or lost. As the day progressed, I snapped photos of everyone swimming, eating, and playing. I made sure to get photos of each person in the group, and also documented the scenery at the lake, dinner that evening and breakfast the next day.
A few days later people started asking about the photos, so I downloaded them all to my laptop and edited them in PhotoShop. Then I created a Flickr album. It took me a while to figure out how to download and configure everything in Flickr, which I didn’t find as intuitive as some photo sharing sites, but I persevered.
Once I had gotten the album created and the photos all uploaded and arranged in the right order, I e-mailed everyone in the group to let them know the photos were posted and included a link to the album. Over the coming days one person asked me to e-mail high resolution copies of some of the images, and I obliged. Another person asked me to post some of the photos on Facebook, and I complied. Then someone noticed that I’d neglected to include some of the after-dinner pictures on the Flickr album, so I went back in and added them. It took me far too long to figure out how to add photos to the set I’d already created in Flickr, but I eventually got the missing images added. Then someone wanted another high resolution copy of one of the new photos I’d added.
In total, I figure that in addition to the time I spent shooting all the photos I probably spent about five hours managing all of the image files, posting them online and getting them into the hands of everyone in the group. If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not at all. This is what I do.
Two weeks later we were heading out to a family birthday party and I started to grab the camera. Then I impulsively changed my mind and left it hanging on the hook. During the party, I relaxed on my parents’ shady patio and drank a glass of homemade sangria. I talked with my niece, happy to spend some time with her before she left for college a few days later. I helped Mom with dinner in the kitchen, and we got to chat and catch up a little. When it was time for the birthday cake to be served, I sat and sang “Happy Birthday” and watched the candles being blown out. After dinner we lingered at the table with coffee.
So. Not a single photo exists to document this happy event in the years to come. At the same time, I was able to relax and appreciate my family that evening, and be truly present with the people I care about most. In the days following the party there were no files to download, no albums to make and no e-mails to send. Just those nice memories to think on and smile.
How about you? Are you the designated photographer in the group? What would happen if you “forgot” your camera for the next outing and just enjoyed yourself? If picture-taking has become a habit for you like it was for me, perhaps it’s time to reconsider. Maybe we don’t have to document every single event of our lives, every time, with a printed record. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.